Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, on Monday offered to help the government and the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) embark on a dialogue that would address lingering political tensions in the country.
In a statement posted on his website, Andreasian said he will send this week letters to the leaders of the HAK and the three parties represented in the Armenian government formally expressing his readiness to mediate between the two rival camps.
He said he could specifically help them bridge their differences over seven concrete political issues. Those include the disputed presidential election of February 2008, the ensuing government crackdown on the opposition and its consequences.
Hovannes Sahakian, a parliament deputy from President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), welcomed the idea in principle but said the ombudsman should specify “mechanisms” for its realization.
“What should be the next step?” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “If we say that we are for or we are against [the proposal,] what will the human rights defender do?”
“Should we sign a paper saying that we want him to act as a mediator?” he asked.
The HAK, which is led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, rejected Andreasian’s offer out of hand, dismissing the recently appointed ombudsman as a government loyalist. “There is no need for an internal or external mediator in a direct dialogue between the government and the Congress,” it said in a statement.
“But if the authorities find it expedient to include the human rights defender into their delegation during negotiations, we will have no problem with that,” the statement said.
Still, Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s central office coordinator, called Andreasian’s statement another “signal” that the Armenian authorities are ready to meet the three main demands of the opposition bloc.
“Besides, in [government representatives’] rhetoric one can now see concern and a realization of just how acute the political and socioeconomic crisis is,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Ter-Petrosian’s bloc wants the authorities to free all opposition members remaining in prison, guarantee opposition access to Yerevan’s Liberty Square and promise a more objective inquiry into the 2008 post-election violence. It will again rally supporters this Friday to discuss the Sarkisian administration’s response to these demands.
Last week, Sarkisian ordered Armenian law-enforcement authorities to investigate the unrest “more meticulously.” He said they should, in particular, try to find “new ways” of solving the deaths of ten people in vicious street clashes in central Yerevan that broke out on March 1, 2008.
HAK representatives say the president thus met one of the opposition demands.