After more than three years of political strife, the Armenian government and the country’s main opposition coalition, the Armenian National Congress, appear ready to bury the hatchet.
At a May 31 rally in Yerevan, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, leader of the Armenian National Congress (ANC) called “for a formal dialogue with authorities.” He added that the ANC would select a delegation “within the next few days” to conduct political talks with government representatives. The ANC is also planning to present a “dialogue agenda to authorities” that includes a call for early presidential and parliamentary elections, Ter-Petrosian said.
News of the ANC’s conciliatory steps followed the release of opposition activists Nikol Pashinian and Sasun Mikaelian. Both were imprisoned for their alleged role in the 2008 street violence that followed Armenia’s last presidential elections.
In a marked departure from his earlier portrayals of President Serzh Sargsyan’s administration as having stolen the 2008 election, Ter-Petrosian urged his supporters to give the government’s views a fair hearing. The pending political talks, he declared, do “not mean we should not take into consideration the agenda and counter-offers put forward by the government, otherwise the parity [between the ANC and government] will be violated.”
At a June 1 press briefing, Parliamentary Speaker Hovik Abrahamian welcomed Ter-Petrosian’s readiness for talks. “When the radical opposition addresses such a proposal to authorities, I think the president of the republic will take the initiative and organize this dialogue, which I believe will favor the interests of the Republic of Armenia and the people,” Abrahmian said.
Ter-Petroisian’s announcement disappointed some of his followers. Forty-three-year-old furniture-maker Vardan Ayvazian described himself as “deeply upset” by the decision on “laying down arms,” given Armenia’s severe problems with unemployment and labor migration.
“Did we strive for a dialogue in this format after so many years of struggle?” asked Ayvazian. “I had far more expectations; I thought I was fighting for great changes.”
Local analysts believe the ANC’s calls for dialogue and for early elections are aimed at maintaining voters’ trust. “This is a rational approach; Levon Ter-Petrosian understands that he cannot act differently,” said independent political analyst Yerevand Bozoian, noting that Armenians appeared to be increasingly fatigued with political rallies.
Signs of a thaw came fitfully, but consistently in recent months. As Ter-Petrosian toned down his anti-government rhetoric, officials started to make concessions, including a decision to permit opposition rallies in Yerevan’s Freedom Square, site of the 2008 clashes between police and protesters. Officials also announced a new investigation into the 2008 events and declared an amnesty that freed those described as political prisoners by the opposition.
Aiming to reassure his supporters that no back-room political bargain has already been fixed between the ANC leadership and the Sargsyan administration, Ter-Petrosian stressed that “a dialogue does not at all mean loving and hugging each other, or reviewing one’s opinion about the other party.”
Independent political analyst Suren Surenyants, a former senior Ter-Petrosian supporter, expressed hope that the dialogue would make Armenia’s political dynamic more evenly balanced, and lead, eventually, to fair elections. “[T]his dialogue will create a favorable situation for both parties in the future,” Surenyants claimed. “No changes can be expected without mutual concessions.”
But one non-ANC opposition politician, senior Heritage Party MP Armen Martirosian, voiced concern that the ANC might still abandon its political values in an effort to obtain a share of power.
“Since the parties are ready to make concessions, they will come to an agreement on other issues as well,” Martirosian said. Bozoian echoed that assessment. “[M]ost likely, the so-called dialogue refers not to early elections or to [addressing] people’s social problems, but rather to sharing power,” he asserted.
Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter based in Yerevan and editor-in-chief of MediaLab.am.