By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian added his voice Wednesday to calls for a dialogue between the Armenian leadership and the opposition, saying that he will hold “political consultations” in a bid to defuse the crisis.
Baghdasarian said he will meet President Robert Kocharian and leaders of the main political groups for discussions on how to “spare the country upheavals.”
Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party and the two other members of the governing coalition have already offered to start a “dialogue” with the opposition. The latter, however, has made clear that it is only ready to discuss ways of holding a referendum of confidence in Kocharian.
The coalition parties have repeatedly rejected the idea. Still, Baghdasarian indicated that he is ready to discuss the matter with opposition leaders. Furthermore, unlike other top pro-Kocharian politicians, he avoided any condemnation of their drive to bring about a change of power through street protests and spoke out against possible arrests of opposition lawmakers.
“I have a negative attitude towards any politically motivated arrest,” the 35-year-old speaker told a news conference. “It can not benefit Armenia. Criminal offences must be punished with all the strictness of the criminal code, but criminal prosecution of political actions would lead Armenia to destruction.”
The possibility of such arrests was raised by a criminal investigation launched by the authorities into the month-long opposition rallies. Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian wrote to Baghdasarian last week, asking him to ensure that the opposition leaders, most of them members of the National Assembly, engage in legislative work instead of making “unconstitutional” calls.
Baghdasarian went on to demand tough action against a group of violent youths who attacked journalists, smashing television and still cameras that caught them stirring up trouble at an opposition rally on Monday. He complained that instances of violence against journalists in Armenia have gone unpunished in the past.
“Condemnations must be followed by concrete actions,” he said. “The guilty must be brought to account…I assure you that as chairman of the National Assembly I will be very consistent on this issue.”
Meanwhile, the Armenian police said they have still not decided whether to open a criminal case in connection with the attacks strongly condemned by the country’s media associations. “Materials have been prepared and measures are being taken to identify perpetrators and subject them to appropriate punishment,” a police spokesman, Sayad Shirnian, told RFE/RL.
Some media reports have already identified the attackers as bodyguards of government-connected businessmen. A private television station has repeatedly aired pictures of a video of the rampage featuring several thugs.