Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian said on Thursday that his hotly disputed victory in last month’s presidential election has split Armenian society and told his cabinet members to start “dialogue” with citizens bitterly opposed to the country’s leadership.
“Spite in the society has increased, the society is divided, and in this regard I expect all of you to work actively in that direction,” he said, opening a weekly cabinet meeting, the first since Saturday’s bloody confrontation between security forces and supporters of his main election challenger, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
“You should engage in dialogue, you should argue, explain, even if your interlocutor doesn’t understand. Even if your interlocutor is blinded by hatred,” said Sarkisian.
The president-elect at the same time defended the use of force against thousands of Ter-Petrosian supporters who had been protesting the official election results on a daily basis and pledged to punish organizers of those unsanctioned protests. “Thank God, our security forces managed to find adequate solutions,” he said.
“We will make sure that all the guilty are punished,” continued Sarkisian. “I am promising this to all of you by 100 percent. This is not a promise, this is an obligation which I will fulfill.”
Sarkisian also criticized government ministers and other officials for being too “passive” in trying to have the international community accept the official version of events that left at least seven protesters and one interior troops officer dead. He assured them that relevant official reports aired by Armenia’s government-controlled TV channels are truthful and can be cited as proven facts “without hesitation.”
The Armenian authorities say the violent confrontation which followed the break-up on Saturday morning of Ter-Petrosian supporters’ sit-in in Yerevan’s Liberty Square was an opposition attempt at a coup d’etat. Ter-Petrosian and his allies insist, however, that the authorities themselves provoked the deadly clashes with their heavy-handed tactic and refusal to end the former president’s de facto house arrest.
Armen Harutiunian has questioned the credibility of the official theory, prompting harsh criticism from President Robert Kocharian. “I didn’t get answers to my questions,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL, commenting on the criticism.
“I can only say that as human rights ombudsman, I tried to do what I consider the right thing,” he said. “I think time will tell that my approach was objective.”