By Astghik Bedevian and Ruzanna Stepanian
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian will hold one and possibly more rallies in Yerevan before finally deciding whether to stand in next year’s presidential election, a former comrade-in-arms said on Thursday.
“Not one but two or probably three rallies are planned,” said Rafael Ghazarian, an elderly academic who was, along with Ter-Petrosian, one of the members of the Karabakh Committee that led the 1988 movement for Nagorno-Karabakh’s unification with Armenia.
“Until he meets and addresses the masses and hears their reaction, he won’t make a decision. He will try to talk to the popular masses. Unfortunately, the only means [of struggle] is rallies because they won’t let him talk on any TV channel,” he told RFE/RL, adding that the rallies will be held in late October or early November.
Ghazarian said Ter-Petrosian made while paying a surprise visit to his Yerevan home the previous night. It was the first face-to-face meeting between the two prominent men in many years. Like several other members of the Karabakh Committee, Ghazarian fell out with Ter-Petrosian and became a vocal opponent of Armenia’s former leadership in the early 1990s, accusing it of reversing democratic reforms and tolerating government corruption.
Ghazarian, who is now seriously ill, was clearly moved by Ter-Petrosian’s visit. “I am pleased with that,” he said. “The country is in a critical situation. We must forget mutual offenses, mutual accusations. In that sense, Levon is in a more difficult position because I have for years been his bitter critic.”
“He had to forgive and get over that. And this is what I think he did,” added Ghazarian.
Ending his nearly decade-long silence with a speech on September 21, Ter-Petrosian condemned Armenia’s current leadership in unusually strong terms and called for its ouster. He accused the authorities of rigging elections, breaking laws, restricting civil liberties and extorting bribes from businessmen.
President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian have rejected the accusations. Former Ter-Petrosian associates like Ghazarian have also scoffed at the high-profile speech, arguing that he ex-president was dogged by similar accusations during his 1990-1998 rule and showed no remorse for his administration’s mistakes.
“I think that he does not deny there were such mistakes,” said Ghazarian. Asked whether Ter-Petrosian is ready to publicly acknowledge them, he replied, “As far as I understood, he is going to do that.”
Ter-Petrosian similarly took many observers and politicians by surprise when he met last Saturday top leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a pro-Kocharian party which he had banned in 1994. The talks were construed as a further indication that he is leaning towards a presidential run.
Ter-Petrosian aides insisted on Thursday that he has still not made a decision. Aleksandr Arzumanian, who had served as foreign minister in the Ter-Petrosian administration, argued that he has yet to complete his consultations with various political groups and nationwide meetings with supporters. The 62-year-old ex-president visited the eastern Gegharkunik region over the weekend and is due in the southeastern Syunik province later this week.
“His concern is to change this situation,” Arzumanian told RFE/RL. “As he said, we need a single [opposition presidential] candidate to be able to confront this regime.”
Arzumanian also ruled out the possibility of Ter-Petrosian meeting Kocharian or Sarkisian. “No discussions are possible with those responsible for this situation,” he said.