By Karine Kalantarian
A close associate of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian arrested following the post-election clashes in Yerevan struck a defiant note Friday as he spoke to RFE/RL in a maximum security prison where he is being kept along with other prominent opposition figures.
Aleksandr Arzumanian, who managed Ter-Petrosian’s presidential election campaign, insisted that grave accusations brought against him were trumped up for political reasons. He also said that the Armenian authorities can not be serious about their stated readiness to engage in a dialogue with the opposition as long as he and dozens of other oppositionists remain in jail.
Like many of the detainees, Arzumanian was charged with organizing “mass disturbances” and attempting to “usurp power” in the wake of the February 19 presidential election. The charges stem from the March 1 deadly clashes between security forces and thousands of Ter-Petrosian demanding a re-run of what they believe was a rigged vote. The Armenian government and law-enforcement bodies say the street protests were part of Ter-Petrosian’s plot to seize power by force.
“I stated right from the beginning that this is a fabricated accusation resulting from a political order by the authorities,” Arzumanian told RFE/RL in the basement jail of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS). “I am persecuted for my political views and that is why I refuse to give testimony or participate in any other investigative activity.”
“This case is a bubble. There is not a single fact to substantiate the accusations. They are holding us hostage here until they see what happens next,” he said, adding that government “repressions” will not force the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition into submission.
The Armenian authorities have been under pressure from the United States, the European Union and the Council of Europe to release opposition figures arrested for their political views and activities. That is also one of Ter-Petrosian’s preconditions for accepting dialogue offers made by the government.
Arzumanian, who had served as Armenia’s foreign minister in 1996-1998, backed the ex-president’s position. “You can’t hold people hostage, ban any public gathering, persecute people and at the same time talk about dialogue,” he said. “All this is illegal. This illegalities must end before we can feel that the authorities want to effect any changes.”