By Emil Danielyan and Ruzanna Khachatrian
The three top leaders of the Armenian opposition denied on Wednesday reports that they have resumed negotiations with the government on ways of defusing political tensions in the country that flared up into an open confrontation last spring.
In separate interviews with RFE/RL, Stepan Demirchian and Aram Sarkisian of the Artarutyun (Justice) bloc and Artashes Geghamian of the National Unity also ruled out an end to the eight-month opposition boycott of parliament sessions.
A leader of the governing coalition, deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, said in a newspaper interview published on Tuesday that the official contacts between the two rival camps, suspended at the height of an opposition assault on President Robert Kocharian in April, have resumed. “We have had a meeting and agreed to continue the process,” he said.
“I heard about that for the first time from Tigran Torosian,” Sarkisian said. “There have been no contacts or negotiations. The authorities not only have expressed no desire for contacts but also have done everything to prevent such contacts.”
Demirchian also scoffed at Torosian’s claims. “I don’t know who Mr. Torosian is negotiating with,” he said. “There have been no discussions. There is no such issue on the alliance’s agenda.”
In an uncharacteristically blunt warning, Demirchian added that anyone who decides to open talks with the authorities without consulting with fellow Artarutyun leaders would face ouster from the nine-party alliance.
Geghamian, for his part, suggested that the vice-speaker, who is affiliated with the governing Republican Party, may have simply underlined the need for a dialogue with the opposition in the light of “grave dangers facing Armenia.” “If necessary, we will negotiate even with Satan's offspring to somehow neutralize their negative impact,” he said, referring to the authorities.
The talk of a possible dialogue between Kocharian’s allies and bitter opponents was fueled by their unexpected cooperation during the recent session in Strasbourg of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Geghamian and another opposition lawmaker representing Armenia at the PACE avoided strongly-worded attacks on the government.
They instead co-authored with their pro-presidential colleagues several amendments to a PACE resolution on the political situation in Armenia. It made a largely positive assessment of the Kocharian administration’s human rights record. The opposition stance led some observers to predict that the Artarutyun and AMK deputies’ return to the National Assembly is just a matter of time.
But Sarkisian insisted that while the two sides made “mutual concessions” in Strasbourg for staving off Council of Europe pressure on Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, the end of the opposition boycott is still not on the cards. “If the citizens that elected us demand that we go back to parliament, we will definitely return,” he said. “But what the public is demanding is just the opposite.”
Demirchian reiterated in this regard that a referendum of confidence in Kocharian and the punishment of officials that committed human rights abuses during the government’s spring crackdown on the opposition remain Artarutyun’s preconditions for the dialogue.
He also confirmed that Artarutyun will hold on Monday its first rally in Yerevan in four months to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the October 1999 attack on the Armenian parliament that left eight people dead. Among them were Karen Demirchian, the parliament speaker and Stepan’s father, and Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, Aram’s brother.
(RFE/RL archive: Demirchian, Geghamian and Sarkisian leading an opposition rally in Yerevan in April.)