By Gevorg Stamboltsian and Ruzanna Stepanian
Leaders of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) met on Monday to discuss a plan of actions which they hope will result in bigger crowds at their anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan that are due to resume on June 4.
They said they agreed to hold “local meetings” across the country in the next two weeks in a bid to boost the rally attendance, something which is seen as essential for the success of the two-month opposition drive for power.
Artarutyun and its main ally, the National Unity Party (AMK), announced on Friday a two-week suspension of their campaign, abandoning plans to stage another march to President Robert Kocharian’s residence. They said they need to rally more supporters to be able to force Kocharian into resignation.
“We will hold meetings in various communities and neighborhoods of Yerevan and other cities of the republic. We will be preparing for the big rally planned for June 4,” Artarutyun’s Albert Bazeyan told RFE/RL.
Bazeyan reiterated that the opposition will “rethink” and “review” its steps taken so far. He also indicated that it is gearing up for a longer-than-expected confrontation with the authorities that have denounced the attempt at regime change as unconstitutional. “This is a process which leads to a gradual weakening of the regime,” he said.
Another senior member of Artarutyun, Grigor Harutiunian, said the opposition actions will also depend on whether the authorities will release more than a dozen of its activists prosecuted on criminal charges. Some of them have already been sentenced to one year in prison.
Kocharian and the three political parties making up his coalition cabinet deny the opposition claims that they rigged last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections to hold on to power. They also insist that most Armenians do not agree with the opposition demands.
“The society wants positive change and not regime change,” Armen Rustamian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) told RFE/RL.
Rustamian renewed the coalition’s offer of a “dialogue” with the opposition on any issue except regime change. “Everyone except the radical wing of the opposition accepts the idea of dialogue,” he said. “It is also supported by the Council of Europe.”
Talks between the coalition parties and the opposition groups broke down shortly after their start earlier month after the authorities refused to release all detainees described as “political prisoners” by the opposition. Harutiunian reaffirmed the latter’s refusal to negotiate with the authorities as long as they remain in custody.
“They arrest people and say ‘Let’s sit down and talk’,” he said. “This is just dishonest.”