A senior representative of Levon Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) voiced skepticism on Sunday about Raffi Hovannisian’s calls for opposition rallies aimed at preventing President Serzh Sarkisian from extending his rule next year.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s deputy chairman, questioned the Armenian opposition’s ability to draw large crowds at this juncture. Citing the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, he also spoke out against a “destabilization” of the political situation in the country.
Hovannisian, who leads another opposition party called Zharangutyun (Heritage), called on Armenia’s leading opposition groups late last month to jointly stage an anti-government “velvet revolution.” He said Sarkisian is intent on holding on to power in a different capacity after completing his final presidential term next April.
“First of all, I believe that the pressure of the Karabakh conflict is a much more serious instigator of political processes than the internal political struggle,” Zurabian said, commenting on Hovannisian’s calls. “Secondly, basing everything on the politics of one day … is fraught with major dangers.”
“If [Sarkisian] survives April 9  after all, what then?” he asked. “Would we again conclude that a major political program has failed? Would the people be struck by a new wave of disillusion and despair? I think that this must not be done. At least, we must not base everything on that single day.”
The opposition, Zurabian went on, must also be mindful of the increased military threat from Azerbaijan. “We have always been ready for a radical, confrontational fight [against the government] but there is a limit,” he said. “The limit is that with our actions we cannot allow the county’s destabilization which would deprive it of an appropriate degree of defense capability.”
“We attempted a velvet revolution in 2008 and 2011,” added Zurabian. “We tried to carry out such a process without crossing the threshold for destabilization. It didn’t work but it may work in the future. But that limitation will always weigh upon us as long as the Karabakh conflict is unresolved.”
Ter-Petrosian, who served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998, has for years been a bitter critic of Sarkisian. But shortly after the outbreak of heavy fighting in Karabakh in April 2016, he said that opposition forces should put aside their differences with the government in the face of the Azerbaijani military threat. Ter-Petrosian and Sarkisian met in the ex-president’s private residence at the time.
Ter-Petrosian reverted to harsh criticism of the Armenian authorities in October, accusing them of seeking to “perpetuate” their rule. His HAK dismissed as fraudulent parliamentary elections held in April this year but refrained from staging post-election street protests.
Official election results gave a Ter-Petrosian-led alliance only 1.5 percent of the vote, meaning that it is not represented in Armenia’s new parliament. Another opposition alliance led by Hovannisian, former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian also failed to win any parliament seats.