Armenian opposition has achieved a great deal over the past two months and is ready for dialogue with the authorities, after President Serzh Sargsian’s administration agreed to release all jailed opposition activists, grant permission to hold rallies in Yerevan’s Liberty Square and relaunch the investigation into the deaths of 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
On May 31 rally Levon Ter-Petrossian – the leader of the main opposition force Armenian National Congress (HAK) told tens of thousands of supporters in Liberty Square that the door is now open for dialogue with the authorities over opposition’s key demand.
“The agenda of the [Armenian National Congress] is known — that is, holding early presidential and parliamentary elections. …But it doesn’t mean that we should not take into account — I don’t say accept, I say take into account — the agenda and counterarguments presented by the authorities,” Ter-Petrossian said.
The opposition leader dedicated large sections of his very long and very boring speech, to explaining just how opposition had achieved all these concessions. He said, that authorities agreed to it to avoid an “Armenian Spring,” the kind of civil unrest that toppled dictators in Egypt and Tunisia. Even as I was getting bored to death by Ter-Petrossian’s endless analyses of Obama’s Arab Spring speech, it appeared to me, that the opposition leader himself is finding hard to believe, that the authorities have agreed to all his demands.
This got me thinking – so why did the government of President Serzh Sargsyan suddenly open the door to talks?
The opposition has continued to gather impressive numbers of supporters at its rallies in April and May, but none of those rallies was as big as those on March 1 and 17. So Sargsyan’s concessions weren’t made because he feared of growing momentum of opposition rallies, because there was no momentum. On the contrary, Ter-Petrossian was sending supporters home every time and angering the more radical ones, potentially decreasing the number of next rally attenders.
Unlike what the opposition leader claimed in his speech, the economic situation in the country has just started to improve and it is obvious not just by government’s figures. Construction sector has started moving again, agriculture is doing better so far with a more favorable weather.
The international pressure and U.S. mediation between government and opposition has been there for 3 years and I haven’t noticed any substantial increase recently.
So, I would say, that this has been more of a well-calculated decision by Serzh Sargsyan, not a forced move. Which means, that Serzh Sargsyan has something to gain from this. What exactly? Let me suggest some options:
- Sargsyan will be able to put Ter-Petrossian’s well-balanced opposition in parliament and get rid of ARF-Dashnakstutyun and Zharangutyun (Heritage) which seem to annoy him by their ‘nationalistic’ stance on Armenia-Turkey and Karabakh related issues.
- Sargsyan will have Ter-Petrossian’s support in curbing the power of the oligarchs, including Gagik Tsarukyan and his Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia) party. Every time he forces them to pay more taxes and stay away from holding state office, he will cover-up by saying that the increasingly powerful opposition demands it. Meanwhile, cracking down on oligarchs will strengthen Sargsyan, who’s one of the most powerful oligarchs himself.
- Sargsyan will have a powerful supporter against Second President Robert Kocharian, who would potentially be strong competition if he decides to run for presidency.
PS: I’ve gotta admit, yesterday’s rally was somewhat disappointing. I expected young and charismatic Nikol Pashinian, just out of prison, to bring new dynamics to the opposition movement. But no… everything seemed to proceed as Sargsyan has planned.