By Karine Kalantarian
Dialogue between Armenia’s main political groups foundered before starting in earnest on Thursday as the opposition cancelled planned crisis talks with the governing coalition, saying that President Robert Kocharian’s has not stopped the month-long crackdown on his opponents.
The leaders of the Artarutyun bloc and the National Unity Party (AMK) accused the authorities of failing to comply with a Council of Europe resolution that called for the release of arrested opposition activists, an end to “administrative detentions” of participants of anti-government protests and punishment of government officials guilty of “human rights abuses.” The two groups declared on May 4 a ten-day moratorium on unsactioned demonstrations in Yerevan to give the authorities time to meet the demands.
Opposition representatives were scheduled to meet on Thursday with leaders of the three pro-Kocharian parties that hold the majority of seats in parliament and are represented in Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s cabinet. The meeting was supposed to be the first official “negotiation” between the two sides that have held a series of unofficial consultations over the past week.
According to Artarutyun’s Victor Dallakian, the opposition will resume the contacts only after the authorities take “practical steps” stemming from the resolution adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). “We have nothing to discuss with the coalition now,” he said.
“They were obliged to immediately comply with the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,” AMK leader Artashes Geghamian told a separate news conference. “Namely, to immediately release the political prisoners, to ensure people’s freedom of movement, to put an end to the continuing repressions.”
“They are now trying to hold us as hostages so that we adopt what they are obliged to unconditionally do as our main cause,” Geghamian added.
Parliament majority leaders said the decision to pull out of the talks was not immediately communicated to them as they waited for opposition representatives inside the parliament building in the evening. “It will be unfortunate but it won’t have serious consequences for the country,” Galust Sahakian of Markarian’s Republican Party told reporters.
“That the opposition is not prepared for a dialogue is a fact,” Sahakian said, adding that the PACE issued “recommendations,” rather than demands.
The boycott followed Artarutyun’s and the AMK’s decision to resume their joint rallies in Yerevan on Friday. The opposition says it is only prepared to discuss with the authorities ways of ensuring Kocharian’s resignation “without upheavals,” suggesting in particular a referendum of confidence in the Armenian leader.
However, the coalition parties remain united in their support of Kocharian and strongly oppose regime change in the country. They say that they can instead give the opposition more of a say in government affairs.
The international community has strongly encouraged both sides to try to bridge their differences through negotiations, with the PACE resolution calling for a “dialogue without preconditions.” The head of the Yerevan office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Vladimir Pryakhin, echoed the calls on Wednesday.
“I encourage both sides to engage in a meaningful and genuine dialogue in order to resolve, within the constitutional framework, the continuing difficulties,” Pryakhin said in a statement.
Pryakhin also urged the Armenian authorities to “review the cases” of all those detained during recent opposition demonstrations and end the controversial “administrative detentions” repeatedly condemned by the Council of Europe and other human rights organizations. “This practice is incompatible with European human rights standards,” the Russian diplomat said.