Political Standoff Deepens As Opposition Snubs Government Offers

Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
April 6 2004

Armenia: Political Standoff Deepens As Opposition Snubs Government
By Jean-Christophe Peuch

President Kocharian is likely to face increased pressure

Confrontation between the Armenian government and the opposition
deepened yesterday as the country’s two main opposition political
groups said they would proceed with plans to step up pressure on
President Robert Kocharian in a bid to secure his departure. The
announcement came as several opposition activists were being detained
in connection with an investigation into recent anti-Kocharian
rallies across the country.

Prague, 6 April 2004 (RFE/RL) — Addressing reporters in Yerevan
yesterday, the leader of the opposition Justice (Artarutyun)
alliance, Stepan Demirchian, said he and his allies were calling
supporters to massively demonstrate against President Kocharian in
Yerevan on 9 April. Demirchian said the planned rally was set to mark
the beginning of a massive nationwide anti-government campaign.

Justice, which has been regularly boycotting parliamentary sessions
in recent months, accuses the Armenian leader of “usurping power” and
“clamping down on freedom of expression.”

At the core of the dispute are last year’s presidential and
legislative polls, which saw the victory of Kocharian and his allies.
Justice and other opposition groups claim the vote was rigged and
insist that the president be put to a national vote of confidence.
The government has denied any wrongdoing in the elections.

Anxious to avoid a political crisis over the disputed elections,
Armenia’s Constitutional Court last year signaled the constitution
could, in principle, be amended in a way that would allow for a
national referendum on confidence. But government supporters in the
National Assembly (parliament) rejected the idea, saying it had no
legal basis.

One of the three partners in the ruling coalition, the Dashnaktsutyun
Armenian Revolutionary Federation, yesterday demanded that the
opposition cease to question Kocharian’s legitimacy. In return, the
nationalist party said, Justice and its allies should be given seats
in the National Security Council to have a say in domestic affairs.

A Dashnaktsutyun statement said only dialogue would help prevent what
it called “open confrontation.”

But Justice leader Demirchian yesterday rejected the offer, saying
the opposition would accept nothing less than the confidence vote.

“How could we possibly talk about dialogue when opposition members
are being arrested? Arrests are actions inherent with a junta. A real
dialogue would have been to call for a national referendum on
confidence [in Kocharian]. However, there is still room for
introducing constitutional amendments that would pave the way for
such a referendum,” Demirchian said.

Demirchian went on to say the opposition was determined to pursue its
anti-Kocharian campaign regardless of offers made on behalf of the
government and despite counter-steps taken by the authorities.

“I understand the fears of Dashnaktsutyun. The situation in the
country is indeed tense. But the opposition has never asked for any
government post,” Demirchian said. “What we want is that
constitutional order in the country be restored.”

On 31 March, the Prosecutor’-General’s Office in Yerevan launched
criminal proceedings against Justice and its allies, which it blamed
for a series of recent unsanctioned rallies that purportedly called
for a violent change of regime and using what it said was “offensive
language” against senior government officials.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office yesterday said Suren Sureniants of
the opposition Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party — a leading member of
the Justice alliance — was arrested in connection with the

Hanrapetutyun spokesman Artak Hakobian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service
that Sureniants was arrested in a village nearby Yerevan and brought
to the capital for questioning. The Prosecutor-General’s Office said
no formal charges had been brought against him yet.

Hakobian also said opposition activists were being detained in many
Armenian regions.

“Today we’ve been receiving phone calls from our people in Yeghvard,
Charentsavan, Stepanavan, Vanadzor, and Gyumri. People are being
either summoned or taken to the police. Some of them are being
released, some are being put into custody,” Hakobian said.

Addressing reporters in Yerevan today, police chief Nerses Nazarian
said nearly 40 opposition activists have been apprehended. He did not
say whether charges were brought against them or how long they would
remain in custody.

Meanwhile, representatives of ruling coalition parties have justified
the detentions.

Dashnaktsutyun member Vahan Hovanessian yesterday said authorities
“have the right to take necessary steps to isolate people
transporting weapons and other instruments that could be used in
possible clashes.”

Republican Party member Tigran Torosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian
Service that harassment of the opposition will stop once it ceases
its anti-Kocharian campaign.

Opposition activists yesterday took to the streets of central Yerevan
to demand that the president step down and that a national referendum
be organized.

Estimates put the number of participants at between 3,000 and 8,000.

Media reports say unidentified youths smashed cameras belonging to
several journalists at the rally near the Matenadaran Library. Also,
eggs and stones were thrown at the protesters from nearby balconies.
No serious clashes were reported, however.

National Unity party leader Artashes Geghamian, who led yesterday’s
protest, claimed the authorities were unwilling to compromise with
the opposition.

“Had authorities called off police from the Matenadaran area, agreed
to come with us to meet with voters, or shown their goodwill [in any
other from], that would have been a starting point for cooperation.
But instead, they attempted to close bridges and roads leading to
Yerevan,” Geghamian said.

Despite uneasy relations stemming from last year’s presidential
polls, Geghamian and Justice leader Demirchian recently forged an
alliance aimed at securing Kocharian’s ouster.

(Ruzanna Khachatrian and Armen Doulian of RFE/RL’s Armenian Service
contributed to this report.)

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS