Armenian Opposition Continues Nonstop Protests
Irina Hovhannisyan, Emil Danielyan
Ignoring police warnings, hundreds of people spent their third consecutive night in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on Monday as Armenia’s main opposition force continued its nonstop street protests aimed at clinching more concessions from the government.
In scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of the 2008 presidential election, the tent camp built there on Friday by the Armenian National Congress (HAK) expanded significantly. The number of tents pitched in the square facing Yerevan’s massive Opera House rose from about two dozen to almost 70 by Monday morning.
“There is more activity,” Aram Manukian, a senior HAK members noted with satisfaction.
Manukian and other opposition figures were far less satisfied with attendance at the HAK’s daytime rallies held in Liberty Square at the weekend, urging Armenians to join them in larger numbers. Less than 3,000 HAK supporters gathered there on Saturday evening.
Addressing that smaller-than-usual crowd, Manukian berated people who chose to attend instead a ballet performance that began in the Opera House earlier in the evening. “Those people are indifferent to our country’s problems,” he said.
The remark prompted a public rebuke from the HAK’s top leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
In a speech at the rally, Ter-Petrosian said little about his bloc’s further actions and focused instead on renewed speculation about former President Robert Kocharian’s return to active politics -- something which analysts believe is opposed both by the HAK and the current Armenian president, Serzh Sarkisian.
Ter-Petrosian dismissed Kocharian, the HAK’s number one hate figure, as a “spent force” who stands no chance of staging a successful political comeback. But he at the same time sought to reach out to the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a junior partner in the governing coalition led by a businessman close to Kocharian.
Ter-Petrosian stated that unlike Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) the BHK is a “real political party.”
Ter-Petrosian launched his campaign one week after issuing the Sarkisian administration with eight mostly political demands. Significantly, he said on September 23 that the HAK is ready to step back from the most important of those demands -- the holding of early elections and major changes in Armenian electoral legislation -- if the authorities agree to a “reasonable compromise” deal with his opposition movement.
Sarkisian and his three-party governing coalition have still not responded to that proposal.
Meanwhile, police continued on Monday to warn the protesters, through a megaphone on a police car parked in the square, that the tent camp is illegal as it violates Armenia’s law on rallies. Still, in a weekend statement, the national police service indicated that security forces will not break up the nonstop protests as long as its participants do not breach “public order.”
The forcible dispersal of a similar tent camp set up by the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition in Liberty Square in February 2008 led to vicious clashes elsewhere in central Yerevan that left ten people dead and more than 200 others injured.
The start of the latest HAK campaign was immediately followed by the simultaneous closure of numerous cafes and restaurants surrounding the square as well as all nearby public toilets.
HAK representatives say the authorities are thereby trying to discourage Yerevan residents from joining the protests. They also accuse the authorities of severely restricting transport communication between the capital and other parts of the country.
“Traffic police stop buses and tell everyone to get out,” said one man who arrived at Liberty Square from Ashtarak, a town 25 kilometers west of Yerevan.
“As for taxis, if they carry four men and no women or children, the police won’t let them through,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday.
Copyright Armenia Liberty. Reprinted with kind permission.