By Karine Kalantarian and Ruzanna Stepanian
Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian urged on Wednesday leaders of Armenia’s main governing and opposition parties to restart talks on ways of defusing the month-long political crisis in the country.
In a statement Baghdasarian said he invites the leaders of all parliamentary factions to attend further “political consultations” which will take place in his office on Thursday. The statement added that their resumption is also necessitated by the Council of Europe’s calls for a “dialogue without preconditions” between loyalists and opponents of President Robert Kocharian.
Opposition leaders indicated their support for renewed talks, also citing the resolution adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last week. “We are not against consultations, we will continue them,” said Shavarsh Kocharian of the Artarutyun alliance.
But he added that the that President Kocharian must also become directly involved in the proposed dialogue because it is he, rather than the three pro-presidential parties making up the parliament majority, who wields real power in Armenia. “We are ready to negotiate with Robert Kocharian on the existing crisis as was demanded by the Council of Europe,” he told RFE/RL.
The first talks between top representatives of the opposition and the governing Dashnaktsutyun, Orinats Yerkir and Republican parties began and quickly broke down last week. Artarutyun and its ally, the National Unity Party (AMK), said they will not talk to the pro-Kocharian camp until the authorities stop their “repressions” against opposition activists.
Artarutyun’s Kocharian said on Wednesday that the opposition is now ready to show “good will” and resume the negotiations despite the continuing arrests of its supporters.
Artarutyun and the AMK announced on Tuesday that they are taking a “ten-day break” in their campaign of anti-Kocharian street protests to give the authorities time to comply with the PACE resolution which condemned the crackdown. The leadership of the two groups insisted at the same time that the dialogue should only center on ways of ensuring Kocharian’s resignation.
The parliament majority has repeatedly rejected such preconditions. It has instead proposed that the opposition be given some say in government policy-making.
The calls the dialogue were backed on Wednesday by Ara Abrahamian, a prominent Moscow-based businessman who heads the largest organization of ethnic Armenians in Russia. “This is a quite difficult crisis which I think we all must jointly resolve,” Abrahamian told a news conference in Yerevan. “The opposition and the authorities must understand that a whole nation is suffering.”
Abrahamian, who supported Kocharian in the 2003 election, sought to underline his neutrality in the dispute. “I think what’s been happening results from the government’s wrong policy as well,” he said, urging at the same time the opposition not to seek Kocharian’s “unconstitutional” removal from power.
“The current government seems to be keeping the situation under control but we do not quite agree with the methods,” he added, disapproving of the recent crackdown on the opposition.
The Kremlin-backed tycoon also denied speculation that the opposition campaign for regime change in Yerevan is sponsored by some governing circles in Russia. Moscow is strongly interested in continued stability in Armenia, he said.