Speaking to a crowd of supporters at a rally in central Yerevan organized on Tuesday by his Armenian National Congress (HAK), Armenia’s ex-president again accused the country’s current leadership of failing to comply with the demands of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) made in the aftermath of deadly post-election clashes in 2008.
The rally held in front of the ancient manuscripts depositary Matenadaran was timed to coincide with the start of a high-level international forum on democracy organized by the Council of Europe in Yerevan and housed in a nearby government building.
It followed a six-hour picket of the building organized by opposition activists earlier in the afternoon.
Armenia -- John Prescott in Yerevan.19Oct2010
The forum entitled “For the Future of Democracy” was expected to bring to Yerevan sessions several key members of European bodies, including Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland, PACE President Mevlut Cavusoglu and the PACE Monitoring Committee’s Armenia co-rapporteur John Prescott.
At a press conference earlier on Tuesday Prescott declined to answer media questions regarding his work as the co-rapporteur, saying that he had come to Yerevan in the capacity of a member of the British delegation to the PACE. He said the Yerevan forum dealt with general issues of democracy in Europe rather than Armenia’s in particular.
Prescott, still, acknowledged problems in Armenia, also pointing at the protest being held outside.
Earlier in the day, the PACE representative reportedly met with Ter-Petrosian. The HAK office said during the meeting the sides discussed issues connected with “Armenia’s failure to live up to the requirements of PACE Resolution 1677” and, in particular, “the issue of the release of political prisoners.”
In his shorter-than-usual speech at the second rally held by the opposition in a space of four days Ter-Petrosian focused on the state of democracy and civil freedoms in Armenia.
He, in particular, criticized the policy of “cuddling” that, he claimed, international bodies had adopted in relation to authorities in Armenia in a bid “to get the country back to the path of reform”. He called for more pressure on Armenia for reform, saying that Armenian authorities “show a tendency to make positive steps only under the threat of sanctions.”
“The Armenia authorities do not make a single step towards uncovering the March 1, 2008 [post-election] killings and do not at all intend to give up the unlawful practice of restricting freedom of speech and assembly,” Ter-Petrosian charged.
At the same time, he criticized the PACE for failing “to show consistency and a principle-based approach in overseeing Armenia’s compliance with its resolution.”
“By its passivity it [PACE] in fact has encouraged the criminal conduct of authorities in Armenia,” Ter-Petrosian stressed.
Ter-Petrosian underscored the problem of jailed opposition members in Armenia whom the local opposition views as political prisoners.
“In the teeth of the efforts of the international community the Armenian authorities continue to imprison more than a dozen opposition members,” he said.
The Armenian opposition leader made a case for a “reciprocal commitment” of Armenia and the international organizations, like the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United Nations and others, that Armenia is a member of.
“Armenia voluntarily became a member of all these international organizations and assumed relevant obligations before them,” he stressed. “Therefore, from these organizations, which are also ours, we simply demand the fulfillment of these obligations. These demands are fair and legitimate, because if our state has assumed commitments to the mentioned organizations, then it means that they, too, have obligations to our people.”
At the same time, Ter-Petrosian claimed that the international community is “running out of patience.”
“In the scandalous revelations made in Russia, the United States, Malaysia, Australia, Armenia is presented as a center of money laundering, drug dealing, trafficking, illicit arms trade and other international crimes and its authorities as central figures involved in these crimes. The redemption day is thus approaching,” he asserted.
Armenia - Armenian National Congress opposition movement holds a rally in front of the Armenian Governments Reception House during the Council of Europe Forum for the Future of Democracy, Yerevan,19Oct2010
The Armenian government has repeatedly denied the existence of political prisoners in the country. It maintains that the opposition members who currently remain in prison were convicted on charges related to their criminal deeds, mainly for their roles in the 2008 post-election unrest.
Authorities in Yerevan have also assured the Council of Europe that they will improve their conduct of elections and implement other political reforms to prevent a repeat of the 2008 post-election crisis.
Meanwhile, conducting their afternoon picket addressed to the participants of the three-day Council of Europe forum in Yerevan opposition activists met more restrictions from police that put up iron blocks on the approaches to the building.
A senior police officer in Yerevan told RFE/RL that the restriction of access to the immediate neighborhood of the building housing the forum was aimed at ensuring the normal proceedings and security of the forum participants.
Left with the option of holding their protest on the opposite side of the street, dozens of HAK activists and their supporters installed imitation prison bars with people in prisoner outfits standing behind them. They had posters around their necks with the names of people whom the opposition believes are political prisoners.
“We think it is a good occasion for bringing the demands of the Armenian society, the Armenian people to the notice of the democratic international community and we plan several major events to this effect,” senior HAK member Levon Zurabian told RFE/RL.
Meanwhile, RFE/RL’s correspondent in Gyumri cited the HAK’s office in Armenia’s second largest city as reporting at least one case of law-enforcers stopping a bus carrying passengers to Yerevan and making its driver to discontinue his way to the capital.
Setting up roadblocks restricting transport communication between the provinces and capital Yerevan has been a practice used by Armenian law-enforcers virtually during all HAK rallies in the past two years.
The HAK said it will call its next rally in Yerevan on November 9.