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Analysis: Armenian President Calls For Public Unity )) --> Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (file photo) (official site) In a June 9 address to prominent intellectuals and public figures who he hopes will agree to serve on his planned Public Chamber, President Serzh Sarkisian again argued the need for all political forces to unite to overcome the polarization that resulted from the flawed February 19 ballot in which he was elected president.

But some observers may doubt the sincerity of such statements, given that as of June 5, some 40 supporters of defeated presidential challenger Levon Ter-Petrossian remain in pretrial custody for their participation in the postelection violence in Yerevan on March 1-2.

"I have repeatedly said and am still of the opinion that we must unify all forces of the society in order to direct their efforts toward solving the problems of our country, and I think no one doubts that these problems are numerous," Sarkisian affirmed in his June 9 address. "I sincerely believe that that we can unite.... I think we should act in such a way that the public...will be able to participate, in a formal or informal format, in a discussion of the problems that worry them, to participate in processes necessary to advance our country," Noyan Tapan quoted him as saying.

Sarkisian went on to solicit his interlocutors' proposals on how to ensure that the Public Chamber becomes a forum for "sincere discussion" and for generating ideas. Noyan Tapan did not list those persons present at the discussion, but the opposition daily "Haykakan zhamanak" on June 10 claimed that they all either expressed support for the government crackdown on the opposition or refrained from public comment on it.

Plans for creating the public chamber, which will comprise both pro-government and opposition politicians and will focus on key domestic and foreign policy issues, were unveiled in late May, although a press release from Sarkisian's office quoted him as saying that even before the post-election violence he was planning to set up such a body. On May 23, Sarkisian's national security adviser, Garnik Isagulian, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that Ter-Petrossian would be invited to nominate a representative to the chamber, but Ter-Petrossian aide Levon Zurabian promptly ruled out doing so as long as Ter-Petrossian's supporters remained in detention.

One of the detained Ter-Petrossian associates, former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian, spoke to RFE/RL's Armenian Service on June 6 at the maximum-security prison where he has been held since being taken into custody on March 10 and charged with organizing "mass disturbances" and seeking to "usurp power." Arzumanian said the charges against him were fabricated in response to orders handed down from the Armenian authorities.

"I am being persecuted for my political views, and that is why I refuse to give testimony or participate in any other investigative activity," Arzumanian told RFE/RL. "This case is a bubble. There is not a single fact to substantiate the accusations. They are holding us hostage here until they see what happens next," he said, adding that government "repression" will not force the opposition forces grouped around Ter-Petrossian into submission. Arzumanian too affirmed that no dialogue is possible between the authorities and the opposition as long as opposition activists are "illegally" detained. On June 5, Tigran Ter-Yesayan, a lawyer representing some of the detained oppositionists, told Noyan Tapan that many of his clients have not yet been questioned, and the investigation into their cases is effectively frozen.

On June 10, police in Yerevan finally tracked down and arrested Samvel Gevorgian, who headed one of Ter-Petrossian's regional campaign offices during the presidential election campaign and went into hiding following the violent clashes in Yerevan on March 1-2 between police and security forces and Ter-Petrossian supporters, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Like Ter-Petrossian, Gevorgian was one of the leaders of the 1988 campaign for the unification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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