Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian and his opposition allies remaining at large have met to discuss their further steps, saying that they will continue to strive for regime change in Armenia by “legal and democratic means.”
Ter-Petrosian’s office said participants of the weekend meeting, apparently the first since the violent post-election unrest in Yerevan, “reaffirmed their determination to fight against the kleptocratic system.”
“All leaders of the [pro-Ter-Petrosian opposition] parties noted that the public is determined to get rid of the current authorities by legal and democratic means,” it said in a short statement. No further details were reported.
Ter-Petrosian said last week that he will continue to challenge the official results of Armenia’s disputed presidential election and plans to resume demonstrations in the capital after the lifting of the state of emergency expected. His representatives had already notified the Yerevan mayor’s office of their intention to hold a rally on March 21, the day after the anticipated end of emergency rule.
However, municipal authorities banned the planned gathering, saying that it would pose a “serious threat to the life and health of citizens.” In a written statement, an aide to Mayor Yervand Zakharian also argued that the last opposition rally held on March 1 was marred by deadly clashes between Ter-Petrosian supporters and riot police.
More than one hundred opposition leaders and activists have been arrested on charges mainly stemming from those clashes which the Armenian authorities call a coup attempt. Dozens of others have gone into hiding. Many of the detained and fugitive oppositionists are senior members of opposition parties supporting Ter-Petrosian, notably the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) and Hanrapetutyun (Republic). According to Ter-Petrosian’s office, most members of the two parties’ governing boards are now in jail or on the run.
An office spokesman, Armen Khachatrian, told RFE/RL on Monday that dozens of other, less known, opposition activists in Yerevan and other parts of the country have been taken to police stations in recent days. He said police officers are trying to force them to give incriminating testimony against opposition leaders and to promise not to participate in further Ter-Petrosian rallies. He said the interrogations are illegal because none of the activists received written summonses from the police and other law-enforcement agencies.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and his ally Artur Baghdasarian, who finished third in the February 19 election, on Monday again defended the use of force against Ter-Petrosian supporters 1 and blamed the former president for the resulting casualties. “He radicalized a part of the opposition and guided it into a standoff with the state, which led to the March 1 riots in which armed demonstrators confronted police,” they said in a joint article published by “The Washington Post.”
“Despite recent events, our country is still moving forward,” wrote Sarkisian and Baghdasarian. “The international community has everything to gain through supporting a stable, transparent and elected government in Armenia.”
However, the Zharangutyun party of Raffi Hovannisian, the only opposition group represented in Armenia’s parliament, had a completely different take on the post-election situation in the country, saying that “the schism between the Armenian people and its government continues to expand.” In a statement, Zharangutyun, which endorsed Ter-Petrosian’s presidential bid, said that the presidential ballot was fraudulent and that Armenians had a legitimate right to dispute its official results in the streets. It said the March 1 bloodshed resulted from the break-up of non-stop protests in Yerevan’s Liberty Square staged by the Ter-Petrosian camp.
“The unconscionability displayed on February 19 and the brutality used to protect it on March 1 remain unresolved issues,” said the statement. “No state of emergency, accompanied as it is by an aggressive, one-sided ‘public information’ vertical which deepens the public divide rather than healing it, will succeed in securing the collective amnesia of state and society.”