Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian stepped up the pressure on the Armenian authorities on Friday, saying that he would only discuss with them the terms of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and demanding snap parliamentary elections.
Pashinian responded to government offers of “dialogue” as he held what appeared to be his largest rally yet, which followed spontaneous protests staged by his supporters in various parts of Yerevan throughout the day.
Addressing thousands of supporters in the city’s central Republic Square late in the evening, Pashinian labelled Sarkisian a “political corpse” who has effectively lost power.
“It doesn’t mean that we are not prepared to have any discussion [with the authorities,]” he said. “We are certainly ready to discuss time frames and certain conditions for Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.”
“I think you will agree with me in that we don’t want any vendettas or revenge,” he said. “And if Serzh Sarkisian opens his eyes and steps down as soon as possible that will only be good for him and Armenia.”
After Sarkisian’s resignation, Pashinian went on, the Armenian parliament must appoint a “candidate of the people” as prime minister, form an interim government and then call fresh general elections that would have to be “100 percent clean, free and fair.”
The 42-year-old admitted his willingness to be interim premier. “If the people think I should shoulder such responsibility, I will shoulder such responsibility,” he told reporters.
Sarkisian, who has governed Armenia for the past ten years, has sought to reach out to Pashinian through his Republican Party (HHK) and his junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). Dashnaktsutyun’s leadership proposed on Thursday a “forum for political consultations” between the country’s leading political groups which would be mediated by President Armen Sarkissian.
First Deputy Prime Minister Karen Karapetian also made a case for dialogue on Friday, saying that he is “very worried” about the weeklong wave of protests that has swept through not only Yerevan but also several other cities and towns.
“Even warring countries negotiate and find logical solutions,” Karapetian told the Armenia TV channel. “We, Armenians, must sit down in hour own home, rationally negotiate and find logical ways out of this situation. In case of instability, all of us will suffer, our country will suffer.”
Karapetian, who was replaced by Sarkisian as prime minister on April 9, would not be drawn on possible government concessions to the Pashinian-led opposition. “Let us listen to concerns, make proposals, raise all contentious issues and audaciously talk about them,” he said, speaking before Pashinian’s latest speech.
An HHK spokesman insisted on Thursday that Sarkisian’s resignation is out of the question. The ruling party did not immediately react to Pashinian’s preconditions for the proposed dialogue.
Pashinian, his Civil Contract party and other opposition and civic groups launched the daily protests on April 13 in a bid to prevent Sarkisian from extending his rule. The campaign showed no signs of abating on Friday as more young Armenians, including high school students, took to the streets and tried to stop traffic ahead of the Republic Square rally. More than 230 of them were detained by the police.
The police continued to threaten to forcibly break up the “illegal” gatherings. A police statement released on Friday evening warned that security forces are allowed to use “special means,” presumably including stun grenades and tear gas, against protesters defying their orders.
Joined by and hundeds of his supporters, Pashinian marched through Yerevan’s northern and western districts in the morning and afternoon. He said he will take his campaign to other city suburbs on Saturday morning.