By Astghik Bedevian
Raffi Hovannisian, the leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, said on Monday that his efforts to arrange a dialogue between Armenia’s leadership and radical opposition have failed because of preconditions set by both mutually hostile camps.
News of those efforts was revealed week by a senior member of Zharangutyun late last, prompting a statement from Levon Ter-Petrosian, President Serzh Sarkisian’s main challenger in the recent presidential election.
Hovannisian confirmed it in an interview with RFE/RL, saying that he specifically tried to organize a face-to-face meeting between the two bitter rivals and had a “straightforward conversation” with Sarkisian for that purpose recently. He said Ter-Petrosian demanded the release of dozens of his loyalists arrested in the aftermath of the February 19 election, while Sarkisian set a “precondition relating to another sphere.”
The Zharangutyun leader, whose party endorsed Ter-Petrosian’s presidential bid, refused to specify what that precondition was, saying only that Sarkisian should have “no cause for such concern” after being sworn in as Armenia’s new president on April 9. “We have a situation where each of the politicians has his own approach, and so that process had no continuation,” he said.
Asked whether he will again approach the two men, Hovannisian said, “I don’t think there is a need for another letter or phone call. The issue has been raised, and if they have a desire, I’m sure they won’t need me in order to meet each other.”
While supporting the idea of a dialogue in principle, Sarkisian and his allies have said that they will not talk to the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition unless it recognizes his controversial election victory. Parliament speaker Tigran Torosian reaffirmed this position as he spoke to journalists on Monday. “What dialogue can there be with those who do not accept the need for law enforcement, those who break laws, those reject decisions by the Constitutional Court and other structures that can serve as the basis for that dialogue?” he said.
The Ter-Petrosian camp, for its part, argues that the release of opposition leaders and supporters arrested for their political activities has also been demanded by the United States, the European Union and the Council of Europe. The “urgent release” of those individuals was a key point of a resolution on Armenia adopted by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on April 17.
The PACE warned that Yerevan’s failure to meet these and other demands contained in the resolution could lead to a suspension of the voting rights of its Armenian members. The Armenian authorities have said they will do their best to comply with the resolution, with Sarkisian forming a special working group for that purpose on Friday.
“There is a big gap between statements and actions in our country,” Hovannisian said, commenting on government assurances. “I haven’t seen any evidence of good will. I have only seen occasional nice statements and stated commitments.”