By Armen Zakarian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia’s biggest opposition group, the Artarutyun (Justice) bloc, declared on Friday that a referendum of confidence in President Robert Kocharian remains a key precondition for its dialogue with the authorities.
In a statement approved by hundreds of Artarutyun activists that gathered for a conference in Yerevan, the bloc’s leaders said the recall vote is essential for “addressing the political crisis that has resulted from the  falsified elections.” They also demanded an end to government “repression” and tough punishment for officials responsible for it.
The nine-party alliance led by Stepan Demirchian further underscored its uncompromising stance by issuing a list of 37 accusations directed at Kocharian. Those include his alleged failure to solve 22 “political murders,” falsification of election results and the closure of two independent television stations.
“The people are revolting against illegalities and impunity, widespread poverty and social polarization, thriving corruption and the clan-based system, unfair privatization and high unemployment,” reads the Artarutyun resolution.
However, Demirchian and other leaders remained vague about Artarutyun’s further actions. But they did indicate the Armenian opposition will not try to restart its spring campaign of anti-Kocharian protests and instead will content itself with indoor gatherings and discussions with prominent intellectuals.
Artarutyun and its opposition ally, the National Unity Party, attempted to unsuccessfully to force Kocharian into resignation with a series of rallies in Yerevan. The campaign prompted a tough response from the government, with hundreds of opposition activists arrested for their participation in the unsanctioned protests. Some of them were prosecuted and jailed on criminal charges.
The crackdown was criticized by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) which urged Yerevan to release all arrested opposition activists, respect freedom of assembly and investigate reported human rights abuses.
The authorities have released some of the remaining opposition detainees ahead of the PACE’s October session which will discuss their compliance with the 45-nation assembly’s resolution. Among them was Edgar Arakelian, a 24-year old opposition activist who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for hurling a plastic water bottle at a police officer during the violent break-up of an anti-government rally in April.
Arakelian was given a hero’s welcome by the participants of the Artarutyun conference. “I want to tell the illegitimate government that their plans have failed,” he said in a speech. “If they wanted to intimidate me and hundreds of thousands of people like me with such actions, they were mistaken. We have only become more persistent and vigilant.”
The PACE session will discuss a report on Armenia which was approved by its Monitoring Commission in Paris earlier this week. The report concludes that the Kocharian administration has mostly complied with the recommendations contained in the PACE resolution and is making progress towards meeting the country’s broader commitments to the Council of Europe.
The document was welcomed on Friday by Tigran Torosian, the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament. But a leading opposition lawmaker, Shavarsh Kocharian, criticized it as “not objective.”
(Photolur photo: Demirchian, left, presiding over the conference.)