By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Karine Kalantarian
Leaders of the Armenian opposition and the pro-government majority in parliament met behind the closed doors late Thursday to try to defuse the political crisis sparked by the month-long opposition campaign against President Robert Kocharian.
The talks initiated by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian began late in the afternoon and lasted for about five hours. They were attended by 13 senior representatives of all parliament factions, including five members of the opposition Artarutyun bloc and the National Unity Party (AMK).
A brief statement issued by the participants afterward said they agreed on the “necessity to create a new situation in the country” and formed a 32-point agenda of their further “consultations.” A top Artarutyun negotiator, Victor Dallakian, said they also agreed not to disclose the agenda until Friday.
“That agenda mainly includes issues which we presented during the previous consultations as well as the corresponding provisions of the resolution adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,” Dallakian told journalists. He said it also contains issues raised by the three parties represented in Kocharian’s coalition government.
Dallakian added that the two rival sides will discuss opposition demands for a referendum of confidence in Kocharian. “We are going to discuss legal issues related to the referendum of confidence,” he said.
The talks began after Artarutyun and the AMK called a 10-day moratorium on their rallies aimed at forcing Kocharian to step down. The opposition said it is giving the authorities time to comply with the demands laid down in last week’s PACE resolution.
One of those demands was an “immediate end” to the detentions and imprisonment of participants of the opposition rallies in Yerevan. The Armenian authorities signaled on Thursday their intention to continue the practice when four participants of the latest opposition rally held in Yerevan on Tuesday were fined 1,000 drams ($2) each by a court in the central town of Charentsavan.
The residents of two nearby villages were taken to a police station in Charentsavan on Wednesday and kept there until the evening. Three of the men said they were forced to sign confessions about “defying” police officers during the lengthy questioning.
“They forced us to sign,” Ruben Mkrtchian, an opposition activist from the village of Arzakan, said. “I said ‘How can I sign a false document?’ They said, ‘If you don’t sign we will make up something else and you’ll get a five-year [jail] term’.”
Scores of other opposition activists across the country have faced similar trials under Armenia’s Code of Administrative Offences since the start of the opposition campaign in early April. Many of them were sentenced to up to 15 days’ imprisonment on similar charges in closed trials and without access to lawyers.
It was apparently the first time that journalists were able to cover a court hearing on an Administrative Code case. But even that trial appeared to be hastily arranged, with the judge, Aris Sisakian, admitting bluntly that he is “unaware of what happened.” The court session was briefly interrupted when Sisakian discovered that he forgot to put on a mantle which every Armenian judge must wear when hearing a case.