By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s leading opposition parties, including the two largest groups represented in parliament, are holding confidential talks on the possibility of forming a united front against President Robert Kocharian and his political allies, it emerged on Thursday.
Opposition leaders revealed to RFE/RL that they are considering launching a concerted drive to oust the ruling regime in the coming months. One of them, National Unity Party leader Artashes Geghamian, said recent unspecified developments in the region make it imperative for the Armenian oppositionists to join forces.
“Armenia can not have a future with a corrupt system,” Geghamian said.
“We are very happy that there is such a mood among other opposition forces and politicians,” said Albert Bazeyan of the Artarutyun (Justice) bloc which has the largest opposition faction in the National Assembly. “We must try to consolidate the entire opposition field for the sake of establishing democracy in Armenia.”
Both Geghamian and Bazeyan declined to divulge any details of the talks, saying only that they also involve smaller opposition groups not represented in the National Assembly.
One of them, it turned out, is the National Self-Determination Union (AIM) of Paruyr Hayrikian, a prominent Soviet-era dissident. He indicated that the opposition forces may soon form an umbrella structure which already has a tentative name: Cooperation For Democracy.
Speaking at a news conference, Hayrikian made his most blistering attack yet on the Armenian authorities, branding them “traitors” and “butchers of the Armenian people.”
The AIM leader had previously supported Kocharian and advised the latter on human rights issues until 2002. He became particularly critical of the president after the Armenian government’s controversial decision late last year to strip his party of its offices in Yerevan and other parts of the country.
The attempts at opposition unity may be seriously hindered by the persisting mistrust between Geghamian’s National Unity and Artarutyun led by Stepan Demirchian. The two men were Kocharian’s main challengers in last year’s presidential election which they both claim was rigged by the incumbent.
They have also accused each other of secretly collaborating with the authorities during the presidential race, with Geghamian denouncing Demirchian in particular for agreeing to contest the March 5 run-off showdown with Kocharian. Artarutyun, for its part, has alleged that National Unity helped the authorities commit serious irregularities reported by international observers after the disputed vote.
Geghamian and Demirchian have not been on speaking terms since the February 19 first round of voting also criticized as deeply flawed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation and the Council of Europe.
It is unclear whether Geghamian will back Artarutyun plans to launch next month a campaign of mass demonstrations aimed at forcing the Kocharian-controlled parliament to call a “referendum of confidence” in the Armenian president. The National Unity leader has until now avoided any participation in anti-government street protests, saying that they are ineffectual.
Bazeyan, meanwhile, again acknowledged that Artarutyun was buoyed by the success of last November’s “revolution of roses” in neighboring Georgia that saw unpopular President Eduard Shevardnadze overthrown by his radical opponents backed by tens of thousands of people.