A leader of the armed group that seized a police station in Yerevan accused Nikol Pashinian, a mainstream opposition politician, on Saturday of seeking to highjack their “rebellion” against Armenia’s government.
A furious Pashinian rejected the accusations, saying that he will stop trying to lead and expand anti-government street protests staged by Armenians sympathetic to the gunmen.
Pashinian has tried to prevent more bloodshed since the armed members of the Founding Parliament movement stormed the police station on Sunday, killing one policeman and taking four others hostage. He has met with senior law-enforcement officials, the gunmen, and Zhirayr Sefilian, Founding Parliament’s jailed leader, to try to defuse the crisis.
On Wednesday night, Pashinian helped to stop violent clashes between angry protesters and riot police in Yerevan. He said afterwards that Founding Parliament representatives have told him to stay away from the protests taking place near the seized police station.
Pashinian unexpectedly rejoined the protests on Friday, urging more Armenians to take to the streets and demand President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation. He said he and his Civil Contract party will try to expand the campaign into other parts of Armenia.
Varuzhan Avetisian, one of the two leaders of the gunmen, denounced Pashinian’s attempts to lead the movement when he spoke to reporters on Saturday. He charged that the 41-year-old politician is using the fallout from the armed attack to further his own political agenda.
“We launched this movement by means of an armed uprising which Mr. Pashinian and all other Armenian politicians objected to and are not capable of,” said Avetisian. “And now the fact that Mr. Pashinian or any other politician is trying to take over … the popular movement and use the course and results of that movement for personal, partisan or other parochial purposes is outrageous and condemnable.”
“We are urging Mr. Pashinian not to use such techniques,” the senior Founding Parliament figure added on the seventh day of his group’s standoff with security forces. He suggested that Pashinian join instead a collective body set up by Founding Parliament to coordinate the protests.
Pashinian responded by delivering an angry speech to hundreds of people that again rallied near the seized police station on Saturday evening. He accused the armed oppositionists of failing to appreciate his efforts to reinvigorate the demonstrations held in support of their attack.
“Let nobody think that I or the Civil Contract party is vying for leadership,” Pashinian said. “Let those who want to lead [the protests] lead. But nobody can force us to give up our principles and beliefs.”
Pashinian also expressed concern at reports that Sefilian has dropped Founding Parliament’s demands for President Sarkisian’s resignation. Sefilian’s statement, if true, would mean a “nightmare,” he declared.
The rally continued in Pashinian’s absence.
Alek Yenigomshian, another Founding Parliament figure not involved in the armed attack, assured the crowd that Sefilian remains committed to regime change. He urged Pashinian to join the campaign’s coordinating body “on an equal footing.”
“We don’t need idols and ‘saviors,’” another speaker said in a clear jibe at Pashinian.
In his speech, Pashinian also reiterated that only a peaceful nationwide campaign backed by the majority of Armenians can force Sarkisian to quit.
Avetisian strongly disagreed. “You can fight against a dictatorship only with arms,” he said earlier in the day. “There is no other option.”