A senior diplomat representing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Monday that both the Armenian government and the radical opposition are to blame for the bloody post-election unrest in Yerevan and urged them to embark on a “political dialogue.”
But Heikki Talvitie acknowledged at the same time that such dialogue is hardly possible now. “At the moment the relationship between the government and [opposition leader Levon] Ter-Petrosian is such that we have to wait for some time before the situation clarifies,” he said in Yerevan.
Talvitie was speaking on behalf of the OSCE chairman-in-office, Finnish Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva, who sent him to the Armenian capital in a bid to end the standoff between the authorities and the Ter-Petrosian camp. Talvitie held talks with departing President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister and President-elect Serzh Sarkisian and Ter-Petrosian on Sunday and Monday. He confirmed that the latter has been kept under “de facto house arrest” since the break-up on Saturday morning of a non-stop opposition protest in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
Kanerva, who had expressed hope for a peaceful end to the unrest sparked by Armenia’s disputed presidential election, condemned the use of force. But he stopped short of criticizing the Kocharian-Sarkisian administration for their response to a fresh opposition rally in another Yerevan square that began spontaneously later on Saturday. At least seven protesters and one police officer died when security forces tried to disperse more than 10,000 people who gathered there.
“Both sides had arms,” Talvitie said, backing government claims that riot police came under fire from the protesters. “I do not want to say that only one side killed, while the other didn’t. I want to say everybody is responsible for [the violence,]” he told a news conference.
Both Kocharian and Sarkisian insisted in separate meetings with the Finnish diplomat that security forces had no option but to shoot at the angry protesters. Ter-Petrosian vehemently denied this on Sunday as he spoke to foreign journalists in his house surrounded by security forces. He said the authorities themselves provoked the violence to have a pretext for declaring a 20-day state of emergency.
In Talvitie’s words, the lifting of emergency rule is one of Ter-Petrosian’s two preconditions for beginning a dialogue with the authorities. He said the former Armenian president also will not negotiate with Kocharian and Sarkisian before the Constitutional Court rules on his demands for a re-run of the election. The court is scheduled to open hearings on Ter-Petrosian’s appeal on Tuesday.
The OSCE envoy said he the state of emergency, which bans any demonstrations in Yerevan and places severe restrictions on local media, should be lifted “as soon as possible.” He said the Armenian leaders assured him that this could happen before the end of the 20-day period “if the country is calm.” But he said they also warned that emergency rule will be extended beyond March 20 “if need be.”
“Right now the basic thing is to calm down and to give space to the kind of political situation where emergency rule could be dissolved and normal political dialogue could be developed,” Talvitie said, adding that this is also the opinion of the European Union.
Incidentally, the EU’s special representative to the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, was also in Yerevan on Monday, holding talks with Kocharian, Sarkisian and most probably Ter-Petrosian. Details of the talks were not immediately made public.
(Photolur photo: Armed soldiers patrol Yerevan’s Liberty Square.)