Addressing thousands of supporters in Yerevan, Ter-Petrosian portrayed a series of concessions made by President Serzh Sarkisian to his Armenian National Congress (HAK) as a “remarkable event that has no precedents in the Armenian reality.”
He also flatly denied cutting any secret deals with the Sarkisian administration and insisted that “regime change” and the holding of fresh presidential and parliamentary elections remains the HAK’s main aim.
“Since we are ready for the dialogue, in the coming days we will decide the composition of our delegation … and present our agenda of the dialogue to the authorities. Naturally, the authorities have to do the same,” Ter-Petrosian said in a more than hour-long speech delivered at the latest HAK rally in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
“A new political situation has emerged in Armenia, which allows us to solve even the most acute issues by legal means,” he declared. “We have a chance to show the world that we are civilized people with centuries-old traditions of statehood.”
The rally, sanctioned by the authorities, took place just days after virtually all HAK loyalists remaining in prison were set free in accordance with a general amnesty initiated by Sarkisian and approved by the Armenian parliament. The most prominent of those detainees, Nikol Pashinian and Sasun Mikaelian, received a hero’s welcome from the crowd.
Earlier, Sarkisian ordered a fresh criminal inquiry into the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan, while the municipal administration lifted a de facto ban on opposition rallies in Liberty Square. The authorities thus accepted the HAK’s three main preconditions for the long-awaited dialogue on ways of defusing lingering political tensions in Armenia.
“This must be considered the biggest victory registered by the three-year popular struggle so far,” Ter-Petrosian told the crowd. “This is a victory not for the opposition, the Armenian National Congress, but, first of all, for Armenia’s new civil society, and, if you like, the whole Armenian people and ultimately our country and state.”
The HAK leader, who served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998, claimed that the Sarkisian administration fulfilled the opposition demands not only because of the HAK pressure but also upcoming “serious developments” in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, the threat of social upheaval and a new international environment created by the popular uprisings in several Arab states.
“The authorities are forced to make serious concessions in order to woo the people and find even minimal support within the country,” Ter-Petrosian said. “The main reason is the deplorable socioeconomic situation in the country and their realization of not being able to find a way out of it.”
Other Armenian opposition groups critical of the HAK as well as some commentators claim that Ter-Petrosian has simply struck a deal with Sarkisian that will enable the president to at least complete his five-year term in office in 2013. They say the ex-president is also seeking government assurances that the HAK will have a solid presence in Armenia’s next parliament which is due to be elected next year.
Ter-Petrosian spent a large part of this speech denouncing and deriding these “malevolent gossips.” He claimed that the HAK will press for fresh elections during the upcoming negotiations. He downplayed the fact that Sarkisian and his governing coalition have repeatedly ruled out such possibility, saying that the dialogue may well yield a “brilliant solution that is beneficial for the two sides and the people.”
“For us, the dialogue is the only or the best opportunity to get the country out of this disastrous state through attempting to achieve mutual understanding between the government and the opposition,” explained Ter-Petrosian.
More radical opposition elements, some of them formerly affiliated with Ter-Petrosian’s movement, believe that only a campaign of non-stop antigovernment protests could force the Armenian government to call snap elections.
Ter-Petrosian rejected this view, stating bluntly that there is not enough popular enthusiasm for a fresh standoff with the government. “You may disagree with this, but political and civic activity necessary for effecting regime change is not yet sufficient in Armenia … You may be rallying here, but many, many others are staying at home,” he told the demonstrators
“Besides, such behavior inherently contradicts the creed of the Armenian National Congress, which categorically rejects the revolutionary way of struggle,” he said, adding that the opposition bloc will do everything to spare the country “upheavals and bloodshed.”