By Karine Kalantarian
U.S. Ambassador John Ordway met on Tuesday with the two most senior leaders of Armenia’s opposition to discuss its bitter standoff with the government which has prompted concern from Washington.
Ordway refused to comment on his separate meetings with Stepan Demirchian of the Artarutyun alliance and Artashes Geghamian of the National Unity Party (AMK). The two leaders also declined to give details, saying that the discussions were confidential. Geghamian said only that both the United States and the European Union would like to see a peaceful end to the Armenian political crisis.
“The ambassadors of both the United States and the European Union are calling for all contentious issues be resolved through negotiations,” he told RFE/RL. “We take those calls very seriously and try to do our best to keep our actions within the framework of the constitution.”
It was Ordway’s first face-to-face contact with the opposition since the brutal dispersal early on April 13 of its demonstration against President Robert Kocharian which left scores of people injured and arrested by the police.
The U.S. State Department urged both sides last week to embark on a “dialogue” and prevent more violence. “Physical assaults, raids on political party offices and widespread arrests and detentions of opposition activists by the police do not contribute to creating an atmosphere conducive to political dialogue,” its spokesman, Richard Boucher, said in a statement.
Efforts to initiate such a dialogue have already been made by a group of Armenian intellectuals and former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian. Opposition leaders and representatives of the governing Dashnaktsutyun, Orinats Yerkir and Republican parties were invited to discuss the situation at the offices of Hovannisian’s Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) on Tuesday. The meeting did not take place, however.
“They called at the last minute, saying that they can not show up,” Artarutyun’s Aram Sarkisian told RFE/RL. He accused Kocharian of scuttling the meeting.
But a senior Republican, deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, denied the claims, saying that the dialogue was made impossible by opposition “preconditions.” Sarkisian and other opposition leaders said last week that they will not discuss any compromise deals with the authorities unless the latter stop the ongoing “repressions” and release all opposition activists from jail.
The opposition is expected to resume its campaign for regime change on Wednesday by holding yet another anti-Kocharian rally in Yerevan despite again failing to get permission from the city authorities.