He further defended the HHD's decision to remain part of a government which its presidential candidate strongly criticized during the election campaign. Markarian cited the need to help the administration of new President Serzh Sarkisian cope with the external challenges facing Armenia. "As long as that danger is there, our being in the coalition is justified," he argued.
Markarian laid the blame for the violent clashes in Yerevan on March 1-2 between Ter-Petrossian supporters and police and security forces squarely on Ter-Petrossian, who as president in late 1994 banned the HHD and had dozens of its members, including Markarian, arrested on tenuous charges of involvement in a terrorist organization, the existence of which was never proved. Markarian spent three years in jail before being released in early 1997.
Commenting on Ter-Petrossian's election campaign speeches, Markarian claimed that "he didn't come to wage a program-based and ideological struggle.... Rallying the headless opposition masses around him, he created an atmosphere in which ethical norms of struggle gave way to destruction, slander, hatred, and demagoguery." Markarian implied that Ter-Petrossian's animadversions contributed to the poor election showing of HHD presidential candidate Vahan Hovannisian, who polled fourth with a little over 6 percent of the vote.
Chairing a session on May 21 of the working group of senior law enforcement officials and parliament members tasked with ensuring the Armenian authorities implement the demands listed in a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolution adopted in April, Sarkisian insisted that none of the Ter-Petrossian supporters taken into custody during and after the March 1 violence should be jailed simply on the basis of their political convictions, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. "It is important that we be guided by criminal law and that there be no political decisions," Sarkisian said, adding that "no one who committed a serious crime must remain unpunished."
The PACE resolution called for the "urgent release of the persons detained on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges" in the wake of the Yerevan violence, but only a few of the up to 100 detainees have been released to date. Council of Europe Deputy Secretary-General Maud de Boer-Buquicchio told RFE/RL on May 20 after talks in Yerevan with top Armenian officials that she is "still waiting" for the "good news" that the others have been freed.
On May 19, one Yerevan court prolonged by a further two months the pretrial detention of Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party leader Aram Karapetian, who was hospitalized last week with serious heart problems, while a second court began the trial of Vartan Djahangirian, who was shot and seriously wounded at the time of his arrest on February 23. Djahangirian's brother Gagik, a former deputy prosecutor-general, publicly pledged his support for Ter-Petrossian and endorsed the latter's claims that the February 19 election was rigged to prevent a Ter-Petrossian victory.
Meanwhile, a third attempt by opposition Zharangutiun party leader Raffi Hovannisian (no relation to Vahan) to bring the two camps together for dialogue fell flat, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on May 20. Hovannisian sent written invitations the previous day to President Sarkisian, Ter-Petrossian, and the leaders of the three junior partners in the ruling coalition to participate in a roundtable discussion of a reform program drafted by Zharangutiun, but none of the invitees showed up.
The four-page program details measures to preclude fraud in future elections and advocates a sweeping reform of the judicial and law enforcement systems. Hovannisian offered twice before to bring Sarkisian and Ter-Petrossian together for talks.