By Hrach Melkumian, Ruzanna Khachatrian and Gevorg Stamboltsian
The European Union expects the Armenian authorities to exercise caution in dealing with the intensifying opposition campaign for their resignation, a senior diplomat from Germany, the bloc’s largest country, said on Friday.
Hans-Wulf Bartels, the German ambassador to Armenia, expressed concern at the mounting political tensions in the country, saying he hopes that they will not flare up into violence.
Bartels and the Yerevan-based ambassadors of other leading EU nations, including Britain and France, discussed the situation with President Robert Kocharian at a joint meeting on Thursday. He claimed that the meeting had a “regular” character and was planned two weeks ago.
“The present situation is a bit worrying because there is a confrontation between the opposition and the government,” Bartels told RFE/RL in an interview. “We hope that there will be no violent confrontations.”
“This also requires certain prudence from the authorities, and the president assured us that the leadership of the country is not interested in violence.”
Bartels, whose embassy represents the current Irish presidency of the EU, made it clear that that the authorities should in particular respect Armenian citizens’ constitutional freedom of speech and assembly. He said opposition leaders, for their part, have assured other EU representatives that they will be seeking regime change “only by constitutional and peaceful means.”
“We are neutral in this conflict and it can not be said that we support the opposition in any way in their struggle with the government,” he added.
The German envoy also said it is “too early” for him to comment possible on implications of the decision by Armenia’s Office of Prosecutor-General to open a criminal investigation into the ongoing nationwide rallies held by the opposition Artarutyun alliance.
The move, shrugged off by the opposition, has been widely interpreted as a threat to arrest and prosecute Artarutyun leaders for their alleged calls for a “violent overthrow” of Kocharian.
According to Mieczyslaw Longchamps de Berier, Poland’s charge d’affaires in Yerevan who also took part in Thursday’s meeting, Kocharian pledged to adhere to Armenian law. “Mr. President said that nobody will be arrested in breach of the law,” he told RFE/RL.
Meanwhile, Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian has sent a letter to parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian asking him to take “adequate measures” against opposition lawmakers who “commit criminal acts instead of engaging in legislative work.” Speaking with journalists late on Thursday, Hovsepian did not rule out the possibility of the prosecutors asking the National Assembly to lift the lawmaker’s immunity from arrest.
Baghdasarian is currently in Italy on an official visit. One of his two deputies, Vahan Hovannisian, said: “The prosecutor-general is an official who has the right to express his views to any relevant body, including the National Assembly.”
But an Artarutyun lawmaker, Shavarsh Kocharian, denounced the prosecutors as “a bunch of presidential bodyguards.” “The prosecutor’s office in Armenia has long been beyond the law and considers itself above the law,” he said.
The increasingly tense atmosphere building up ahead of big anti-Kocharian demonstrations planned by the opposition for April 12 is reflected in the streets of Yerevan where ordinary people are already bracing for trouble. “There is a likelihood of civil war because the police is controlled by Robert Kocharian,” said one pro-opposition woman. “That’s why the people are scared.”
Another woman said she hopes the showdown will be peaceful “just like it happened in Georgia,” referring to the November “revolution of roses” in Tbilisi.
“We don’t need a Georgian scenario,” countered a male supporter of the Armenian president.
Another man said he supports regime change but is skeptical about the opposition’s chances of success. “They can never topple the regime with rallies and cries,” he said.
(RFE/RL photo: Hans-Wulf Bartels.)