Several hundred supporters of a nascent Armenian opposition group held a rally in Yerevan on Friday that was largely devoted to the one-year death anniversary of an activist jailed for aiding a group of pro-opposition gunmen during their standoff with security forces two years ago.
Artur Sargsian broke a police cordon on his car to deliver food to members of a radical opposition group, Sasna Tsrer, that seized and held for more than two weeks a police compound in Yerevan in July 2016. Sargsian, a 1992-1994 Karabakh war veteran who had a number of chronic conditions, was jailed along with dozens of the pro-opposition gunmenafter their surrender to security forces and died shortly after being released from pretrial detention on bail the following year.
Speakers at the rally organized in Liberty Square by the Front for the State for Armenia (FSA) paid tribute to the memory of the man, who had earned the popular nickname “Food Bringer” for his act.
They also criticized the government and outgoing President Serzh Sarkisian, calling for a combined effort to stop him from staying in power as prime minister after he completes his second and final term next month.
Activist David Sanasarian called on opposition Yerkir Tsirani party leader Zaruhi Postanjian and one of the leaders of the parliamentary opposition Yelk alliance Nikol Pashinian, two of the most outspoken government critics, to join hands in pushing for a change of power in Armenia.
“We all have differences over various matters. But I am confident that we all will prove as mature as to leave aside all our differences and show our unity to the people,” Sanasarian said. “Let’s form a common agenda.”
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) earlier on Friday, one of the FSA activists, leader of the opposition Zharangutiun (Heritage) party Armen Martirosian said that by not engaging in street protests Yelk will indirectly support Sarkisian.
“If there is no unified opposition, the public will certainly not join the struggle,” Martirosian stressed.
While Pashinian and his Civil Contract party are in favor of staging street protests and have even reserved Liberty Square for April 1-3 for possible rallies, the two other members of the alliance – the Bright Armenia and Hanrapetutiun (Republic) parties – do not consider street protests to be an effective means of struggle and are more inclined to oppose Sarkisian’s possible election as prime minister inside the parliament.
The FSA, which is trying to drum up popular support in its anti-government push, said it will hold its next rally in a week. The movement has also announced that it will hold “periodical” rallies during the week commencing on April 9, when President Sarkisian’s powers will end and parliamentary factions will have seven days to name their candidates for the post of prime minister.
Under Armenia’s reformed Constitution that will be fully enacted in April, it is the prime minister who will wield real power in the country.