On February 28 Raffi Hovannisian is expected to reveal his plan of action for his “fight for freedom” to his supporters in Yerevan’s Liberty Square. Opponents to the government, which comprise the vast majority of the Armenian population, are eager to learn just how he intends to topple the ruling regime lead by President Serge Sargsyan, who was reelected president on February 18 despite strong objections from the opposition. Sargsyan has received congratulatory messages from Russia, the European Union and the United States despite the contested vote.
Using actual polling results and reports of blatant fraud at numerous voting stations Hovannisian claimed himself to be the real winner, having won in Gyumri, Vanadzor, other major towns and parts of Yerevan. And he has vowed to achieve victory for the Armenian people by peacefully toppling the ruling regime in his so-called “BAREVolution,” which has spread throughout society as evident by the protests by students at Yerevan State University.
But kindness can only get you so far. Sargsyan categorically rejected Hovannisian’s requests for new elections and snap parliamentary elections when they met on February 21. In the meantime, Hovannisian has been touring the country in hopes of garnering wide support for his movement to eventually dethrone the president. The problem is, the Republican party is not about to yield power because he is asking nicely. Despite the voiced assurance by Republican party leader Galust Sahakian on Tuesday that the authorities want to have a strong opposition and are unfazed by the protests, they ultimately won’t relieve themselves of the positions of power without putting up a fight, and that is exactly what will be needed for the opposition to take the reigns for leading the nation.
An inevitable clash will mean more persecutions, indiscriminate incarcerations and potential loss of life, perhaps more severe than what transpired in March of 2008. Hovannisian and those closest to him would be blamed for inciting turmoil and likely be imprisoned. So would some of his new allies, like the radical prominent member of the Armenian National Congress Nikol Pashinyan, who was released from prison in a general amnesty in 2011, and ARF-Dashnaktsutyun, whose leaders could wind up in the slammer and face new or existing charges–it’s important to remember that the defendants of the “Trial of 31” were simply released from custody and not acquitted.
Backing down now will undermine all of their reputations ever more so, and public apathy will only widen in scope. In short, Hovannisian and this newly forming opposition bloc has no choice but to persevere or else be forever demonized. They cannot afford to lose the respect of the public that secretly or outspokenly demands change.
How far are they really willing to take this revolution? Are they all quite prepared to serve jail time in this fight for freedom? What would be the public’s reaction to a new crackdown on civil liberties? Clarifications will be made on Thursday afternoon for an eager crowd of supporters expecting perseverance and a committal to the promise of victory. Let’s hope they are not disappointed.
Photos by Anush Khachatryan