Armenia’s major opposition parties remain vague on their immediate steps after Prosperous Armenia (BHK), admittedly the most influential of them, came under huge government pressure earlier this month.
The BHK led by tycoon Gagik Tsarukian dramatically toned down its criticism of President Serzh Sarkisian and his government after suffering the consequences of what appeared to be a crackdown unleashed by the head of state.
Sarkisian and senior members of his ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) lashed out at Tsarukian on February 12 after the BHK leader effectively presented them with an “ultimatum” – to give up controversial plans for a constitutional reform or face sustained street protests seeking to oust the current administration.
After a number of BHK members were detained on suspicion of “illegally possessing weapons” and the government ordered tax inspections of businesses owned by Tsarukian’s extended family, the BHK leader made conciliatory remarks, calling for “peaceful ways” of settling disputes. The BHK effectively stopped its criticism of the government and scheduled a party convention for March 5. Many political observers expect Tsarukian to step down as chairman of the BHK and retire from politics, which is one of the key demands of the HHK for the pressure to stop.
Meanwhile, the two opposition parties – the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Heritage – that formed an informal coalition with the BHK last year to push for regime change in Armenia, said on Friday that they will clarify their actions after the congress of their embattled ally.
Speaking at a press briefing in the National Assembly, the HAK’s parliamentary leader Levon Zurabian said that the future cooperation of the alliance known as the trio depends on the BHK now.
“We are ready for cooperation with the BHK if this party maintains its resistance and continues to struggle against the regime and against the planned constitutional reform,” he said.
According to Zurabian, the rally that the HAK plans to hold in Yerevan on March 1 will also become a test for opposition parties that feel determined to seek regime change. The rally will also mark the seventh anniversary of the deadly 2008 post-election clashes.
Ruben Hakobian, the parliamentary leader of the Heritage party, also said that further opposition steps will be specified after the upcoming BHK congress. “It is not a secret that the BHK had a political weight [in the trio],” he said, observing that in the recent days the Tsarukian-led party has “frozen” its positions.
Speaking at a rally in Liberty Square in Yerevan on Friday, Heritage party leader Raffi Hovannisian reiterated that the trio format did not exist any longer. He stressed, however, that struggle for a change of government is continuing.
The leaders of Heritage, the HAK and Orinats Yerkir, another parliamentary minority party, met with diplomats of more than a dozen European Union-member states accredited to Armenia earlier today. During the meetings the sides also reportedly addressed the internal political situation in Armenia in the wake of the recent developments.
Meanwhile, the leader of an extra-parliamentary opposition party said on Friday that a number of forces opposed to Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) have been holding discussions and a new “political pole” may be emerging in Armenia as a result of these negotiations.
Paruyr Hayrikian, a Soviet-era dissident heading the Union for National Self-Determination (AIM), named several parties and groups, including Heritage, the Armenian National Movement, Free Democrats, Founding Parliament, Democratic Homeland and the Conservative Party, whose representatives, he said, participated in a series of meetings over February. (But Free Democrats issued a statement later on Friday, confirming an invitation from Hayrikian and a meeting between Free Democrats leader Khachatur Kokobelian and Hayrikian, but the party denied that its representatives had participated in the meetings in the format mentioned by the AIM leader).
“Instead of the pseudo-political pole we ought to create and present to the people a real pole that can be trusted,” Hayrikian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun), stressing that the first meeting in the format took place before the government began its campaign against the BHK and that their efforts should not be directly linked to these developments.
Hayrikian did not hide that the initial ground for cooperation among these parties is that all of them are against Armenia’s membership in the EEU. “But during our first meeting one of our participants suggested that we forget the “against” part. In other words, instead of being against Putin’s Russia, we are for Armenia’s self-determination, we are for democracy and human rights protection in Armenia,” he said.