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Armenian Opposition Threatens 'War' If Political Prisoners Not Freed

Levon Zurabian, a leading official with the opposition Armenian National Congress
Levon Zurabian, a leading official with the opposition Armenian National Congress
YEREVAN -- A leading Armenian National Congress (HAK) official says the opposition movement will declare "war" against President Serzh Sarkisian if he fails to free jailed HAK supporters and meet other demands by April 28, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

HAK official Levon Zurabian said the grouping still hopes to start "peaceful negotiations" with authorities and achieve its goals through "civilized methods."

"But this is a war, a real war," he said at a press conference. "And if we want to achieve something in that war, we must and we will get ready for war."

Addressing thousands of supporters at a rally in Yerevan on April 8, HAK leader and former President Levon Ter-Petrossian gave Sarkisian until April 28 to release all "political prisoners," pledge to conduct a proper inquiry into the 2008 postelection violence in Yerevan, and guarantee the opposition access to the city's Liberty Square.

He said the HAK will "drastically change" its tactic of political struggle if its demands are not met.

A senior member of ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) made it clear this week that the authorities will take no major steps under opposition pressure.

Zurabian, who coordinates the national congress's day-to-day activities, said the bloc has not yet decided what it will do if the Sarkisian government ignores its demands.

"We need to see what the people are prepared for, what they want, what political forces are prepared for," he said.

But Zurabian stood by his earlier statement that Armenia's largest opposition force is poised to launch a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience. He said it could tell supporters to picket government buildings, stage sit-ins, or even march to the presidential palace in Yerevan.

"Naturally, we need to hold serious discussions to see what [action] is applicable to Armenia and the existing political situation," Zurabian said.

Rival opposition parties dismiss Ter-Petrossian's latest push for "regime change," saying that he is in fact ready to cut deals with the government that would keep Sarkisian in power.

Ruben Hakobian, the deputy chairman of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, claimed on April 11 that Sarkisian has agreed with the HAK to call fresh parliamentary elections if he can keep his presidential post.

Zurabian denied that claim. He said Sarkisian's resignation and the holding of a snap presidential election remain the Armenian National Congress's top priorities.