Armenia’s government and largest opposition grouping are already engaged in an “open dialogue,” opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian said on Thursday after being allowed to meet the most prominent of his loyalists remaining in prison.
Ter-Petrosian talked to one of them, Nikol Pashinian, for about an hour in a prison near the northwestern Armenian town of Artik. He visited another jailed opposition figure, Sasun Mikaelian, at a prison hospital in Yerevan on Wednesday.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service in Artik, Ter-Petrosian portrayed the Armenian authorities’ decision to allow such visits as further proof that the political situation in the country has changed of late. He pointed to President Serzh Sarkisian’s decision to essentially meet the three key demands of his Armenian National Congress (HAK).
Those include the lifting of a de facto government ban on opposition rallies in Yerevan’s Liberty Square, a government promise to conduct a more objective inquiry into the March 2008 post-election violence and the release of Pashinian, Mikaelian and three other oppositionists. The HAK expects all of them to be set free by May 28.
“An open dialogue is underway,” said Ter-Petrosian. “We openly present our demands, our problems, our programs to the authorities and the public, and the authorities are openly responding to them.”
“Of course, not as concretely and directly as we are saying … but steps are being taken and that cannot be ignored,” he said, adding that “the dialogue must be permanent.”
Ter-Petrosian insisted that his decision to back away from another standoff with the government has not disappointed many of his supporters who hoped for a quick leadership change in Armenia. “Nothing has happened, the majority of the people understands this whole process very well.”
“Naturally, there are impatient people, people not understanding the process, who think that issues could have been solved in a different way,” he added. “I am sure that the different way would have ruined those issues.”
Ter-Petrosian warned the Sarkisian government to hold snap elections and meet other HAK demands or face a popular revolt as he launched a fresh campaign of antigovernment demonstrations in Yerevan in February.