YEREVAN — The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) announced on Friday the start of a fresh campaign of rallies in Yerevan which it hopes will force Armenia’s leadership to hold snap presidential and parliamentary elections.
The HAK also accused the Armenian police of harassing its activists across the country ahead of its next demonstration scheduled for March 1.
The opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian already rallied thousands of supporters in the city center on February 18. Ter-Petrosian warned that the Armenian authorities will face the kind of unrest that has rocked the Arab world if they continue to reject his demands.
Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s central office coordinator, said Friday that the March 1 protest, timed to coincide with the third anniversary of the bloody suppression of Ter-Petrosian’s 2008 post-election demonstrations, it will be a “landmark” one.
“We have started a series of rallies aimed at forcing this dictatorship to hold pre-term elections and meet other demands of our movement,” he told a news conference. “And I think that in this regard March and the beginning of April will be the last chance for the authorities.”
Zurabian would not say just what the HAK will do if the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian refuses to cave in. He implied only that the HAK feels another harsh crackdown on the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition would meet with a tougher international reaction this time around because of the recent anti-government uprisings in Egypt and several other Arab states.
“We see that these events have created a new international background, and we see that the international community is now giving adequate assessments of violence against people,” said the oppositionist.
“We can feel that the regime is scared, terrified,” claimed Zurabian. “Our activists in various regions are being summoned to police stations for conversations. In some cases, there are polite conversations and in other cases, hints that they may face criminal proceedings.”
Ten young HAK activists were detained by the Yerevan police late on Thursday while handing out anti-government pamphlets and urging people to attend the March 1 rally. All of them were set free several hours later.
One of the activists, Tatev Poghpatian, said that they were taken into custody after refusing to hand the pamphlets to a group of plainclothes men. “We said, ‘Under what law are you doing that?’ They said, ‘We have nothing to do with law, forget about law, give us those papers and go away,’” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
But the chief of the police department of Yerevan’s central Kentron district, Ashot Karapetian, defended the police actions. He claimed that the opposition youths “disrupted public order” and insulted law-enforcement officers.
In a late-night statement, the HAK condemned the detentions, saying that they are aimed at lowering attendance at the March 1 rally. “It is obvious that the regime is very scared of events taking place in Arab countries and the political activism of more strata of the population resulting from ‘economic operations’ carried out by itself in Armenia,” the statement claimed.