By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian opposition announced on Tuesday a ten-day suspension of its month-long campaign of demonstrations in Yerevan, saying it is giving the authorities time to release all “political prisoners” and ensure citizens’ freedom of assembly and expression.
The leaders of the Artarutyun (Justice) alliance and the National Unity Party (AMK) announced the decision to thousands of people who again marched through the city center, calling for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian. They were told to steer clear of the presidential palace on Marshal Baghramian Avenue, filing instead past the headquarters of the Armenian police that have questioned or detained hundreds of opposition activists since the launch of the campaign.
The latest Artarutyun and AMK demands mirror those contained in a resolution on the political situation in Armenia adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last week. The resolution denounced the government crackdown on the opposition, demanding an end to the mass “administrative detentions” of participants of the unsanctioned protests and the immediate release of those of them who remain in custody. The assembly threatened to impose sanctions on Yerevan if the latter fails to investigate and stop the “human rights abuses” by September.
“Those demands are also the opposition demands,” Artarutyun’s Albert Bazeyan told an estimated 10,000 people in the city’s Freedom Square. “They also stem from the letter and the spirit of our constitution.”
“Respecting the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as well as taking into consideration some tactical factors, we are taking a ten-day break…During that period we will be ready to hold discussions with the authorities and the [governing] political parties on bringing the country out of the crisis,” Bazeyan added.
Bazeyan and other speakers, notably AMK leader Artashes Geghamian, presented the PACE resolution as a serious boost to their case for regime change. However, the government has claimed the opposite, arguing that the PACE refused to endorse the opposition calls for a referendum of confidence in Kocharian and to challenge the legitimacy of the latter’s controversial reelection last year.
The Strasbourg resolution also urged both parties to “refrain from any action which may lead to further violence and to engage in a dialogue without preconditions.” But the opposition leaders again made clear that such a dialogue should only center on ways of ensuring Kocharian’s bloodless exit, something which has been rejected by the president and his allies.
“Our view remains the same: Robert Kocharian must either resign or be dismissed or we will hold a kind of referendum of confidence together with you,” Bazeyan said.
The opposition had said earlier that Tuesday’s rally will be “decisive” in its push for power, implying that it might again urge supporters to march up Marshal Baghramian Avenue. The first such march ended in bloodshed on the night from April 12 to 13 when riot police used force to disperse the crowd, beating and arresting scores of people.
“Any rally is a decisive one. Rallies are the extreme forms of political activity,” Aram Sarkisian, one of the most radical oppositionists, told RFE/RL. He denied some observers’ belief that the repeated postponements of another siege of Kocharian’s residence since April 13 are dampening opposition supporters’ spirits.
“Today’s rally showed that we are gaining momentum, not losing it,” he claimed.