Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian on Friday questioned President Serzh Sarkisian’s commitment to negotiate with his Armenian National Congress (HAK) and said failure of such dialogue would primarily harm the government. (UPDATED)
Ter-Petrosian at the same time downplayed statements by Sarkisian’s aides and political allies rejecting a format of negotiations preferred by the HAK.
Sarkisian paved the way for the dialogue late last month by ensuring the release of Ter-Petrosian loyalists remaining in prison and ordering a renewed investigation into the 200 post-election unrest in Yerevan.
Speaking at an HAK rally on May 31, Ter-Petrosian described these government gestures as the biggest “victory” scored by his opposition movement to date. He and other HAK leaders went on to form a five-member team tasked with holding talks with the Sarkisian administration.
Sarkisian’s chief of staff, Karen Karapetian, made clear on Tuesday, however, that the president and his governing coalition will not form any negotiating teams because their dialogue with the HAK began “a long time ago.” He also said that the conduct of fresh national elections, the main issue on the HAK agenda, is non-negotiable for Armenia’s leadership.
Senior representatives of Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) made similar statements on Monday, fuelling speculation that the head of state does not intend to make more concessions to the opposition.
In written comments published by the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily on Friday, Ter-Petrosian dismissed these statements, saying that they come from “individuals having a zero role in decision making” and “have no significance in this case.” “Therefore, until Serzh Sarkisian [personally] expresses his opinion it will be meaningless to say anything about that,” he said.
“One should just keep in mind that dialogue is needed not so much by the opposition as the authorities,” continued Armenia’s first president. “In case of the failure of the dialogue, the Congress will not lose anything and will perhaps even gain from the political standpoint. The loser will primarily be the authorities.”
“Let them engage in dialogue if they want to; if they don’t, they will be responsible for consequences,” warned Ter-Petrosian.
The HAK leader did not specify what those consequences could be. Nor would he say whether his opposition bloc is ready to intensify periodical anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan and try to step up pressure on the government.
Citing HAK spokesman Arman Musinian, the 1in.am news service reported later on Friday that the next opposition rally in the city’s Liberty Square will take place on June 30.
Ter-Petrosian has advocated a cautious strategy of political struggle ever since the March 2008 suppression of his massive street protests in Yerevan. In his May 31 speech, he rejected his opposition critics’ view that only a campaign of non-stop protests could force the Armenian government to call snap elections.
Ter-Petrosian insisted that there is not enough popular enthusiasm for a fresh standoff with the government. He also argued that the HAK “categorically rejects the revolutionary way of struggle” in principle.