An Armenian opposition alliance attracted fewer people on Wednesday on the second day of its sustained street protests in Yerevan described by its leaders as an anti-government democratic “revolution.”
The New Armenia Public Salvation Front rallied up to 1,000 supporters in Yerevan’s Liberty Square where dozens of its activists began a nonstop sit-in on Tuesday at the start of a “civil disobedience” campaign aimed at toppling President Serzh Sarkisian.
The campaign coordinator, Zhirayr Sefilian, noted the poorer attendance but put a brave face on it as he addressed the crowd. “It doesn’t mean we that we have gotten weaker,” he said. “I’m sure we are stronger than we were yesterday. Everyone realized that we can do what we want.”
Still, Sefilian urged more Armenians to join the protests that will continue at least Sunday’s referendum on Sarkisian’s controversial constitutional changes strongly opposed by New Armenia. “We need to fill this square as soon as possible,” said Lebanese-born leader. “We will do everything to achieve this in the coming days.”
Raffi Hovannisian, another New Armenia leader, also acknowledged the smaller the number of protesters as they marched to the Central Election Commission building in Yerevan from Liberty Square. But like Sefilian, Hovannisian claimed that the campaign will gain momentum in the coming days.
The square should attract a bigger crowd on Thursday during a demonstration against the proposed amendments that will be led by a more moderate opposition party, the Armenian National Congress (HAK). The HAK has welcomed the New Armenia campaign while declining to join it.
Meanwhile, Sarkisian’s political allies continued to shrug off the “revolution” announced by the radical opposition. “They declared that a revolution has started, that there is diarchy,” scoffed parliament speaker Galust Sahakian. “But we haven’t seen the rulers of the second government.”
Sahakian also said that the New Armenia campaign is a far cry from the 2008 post-election protests in Yerevan, which nearly thwarted a handover of power from outgoing President Robert Kocharian to Serzh Sarkisian. The 2008 opposition movement was led by “stronger leaders,” he said, referring to HAK Chairman Levon Ter-Petrosian and his associates.
Also dismissing the declared “revolution” was the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an opposition party strongly supporting the constitutional changes. “What do the people sitting in Liberty Square want? To change one person but keep the system intact?” Bagrat Yesayan, a senior Dashnaktsutyun member, said as he promoted those changes in a village just outside Yerevan.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Yesayan stood by his party’s claims that Armenia’s transition to the parliamentary system envisaged by the constitutional reform would only facilitate regime change. He insisted that Sarkisian and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia can be removed from power only through elections.