By Ruzanna Stepanian and Ruzanna Khachatrian
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian will hold next week his first public rally in Yerevan in more than a decade to make a more detailed assessment of the situation in Armenia and gauge popular support for his return to active politics.
The rally, scheduled for October 26, will be a further indication that he is leaning towards participating in next year’s presidential election. It will come one day before the eighth anniversary of the 1999 armed attack on the Armenian parliament that left then Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, parliament speaker Karen Demirchian and six other officials dead.
Ter-Petrosian allies said on Tuesday this is the reason why the rally will also feature two other opposition speakers: Sarkisian’s brother Aram and Demirchian’s son Karen Demirchian.
“We will discuss the political situation, propose solutions and outline the tasks that need to be accomplished soon,” Aram Sarkisian told RFE/RL.
Sarkisian said the gathering will be “very important” for Ter-Petrosian’s increasingly likely presidential bid, predicting that it will attract a huge crowd. “He who controls the street is the master of the country,” he said.
“We will address the political situation in the country and challenges facing the country,” Demirchian said, for his part.
Sarkisian and Demirchian said the 1999 parliament killings will be another major theme of the rally. Both men suspect President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian of masterminding the killings.
Sarkisian and his radical opposition Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party is among the most ardent backers of Ter-Petrosian’s political comeback. Like other Ter-Petrosian loyalists, they believe that the ex-president is the only politician capable of defeating the election favorite, Serzh Sarkisian. Demirchian and his People’s Party of Armenia are also increasingly sympathetic to Ter-Petrosian but have so far refrained from endorsing him for the presidency.
Ter-Petrosian is understood to be planning to elaborate on his September 21 speech in Yerevan that marked the end of his nearly decade-long silence. He denounced the current Armenia leadership as “corrupt and criminal” and accused it of turning Armenia into a “third world country” and dragging out the resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It is expected that during the planned rally Ter-Petrosian will touch upon controversial episodes of his eight-year rule and specify what he thinks needs to be done to meet challenges facing Armenia.
Meanwhile, Ter-Petrosian continued on Tuesday his consultations with a broad range of political forces with a visit to the headquarters of the opposition Orinats Yerkir Party and a meeting with its top leader, former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian. Heghine Bisharian, the number two figure in Orinats Yerkir also present at the meeting, told RFE/RL that it focused on the upcoming presidential ballot and ways of ensuring its freedom and fairness.
Bisharian made it clear that Baghdasarian will contest the 2008 election and will not withdraw from the race in Ter-Petrosian’s favor. She also said the ex-president gave the impression that he will enter the presidential race. “I think he will run for president,” she said.
Later in the day, Ter-Petrosian visited the Yerevan bureau of RFE/RL’s Armenian service and held a lively off-the-record discussion with its reporters on issues facing the country and his past and present role in its political life. He reiterated that he has still not made a final decision on his participation in the approaching vote.
“I am very happy with this meeting,” Ter-Petrosian said on record. “It was a very nice and pleasant conversation with nice people. I’m sure this is not our last meeting.”
(RFE/RL photo: Ter-Petrosian pictured with RFE/RL staff in Yerevan.)