By Armen Zakarian and Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s governing parties defended on Tuesday their decision to join the opposition in condemning a violent incident that marred an anti-government demonstration in the central town of Sevan -- a move criticized by President Robert Kocharian.
Speaking on state television on Monday, Kocharian said 34 political groups, among them the three parties represented in his cabinet, put themselves in an “awkward position” by issuing a joint statement that implicitly blamed “criminal elements” for the trouble. He said the violence was instigated by Aram Karapetian, the leader of an obscure opposition party that organized the protest.
But leaders of the ruling coalition sought to justify their actions. “The Orinats Yerkir Party believes it was right to sign that statement,” its leader, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, told reporters.
“We should pay attention to the president’s remark that the participation of criminal elements in political processes is inadmissible,” he said in a bid to play down the apparent differences between the president and his top allies.
Tigran Torosian, the deputy parliament speaker and a senior member of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), likewise claimed that Kocharian agrees with the statement’s content. “This is the main thing,” he said.
A leader of the third coalition party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), told RFE/RL on Friday that it stands by its signature in the statement. But Vahan Hovannisian said at the same time that he believes Karapetian himself provoked scuffles between his supporters and a small group of opponents.
Kocharian appeared particularly upset with the fact that the multi-party statement was issued on April 21 when he was in France on a working visit. He indicated that the coalition parties should have consulted with him before signing it. Kocharian also charged that Karapetian served Armenia’s “enemies” by holding the rally on the eve of the April 24 events commemorating the 90th anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.
The trouble in Sevan began when the maverick oppositionist urged his supporters and police officers following the rally to “force out” a man who angrily condemned his plans to stage a “revolution” in Armenia.
Karapetian on Tuesday defended his actions and accused Kocharian of predetermining the outcome of the ongoing investigation into the incident. He also complained that law-enforcement authorities are rounding up and detaining activists of his Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party instead of punishing those who he believes disrupted the rally.
“The authorities have launched a crusade against the party and want to show that they are not weak,” Karapetian told a news conference. “Everything went well until Robert Kocharian’s return from France. There were joint efforts on the political arena, everyone was trying to clarify what happened … But things changed once Robert Kocharian came back.”
It also emerged that authorities in Yerevan have refused to sanction another rally which Nor Zhamanakner planned to hold in the Armenian capital on Wednesday.
(Photolur photo: Aram Karapetian.)