In a speech greeted with tepid applause and unprecedented boos, Ter-Petrosian told thousands of supporters rallying in Yerevan’s Liberty Square that such a dialogue is the only acceptable way to address serious challenges facing the country.
“As long as the political environment in Armenia is not healthy, as long as a real dialogue hasn’t started between the authorities and the society, any talk of implementing socioeconomic reforms or improving the plight of the people can not be considered serious,” he said.
“It is not the international community that will solve our problems,” continued Armenia’s first president. “We are to solve those problems in one of two ways dictated by the situation. Either through a dialogue and the establishment of national solidarity or through a physical confrontation, the unpredictable consequences of which could be disastrous for our people and country.”
“We, together with you, prefer the first path and are confident that the overwhelming majority of the society also fully stands for that path,” added Ter-Petrosian. He branded as “political adventurers” more radical opposition elements demanding an immediate push for power.
Ter-Petrosian went on to declare that the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian has largely accepted the HAK’s three main preconditions for the dialogue. Those include the release of the several opposition loyalists remaining in prison, a government pledge to properly investigate the March 2008 unrest in Yerevan and the lifting of a de facto ban on opposition rallies in Liberty Square.
Sarkisian last week ordered law-enforcement bodies to conduct a “more meticulous” probe of the unrest. A few days later, the Yerevan municipality reversed its own decision to ban the HAK from holding Thursday’s rally in the square. Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, the Armenian president also hinted at the impending release of all jailed oppositionists.
“To put it figuratively, the door for the dialogue, if not fully open, is at least half open. I have no doubts that it will be fully opened within one month, something which we will register at our next rally to be held on May 31,” he said, provoking boos and whistles from some demonstrators.
“It’s a lie,” one elderly woman shouted when Ter-Petrosian assured the crowd that the authorities will free all “political prisoners” by the end of next month.
An unusually large number of protesters did not take part in a traditional HAK march through downtown Yerevan that followed Ter-Petrosian’s speech. Some refused to leave the square in protest.
The tone of the speech was quite different from Ter-Petrosian’s statements during HAK rallies held earlier this year. As he launched his latest campaign of antigovernment protests on February 18, the HAK leader warned Sarkisian to call snap elections or face the kind of popular revolt that toppled the longtime rulers of Tunisia and Egypt. “The only way to avoid undesirable developments is pre-term parliamentary and presidential elections,” he said at the time.
Ter-Petrosian’s right-hand man, Levon Zurabian, insisted on Thursday that the conduct of snap polls remains the HAK’s chief goal. He also said that the Sarkisian administration has been forced to make significant concessions to Armenia’s leading opposition force.
Ter-Petrosian likewise played up the significance of the government moves and attacked HAK critics who say that he deliberately put forward “easy” demands to the government in order to be able to back away from another standoff with the government. But he made no mention of fresh elections this time around.