By Ruzanna Stepanian
Raffi Hovannisian pledged on Tuesday to make further attempts to defuse Armenia’s post-election political crisis by mediating a dialogue between fellow opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian and President Serzh Sarkisian.
Hovannisian told RFE/RL earlier this week that he recently offered to arrange a face-to-face meeting between the two men and that it did not take place because of preconditions set by them. Ter-Petrosian, in particular, demanded the release of dozens of his loyalists arrested in the aftermath of the February 19 presidential election, said the leader of the opposition Zharangutyun party.
“I think it important that those two important leaders meet face to face and tackle problems like real Armenian men,” Hovannisian told a news conference. “They may have not met and assumed political responsibility for the death of ten of our fellow citizens on March 1 until now, but I do bear such responsibility.”
“So I will continue to try to organize not only that but also dialogues between the government and Zharangutyun, the broader opposition and public,” he said, expressing hope that his efforts will yield results “in the coming weeks.”
Hovannisian stressed at the same time that the proposed dialogue is a “necessary but not sufficient condition” for easing the post-election tensions and coping with international pressure exerted on the Armenian government. He said the authorities should also comply with the April 17 resolution by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) that demanded an independent investigation into the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between riot police and Ter-Petrosian supporters.
The PACE also demanded that the authorities release opposition activists arrested on “artificial” charges and lift severe restrictions on freedom of assembly. It warned that failure to take these measures would jeopardize Armenia’s continued full membership in the pan-European organization.
The authorities in Yerevan say they will comply with the resolution, with Sarkisian forming an hoc working group of senior government and law-enforcement officials and lawmakers for that purpose last week.
“That working group is a very good initiative,” commented Hovannisian. “I hope that they will submit their proposals to the president by May 10.”
Still, the Zharangutyun leader expressed serious misgivings about the group’s ability to address the PACE concerns. He argued that among its members are officials whose repressive actions against the opposition prompted the Council of Europe criticism in the first place.