A crowd opposed to Armenia’s government regime filled Opera Square in Yerevan late today, as residents gathered under a friendly Spring sun to demand a change of power.
It was the second protest organized this week, with today’s meeting attracting several times more participants than Monday’s.
At our publication time, leaders had only just started to address the crowd, which heavily consisted of middle-aged and elderly, mostly from districts within the general limits of Yerevan. Some participants reported that roads leading out of Yerevan were blocked, apparently in an effort to deter anti-government sympathizers.
The crowd shouted “Mi-a-tsum”, a slogan (meaning “unity”) popular in the Karabakh uprising of 1988.
As the crowd waited for its leaders to speak, ArmeniaNow interviewed several participants – among them artists, economists and average villagers -- asking them to specify what it was they expected to accomplish. Consistently, they named joblessness, low pensions and emigration as the sources of their unhappiness, but could not say how they expected those issues to be resolved through a change of power. The common response was that they merely wanted a government elected by the people.
Opposition leader Shavarsh Kocharyan was among early speakers at the rally, repeating claims from a year ago that President Robert Kocharyan did not win re-election but took it by illegal means. (Robert Kocharyan’s inauguration took place one year ago today.)
Shavarsh Kocharyan said the opposition stopped its protest last year, under threat of being shot, and chose to apply for satisfaction through legal measures via the Constitutional Court. Shavarsh Kocharyan restated oppositional parties’ demands that the President face a Referendum of Confidence.
“We gave him a chance to leave in a civil way,” Shavarsh Kocharyan said. “He didn’t wish to, so now he is to blame (for the renewed unrest).”
There are no reliable estimates of the crowd size and little means for measuring, and even counting becomes contentious. Deputy Chief of Police Hovhannes Varyan estimated the crowd at 6,500. Opposition leader Artashes Geghamyan said the size was 65,000.
Earlier this week, President Kocharyan gave his first public reaction to recent opposition rumblings.
In an interview on Public TV, Kocharyan called the opposition’s efforts a “soap bubble revolution”.
“From my supporters I received numerous phone calls and offers to organize demonstrations,” the President said. “I always reject such offers because I don’t think it is right to raise up one part of people against another part.”