Ending a two-week walking tour of Armenia’s northern and central regions, opposition leader Nikol Pashinian returned to Yerevan on Friday hours before the start of his rallies against former President Serzh Sarkisian’s continued hold on power.
Pashinian has walked around 200 kilometers through Gyumri, Vanadzor and other towns to try to drum up popular support for his and his Civil Contract party’s efforts to prevent Sarkisian from becoming prime minister.
He was joined by dozens of mostly young activists while entering Yerevan on foot. The small crowd then marched to the city center, urging people to attend a rally that was due to be held in Liberty Square later in the day.
“Come to Liberty Square and stand up for your power and for your homeland,” Pashinian shouted through a megaphone before chanting “Take a step, reject Serzh!”
Speaking to reporters, Pashinian reiterated that he and his supporters will be camped in Liberty Square at least until a parliament debate and vote on the next prime minister slated for Monday. He said they could also march to the parliament building on Monday.
“It doesn’t matter how many people will come to Liberty Square,” said the 42-year-old politician. “We will be taking actions anyway.”
But Pashinian also stressed: “The scale of our actions depends on the presence of citizens.”
Armenian officials have already warned Pashinian against blocking streets or entrances to government buildings, saying that such actions would be deemed illegal.
Pashinian dismissed these warnings. “Citizens of Armenia have a right to take peaceful actions of civil disobedience and they will exercise that right in full,” he said.
The leadership of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) is expected to formally nominate Sarkisian for prime minister on Saturday. The HHK controls the majority of seats in the parliament.
Sarkisian completed his second and final presidential term on April 9. His successor, Armen Sarkissian, has largely ceremonial powers due to Armenia’s transition to a parliamentary system of government controversially engineered by the ex-president.
Serzh Sarkisian promised in 2014 that he will not seek to become prime minister if Armenia becomes a parliamentary republic. His political opponents now accuse him of reneging on that pledge. HHK figures claim that he never explicitly pledged to quit power and is better equipped to govern the country than anyone else.