YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian on Friday expressed readiness to engage in dialogue with Armenia’s leadership and indicated that he will avoid staging the kind of street protests that could lead to a repeat of deadly post-election violence in Yerevan.
“While continuing the principled and determined struggle against the anti-popular regime, we must do everything to avoid internal political upheavals and developmen’s threatening the country’s stability,” he said in a 90-minute speech at a conference of some two dozen opposition groups that supported his presidential bid.
Ter-Petrosian cited Azerbaijan’s growing threats to win bank Nagorno-Karabakh by force as the main reason why he thinks his “popular movement” should now exercise greater caution. “We must primarily take into account the existing mood in Azerbaijan aimed at benefiting from such a situation,” he explained. “Azerbaijan must realize that regardless of the political situation in our country, it would meet with a united resistance of the Armenian people in the event of unleashing a military aggression against Karabakh.”
Ter-Petrosian at the same time urged the U.S. to drop its threats to freeze $236 million in promised economic assistance to Armenia unless the government reverses the crackdown. “While supporting political sanctions against the ruling regime, we are deeply concerned about statemen’s regarding planned economic sanctions against Armenia because they would hurt not the authorities but our people,” he said.
Both the EU and the Council of Europe have called for an independent inquiry into the March 1 unrest as well as the release of all Ter-Petrosian loyalists arrested for political motives and the lifting of severe government restrictions on freedom of assembly. In an April 17 resolution, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) warned that failure to promptly take these measures would call into question Yerevan’s full membership in the organization. It also urged Ter-Petrosian to accept a Constitutional Court ruling that upheld the official vote results.
Ter-Petrosian stated that he is ready to negotiate with the authorities if they comply with the resolution.” “While not accepting the legitimacy of a regime that seized power with such crude methods, we are ready to take into account the fact of its being a real political factor and to start political dialogue with it,” he said. “But we regard that dialogue not as a means for bringing one of the parties down on its knees but as an opportunity to implement real reforms in the country and to create a normal field for political activity.”
Ter-Petrosian told his ardent supporters that his movement, hamstrung by the mass arrests of its senior figures, will act “only within the framework of law” in any case. He said it should have a more clearly defined organizational structure and even suggested the opposition grouping be named the Armenian National Congress. He said it might eventually transform itself into a single political party.
“Regardless of the organizational transformation and the name, it is obvious that thanks to the broad public support the popular movement will play a permanent and decisive role in all future political processes in Armenia,” added Ter-Petrosian. “Including by participating in elections at all levels with joint candidates or common lists.”