Armenian opposition vows to ratchet up pressure on authorities in coming weeks

At Friday’s rally of the Armenian National Congress (ANC) the main opposition alliance’s leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan declared the start of “a new phase of struggle” and said a civil disobedience campaign and more pressure were needed for the government to comply with their demands.

The key demands presented by Ter-Petrosyan at an opposition demonstration in Yerevan concerned the holding of early elections by the end of the year, making significant changes in the Electoral Code, solving the March 1, 2008 murders in the next three months as well as setting free jailed young oppositionist Tigran Arakelyan and dismissing criminal cases against him and six other young activists of the opposition. (A total of eight demands were articulated by Ter-Petrosyan, including the reversal of a municipal clampdown on street trade and a ban on high-rise construction projects in the center of Yerevan).

ANC coordinator Levon Zurabyan also stated about a new and more rigorous tactics of the opposition. Noting that “the authorities do not want to make concessions anymore and have stopped half way down the road”, Zurabyan emphasized that the message is as follows: “If you want new concessions, then bring to the square tens of thousands of people, show that they do want to fight.”

Meanwhile, attendance at the September 23 rally was noticeably less than at similar gatherings of the opposition earlier this year. Police estimates put it at 5,000 people, while the opposition suggested the number of participants was at least twice that size.

Head of the ANC core member, Armenian National Movement party, Aram Manukyan claimed in his speech that numerous people have been leaving the coalition parties lately and giving up their membership cards. He showed a bunch of such cards to the crowd, but said the identity of the defectors would be kept secret not to put their welfare at risk.

ANC leader Ter-Petrosyan, meanwhile, built his speech around the latest portion of Western whistleblower website WikiLeak’s revelations regarding the Armenian leadership. He said the leaked United States Embassy cables show officials in Washington had been “informed better than us about the essence of Armenia’s power system.”

According to Ter-Petrosyan, even though the United States knew that [current president] Serzh Sargsyan wasn’t elected [in February 2008], it still offered him serious support, not only raising his weight before the international community, but also inside Armenia itself.

Ter-Petrosyan claimed that “the West would never have provided such an unconditional support to Serzh Sargsyan unless it had assurances of the latter about certain concessions in the matter of Armenian-Turkish relations and a Karabakh conflict settlement.”

The ANC leader also promised “a major breakthrough” in September-October, instructing that each of those present bring at least five people to the next rally scheduled for September 30.