The dust has still not settled after the remarkable events of March 1. There are still about 15 days to go before the state of emergency will supposedly be lifted, and President Robert Kocharian gave no indication on Wednesday that the unusual circumstances will be overturned before then. The government still has concerns that public protests will continue, and the president conveyed that he would not refrain from cracking down again if people meet in large numbers after March 20. All in all, according to the persecutor-general 53 people who support opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian have been arrested, including two members of parliament—two others are on the lamb. Seven people including a police officer are confirmed dead, although other news sources say eight or nine have been killed. Hundreds of people were wounded—there are no exact figures because the information is not there, it is not being fully released. Some people are still unaccounted for as their exact whereabouts are unknown to their families.
Several international organizations including the United Nations, European Union, Freedom House, the OSCE, and Human Rights Watch have been voicing their concerns about the events, calling for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, the immediate lifting of the emergency, and a prompt thorough investigation into the matter. So far their concerns seem to be falling on deaf ears because the government shows no signs of letting up. On the contrary, additional reserve troops are purportedly being sent to Yerevan from other regions of the country.
On top of everything, there was a serious skirmish on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border two days ago during which at least 10 soldiers were killed. Baku insists that 12 Armenians and 4 Azeris died in the conflict, while the Armenian authorities confirmed that 8 Azeris and 2 Armenians fell. The Armenian government is blaming Azerbaijan for taking advantage of Armenia’s internal conflict to launch an offensive, while Baku claims that the Armenian side attacked Azeri troops to steer away international attention from the events which occurred last Saturday. You can draw your own conclusions as to who is right or wrong.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the current situation is not good. There are troops stationed on any spot that could be considered a public mass gathering place, including the circus in downtown Yerevan and the bridges that cross the Hrazdan Bridge. Yesterday I happened to be driving through Karekin Njdeh Square in the third section (Yerort Mass) of the Shengavit district where fully armed troops were wandering about. However, the riot police that were lined up along the perimeter of the block on which the Opera House is situated are gone. Yet as far as I know, Republic Square still resembles a war zone—I have avoided it since Sunday as I heard random searches are being conducted, and the heavy-duty military vehicles not to mention army personnel walking around with rifles slung across their shoulders are intimidating, as they are meant to be. The roads leading into Yerevan have several military check points set up in various spots—I have not left Yerevan recently nor do I plan do so in the next few weeks because I don’t think I could not handle the aggravation very well.
Levon Ter-Petrossian, who has proved himself to be an arguably irresponsible, but major pain in the ass to put it very bluntly, has presented his case to the Constitutional Court in an attempt to have new elections called. He will most likely fail but since he came this far to annoy the authorities he might as well go all the way and risk being imprisoned, which President Kocharian is waiting to do apparently according to a press conference he gave on Wednesday. But who knows if that will prove anything? And you never know, perhaps the Constitutional Court will rule in his favor. You can never tell with Armenian politics.
A friend of mine told me yesterday, which is what I have been writing for some time on this blog, that it is up to the people to stand up for themselves, to enact the change that they believe is needed in their society. This is not an issue about who should be president—Sargsyan, Ter-Petrossian, or whoever—this issue is and has always been about what the majority—at least 51 percent—of people want. But I am not convinced nor have I ever been that they collectively do understand what that want is. The Armenian nation is divided at one of the most crucial times in their recent history, during a time when unification of the majority of citizens is crucial. I think the public now is very cautious, and understandably so, but this state of emergency cannot last forever. And Armenia is being pressured by not only the west, but by its big brother Russia as well.
Now, if indeed most citizens living in Armenia do not want Serge Sargsyan to be their next president—which may definitely be the case now after what happened on March 1—they have until April to work that out before he is sworn in. And they may have to risk having their heads cracked in again if change is what they really want. It’s not too late to enact it, whether that is accomplished peacefully or not. Let’s see what they will do.