By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Armen Zakarian in Strasbourg
Armenia’s largest opposition alliance, Artarutyun (Justice), will likely start collecting citizens’ signatures in support for its calls for President Robert Kocharian’s resignation, one of its leaders said on Monday.
The move would mark a major shift in the opposition’s strategy of political struggle following the failure of its attempts to topple Kocharian with a series of demonstrations in Yerevan.
“We are receiving numerous proposals from different regions and Yerevan to start collecting signatures and at the upcoming meeting of the alliance we will make a decision related to organizing the signature collection,” Victor Dallakian told RFE/RL.
Dallakian admitted that the undertaking would have a largely symbolic significance as Armenian law does not provide for the recall of the head of state or the holding of referendums as a result of signature collection. “In this case we attach importance to the moral and political aspect of the issue,” he explained. “If we collect, say, two million signatures it will mean that the current authorities do not enjoy popular trust.”
Artarutyun’s governing board led by Stepan Demirchian is scheduled to meet on Wednesday. The board, if it approves the idea, will seek the backing of its principal ally, the National Unity Party (AMK) of Artashes Geghamian.
The two opposition groups refuse to recognize Kocharian’s reelection in last year’s disputed presidential ballot and have already tried to undermine his legitimacy by seizing upon the Armenian Constitutional Court’s idea of a “referendum of confidence” in the president. It has been a major theme of their joint spring campaign of anti-Kocharian rallies in Yerevan. The protests eventually fizzled out, leading Artarutyun and the AMK to suspend them indefinitely last week.
According to Dallakian, Artarutyun will now try “different ways of struggle” which will involve fresh visits by its leaders to various regions of the country and mainly indoors meetings with opposition supporters. The planned collection of signatures highlights the new, public relations emphasis of their drive for regime change which Kocharian and his allies say is unconstitutional.
The Armenian authorities, meanwhile, will report to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe this week on their compliance with recommendations contained in the PACE’s April 28 resolution on the political tensions in Armenia. The resolution demanded an end to the government crackdown on the opposition and the release of all individuals arrested in connection with the street protests.
The deputy speaker of Armenia’s parliament, Tigran Torosian, will submit a written report to the PACE’s Monitoring Committee. Kocharian, for his part, is scheduled to deliver a speech at the summer session of the 45-nation assembly in Strasbourg on Wednesday.
The PACE’s response will greatly depend on an interim report to be submitted by Jerzy Jaskiernia, the Monitoring Committee’s chief Armenia rapporteur. Jaskiernia’s fact-finding trip to Yerevan earlier this month was marred by a scandal over the publication of the Armenian-language version of his book about the PACE. The publication was sponsored by the Armenian authorities. Opposition leaders denounced it as a “bribe” aimed at influencing Jaskiernia’s findings.
The allegations were dismissed on Monday by Peter Schieder, the PACE president. “We expect that Mr. Jaskiernia will present a truly independent report,” Schieder told a news conference in Strasbourg. “I know and trust him.”