YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Opposition party leader Raffi Hovannisian rallied hundreds of supporters in Yerevan on Friday in what he called the start of a new campaign of street protests aimed at changing Armenia’s government.
Hovannisian said that Armenian opposition and civic groups can achieve regime change and thereby “save our country” as early as this year if they join forces. “We can’t carry on like this,” he said. “We all know that separately … we won’t achieve anything. That is why I propose that we change our approach and methodology before it’s too late.”
“We must do it together and we must do it this year,” the leader of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party told supporters in Yerevan’s Liberty Square. He said this applies to not only the opposition but also youth activists demonstrating against higher public transport prices and university tuition fees as well as veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war campaigning for pension rises.
Hovannisian, who was President Serzh Sarkisian’s main challenger in last February’s presidential election, announced that he will hold another rally in the square on August 29 before heading to the northern cities of Gyumri and Vanadzor the following day. He said he will then proceed to the southern Syunik province to campaign for a Zharangutyun candidate running for parliament.
“By September 23 we will have a new situation in Armenia,” declared Hovannisian.
Hovannisian already tried to bring the Sarkisian administration to resign with street protests after the disputed presidential election, which he says was rigged by the authorities. That campaign fizzled out amid a lack of support shown by other opposition parties. The latter complained that Hovannisian never came up with a clear plan of actions.
Those opposition groups made similar arguments when they responded to Hovannisian’s invitations to join his latest “civil assembly” in Liberty Square. None of their representatives attended Friday’s rally.
Hovannisian downplayed their absence. “My impression is that the coming weeks and months will see a process of coordination,” he told journalists. “I know that that will be difficult, but broadly speaking, everyone realizes that Armenia needs big changes.”
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun), another major opposition party, on Friday likewise announced plans to try to consolidate the opposition for a new anti-government effort. Armen Rustamian, a Dashnaktsutiun leader, accused the authorities of leading the country to ruin.
“If they think that they have four or five years’ time they are badly mistaken,” Rustamian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The trends which we can now see in the society can generate force majeure situations. And I’m not even talking about external challengers that are already visible.”