There are concerns that the state of emergency will be extended past March 21, when it technically should be lifted as initially promised by President Robert Kocharian. It seems that opposition presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian also believes that the prolonging of the unusual circumstances may be inevitable, until at least April 19 when president-elect Serge Sargsyan is slated to be sworn into office. Ter-Petrossian stated in a press conference held at his home yesterday that he would be willing to “negotiate” with governmental authorities—whatever that means—but would not recognize Sargsyan as the winner of the election. He also vowed to continue protests at some point in the future, although not anytime soon. The other day the constitutional court rejected Ter-Petrossian’s appeal of the presidential election outcome claiming that it was falsified and thereby recognized Sergsyan as the clear winner. More of Levon’s supporters, including his campaign manager and former foreign minister under his reign Alexander Arzumanian, are being arrested left and right. Apparently Levon himself will most likely be charged with something or other to put him behind bars and thus, out of the way.
Yesterday the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Matthew Bryza, apparently condemned the crackdown of March 1 on protesters, but strangely enough did not discuss this issue last week when he was here. Instead he congratulated Sargsyan on his victory and praised him with sweet words about his leadership. I guess he waited until he returned to the US to comment about the situation, perhaps fearing that he would get into some tangle with the Armenian authorities. This guy makes strange statements from time to time—I remember months ago he told reporters that he was hopeful that the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents would come to a “gentleman’s agreement” on the proposals laid out for a peaceful settlement to the Karabagh issue. This time around when being interviewed he described the crackdown as being “harsh and brutal,” but he waited 10 days to say it. That’s weird. I don’t understand diplomacy.
Several Internet media outlets are being blocked by the powers that be. Sites like A1 Plus, and ArmeniaLiberty.org are no longer visible in Armenia, while other news sites are staying away from politics altogether. Even YouTube is being blocked apparently because some videos of the riots were posted there. I am not sure how many newspapers are being printed lately as I haven’t visited a newsstand recently, but I don’t think they are circulating as I have not seen press reviews online.
A few nights ago I walked through the Opera Park. There were dozens of soldiers standing still at various points all along the square there, like lamp posts. Each of them was wielding an AK-47 rifle. There were several military trucks parked there as well. The riot police standing along the perimeter of the block are long gone.
Sunday I went to my best man’s home to have a talk with his father, Sergey, with whom I am very close. Last week he was distraught about the events of March 1 and echoed the same sentiment several of his friends did—Armenia is not a country and it’s time to leave it. He calmed down since then and is trying to figure out what’s next on the agenda. The political parties he feels are failing the people on the whole (several times he asked, “Where is the ARF-Dashnaktsutiun?”). He uses the argument that the people need a leader to rally around, while I kept insisting that the change people want must be a grassroots movement, a collective struggle, and a leader would emerge from it. That concept was going through one ear and out the other. He said it would be extremely difficult to mobilize people that way, and virtually impossible within the next 10 days. Nevertheless he and his brother are working as sort of part-time volunteer fieldworkers to activate people, urging them not to give up the struggle. Every bit of encouragement helps, no matter how few people you are able to reach. He is skeptical about what the future holds, but I told him that the pressure on Sargsyan must not relent. Indeed Sargsyan is feeling the heat from Washington as well as Moscow, so compromises have to be made. He will have to reach out to Armenian citizens who cannot stand him and earn their trust. It is up to people like Sergey to figure out what to do—whether to continue to rally behind an opposition movement that has for the most part run out of steam, or to make concrete demands of the leader-to-be, whatever those happen to be.