YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian on Thursday urged about two dozen people currently on hunger strike in support of opposition claims to end their protest action and spare themselves for “further struggle”.
In a statement provided to RFE/RL by the former president’s office, Ter-Petrosian in particular says he realizes “the importance of this extreme means of political struggle” and “deeply appreciates the feat of those who resorted to hunger strikes.”
“But I still urge you to stop your hunger strikes beginning from this moment. Your health, unbending will and determination will be required as a more effective contribution to the popular struggle at later stages,” Ter-Petrosian said, concluding that April 9, the day of when Serzh Sarkisian assumed the president’s office, is a beginning of the struggle rather than its end.
According to Arsen Babayan, a spokesman for the Department of Penitentiaries at the Ministry of Justice, 23 people in custody are currently on hunger strike.
A representative of the only opposition faction in Armenia’s parliament on Thursday sounded optimistic about possibilities of defusing the current political crisis, but warned that the crisis may only escalate unless the authorities match words with action.
Stepan Safarian, of the Heritage party, based his optimism on new President Serzh Sarkisian’s speech during his inauguration party the previous day in which the new head of state listed actions to be taken next.
“I think there is an opportunity today to overcome the crisis created in Armenia through real steps,” Safarian told reporters. “Otherwise, the authorities may find themselves in ten times as big and undesirable a crisis than the deadlock that has been created for the country’s political opposition today.”
Safarian thinks that while it is only fair to give the new president a 100-day period in office for evaluations, some issues need prompt solutions.
“There are things, first of all such as ensuring human rights, immediately releasing political prisoners, for which, I think, ten days are enough to see how far the words of the current authorities match with their actions,” the opposition lawmaker added.
In his inauguration speech on Wednesday Sarkisian sought to reach out to hundreds of thousands of Armenia’s who voted for other presidential candidates, including former president Levon Ter-Petrosian. “A part of our people supported other candidates, and I now appeal to them: it was your right to vote for someone other than me, but I do not have the right not to be your president,” he, in particular, said, and then suggested: “Even if a wall of misunderstanding stands between us, I urge you to join us in eliminating that wall.”