By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Hrach Melkumian
The Armenian opposition said on Tuesday that it will resume rallies in Yerevan on Friday, reaffirming its uncompromising stand against President Robert Kocharian and playing down its talks with representatives of the ruling coalition.
In separate statements read out in parliament, opposition leaders accused the authorities of refusing to end their crackdown on opposition supporters and activists which has been criticized by the Council of Europe and other international human rights organizations.
“The objective remains the same: Kocharian must go,” said a senior member of the Artarutyun (Justice) alliance, Victor Dallakian. “Regime change has taken place in people’s souls.”
“That the authorities have not returned to the political and legal field is a fact,” said another Artarutyun lawmaker.
The decision came despite a series of meetings between opposition leaders and the three parties making up Kocharian’s coalition cabinet. The two sides are expected to start their first official “negotiations” on Thursday. The governing bodies of the Dashnaktsutyun, Orinats Yerkir and Republican parties were on Tuesday holding separate discussions on the agenda of the talks proposed by Artarutyun and its main ally, the National Unity Party (AMK).
“There has been no dialogue and what [parliament speaker] Artur Baghdasarian and others are presenting does not correspond to reality,” said Artarutyun’s Grigor Harutiunian.
The two opposition groups suspended their campaign of street protests against Kocharian on May 4, saying that they are giving the regime time to end the controversial “administrative detentions” of peaceful demonstrators, release all “political prisoners” and punish government officials guilty of “human rights abuses.” A statement issued by Artarutyun said none of these demands, contained in a resolution on Armenia adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on April 28, has been met.
“There are no political prisoners in Armenia,” retorted the parliament’s Republican deputy speaker, Tigran Torosian.
The situation was discussed on Tuesday during a 90-minute meeting between AMK leader Artashes Geghamian and Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin, head of the Yerevan office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Pryakhin told RFE/RL that they spoke about possible “ways out of the situation within the framework of the constitution.”
“I think there exist such ways out and quite realistic ideas about them,” he said, adding that the OSCE will continue to push for an end to the government reprisals against opposition activists and supporters.
It also emerged that Prime Minister Andranik Markarian met another outspoken opposition leader, Aram Sarkisian, for similar discussions on Monday. Markarian and other coalition leaders have consistently rejected the opposition calls for Kocharian’s resignation. As one of them, Galust Sahakian, put it, the coalition is instead willing to ensure the opposition’s “dignified return” to the Kocharian-controlled parliament.