The Armenian authorities remain ready to resolve the continuing political crisis in the country through a dialogue with opposition leader Nikol Pashinian and his supporters demonstrating in the streets, Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian said on Monday.
“It is inadmissible for Armenians to turn on Armenians on the street, through police or in any other ways,” Sargsian told a news conference. “Dialogue is not only possible but also necessary.”
“There is no other solution,” he said.
Sargsian insisted that such a dialogue is possible despite the arrests of Pashinian and other organizers of the protests against former President Serzh Sarkisian’s appointment as prime minister.
While rejecting Pashinian’s calls for Sarkisian’s resignation and snap elections, Sargsian urged the opposition leader to send new “signals” to the authorities about how to end the standoff. Like other Armenian officials, he denounced Pashinian for setting “ultimatums” during his three-minute meeting on Sunday with Sarkisian, which ended in failure.
Pashinian and two other lawmakers representing his Civil Contract party, Sasun Mikaelian and Ararat Mirzoyan, were arrested about an hour later, while holding what the Armenian police called an illegal rally.
Parliament speaker Ara Babloyan visited the arrested lawmakers overnight. A spokesman for Babloyan said he urged them to “hold negotiations in a normal environment.”
Shortly after the defense minister’s news conference, First Deputy Prime Minister Karen Karapetian announced that he is going to meet and “negotiate” with Pashinian. He also said the Armenian government has asked prosecutors not to press any criminal charges against Pashinian and avoid asking the parliament to authorize his arrest.
“Tomorrow is a very important day,” Karapetian told reporters. He refused to answer any questions.
Meanwhile, the protests continued on Monday morning in Yerevan, Vanadzor, Gyumri and other parts of the country. Hundreds of university students in the Armenian capital boycotted classes before marching through its streets. They were joined by thousands of other protesters.
In Vanadzor, around three thousand employees of local textile factories went on strike and took to the streets. Many other local residents joined them in blocking the main city street.