By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Shakeh Avoyan
The three political parties making up Armenia’s coalition government made a fresh offer of “dialogue” with the opposition on Thursday, saying that they are ready to give it a say in legislative reform and the fight against corruption.
The Republican Party (HHK), the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Orinats Yerkir Party said the move is aimed at defusing the serious political crisis in the country sparked by the vocal opposition campaign against President Robert Kocharian. Speaking at a joint news conference, their parliamentary leaders said they are ready to accept opposition proposals on amending Armenia’s constitution and electoral legislation and fulfilling other commitments to the Council of Europe.
“With this proposal the coalition invites political forces representing the opposition to begin a process of political dialogue in the National Assembly at any moment,” Dashnaktsutyun’s Levon Mkrtchian said.
The proposed deal mirrors separate Dashnaktsutyun proposals made on the eve of the troubled opposition protests last week. The party also suggested that opposition representatives be included in the presidential Security Council. Kocharian rejected that idea.
The opposition leaders, reeling from the violent dispersal of this week’s anti-Kocharian demonstration in Yerevan, dismissed the coalition overtures and reaffirmed their decision to hold another rally in the city center on Friday.
“It will be possible to talk about dialogue only after people who committed crimes and violent acts are held accountable,” Stepan Demirchian of the Artarutyun alliance told journalists. “This also applies to those individuals who were involved in falsifications during the presidential elections.”
Another prominent opposition leader, Artashes Geghamian, again argued that all key decisions in Armenian are single-handedly made by Kocharian and demanded a televised debate with the latter. “Come out of barbed wire, come out of underground,” he appealed to Kocharian. “Don’t be afraid of the Armenian people. They will never use violence against you the way you used it against them.”
Geghamian himself went underground when the authorities launched an unprecedented crackdown on the opposition early on Tuesday, seizing and ransacking the offices of his National Unity Party (AMK) and the two leading Artarutyun groups, the People’s and Hanrapetutyun parties. He stopped hiding and reentered the battered AMK headquarters on Wednesday.
Hanrapetutyun leaders, including Aram Sarkisian, followed the suit on Thursday. Their office was in an even more messy condition. Party activists said the police confiscated office computers and a large stockpile of food and cigarettes which were meant for participants of what was supposed to be an around-the-clock demonstration.
“They can not intimidate us with arrests,” Sarkisian said after entering the office to rapturous applause from the party faithful. “I have not appeared in public for the last two days simply because I wanted to make sure that there will be more rallies.”
The events of recent days have prompted a rare political statement from Armen Darpinian, the leader of a hitherto pro-Kocharian party who served as Armenia’s prime minister from 1998-99. Darpinian condemned the use of force against peaceful demonstrators, saying Kocharian’s response to the opposition challenge was “disappointing.”
“It is destructive for the country to have one part of the people beaten up by another part, even if they are police,” Darpinian told RFE/RL.
The ex-premier also said the crisis has exposed the “absolute bankruptcy” of the Armenian coalition parties. “Unfortunately, no meaningful actions to defuse the crisis have been suggested by them,” he said.