A new anti-government campaign pushing for regime change ahead of the planned constitutional referendum has set December 1 as the day of launching national “mobilization” to oust the current administration with sustained street protests.
Jirair Sefilian, a leader of the radical opposition Founding Parliament group, addressed supporters during an indoor meeting on Wednesday during which he expounded on the “regime change” plan of New Armenia, a new movement set up jointly with the opposition Heritage party, to oppose the controversial constitutional changes, but primary seek a change of government.
“We believe that it is the change of government that can stop the course of these constitutional changes. If so, it is natural that the date [for the start of protests] should be before December 6,” Sefilian said, adding that before that the movement will seek to raise awareness of the population about their plans.
“On December 1, we invite our people not just for another gathering in [Yerevan’s] Liberty Square after which we will go home. No, it won’t be so. It will be a maximally powerful pressure that will be peaceful by its nature and the measures taken will be within the logic of civil disobedience. Using the entire arsenal within this logic we will put powerful pressure on this regime to make it retreat,” he stressed.
According to the hardline opposition leader, the current authorities will have two options – to leave peacefully or use violence.
“If this time they dare use force against peaceful protesters, an adequate response should be given,” said Sefilian, who along with several other radical opposition members was arrested in April and kept in prison for several weeks for allegedly trying to organize violent riots on the day when Armenia marked the centennial of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
“Let them decide whether they retire peacefully or with violence,” declared Sefilian, a Lebanese-born veteran of the 1992-1994 war in Karabakh.
At the same time, Sefilian called on opposition supporters to be prepared for reprisals and violence that he said the authorities are likely to use against them.
Zaruhi Postanjian of the opposition Heritage party also called for an “uprising” to “get rid of these small people”.
In her speech she called on people not to be afraid because, she emphasized, members of the government and [President] Serzh Sarkisian have fears of their own.
“The time for great people has come,” the opposition lawmaker underscored.
Postanjian as well as other speakers stressed that despite the presence of at least two “fronts” opposing the constitutional changes, there are no major rifts in the opposition camp.
Levon Zurabian, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), also addressed the meeting, saying that he came especially to deliver the message of unity in the face of “government propaganda”.
Zurabian said that the “No” campaign set up by the HAK and the opposition People’s Party of Armenia over the weekend did not have any major differences with New Armenia as far as the issues of opposing the constitutional changes and seeking regime change were concerned.
But he stressed that unlike New Armenia, which seeks to achieve regime change before the December 6 referendum, they view the ballot as an additional means to say “No” to the authorities by passing a vote of no confidence in the Sarkisian government.
A number of opposition parties and groups in Armenia maintain that the proposed constitutional amendments that turn the country into a parliamentary republic with a powerful prime minister and a largely ceremonial president are aimed at enabling incumbent President Sarkisian to indefinitely stay in power in a different capacity after the end of his second and final presidential term in 2018.
Sarkisian has denied this, saying that he will not become prime minister or parliament speaker in case of Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic. Members of Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party and at least two parliamentary minority parties insist that the constitutional reform reflects the need for the country’s further democratization. They are going to set up separate headquarters to campaign in favor of the amendments ahead of the referendum.
Legal experts from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission largely endorsed the draft amendments last month after most of the changes in the text recommended by them were accepted by the Sarkisian administration.