By Hovannes Shoghikian and Ruben Meloyan
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) rallied several thousand supporters in Yerevan on Tuesday and pledged to hold more such demonstrations during Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s expected visit to Armenia.
The rally held outside Yerevan’s Matenadaran museum of ancient Armenian manuscripts was officially dedicated to the 17th anniversary of Nagorno-Karabakh’s declaration of independence from Azerbaijan. But speakers addressing the crowd in scorching weather mostly touched upon other issues, notably Turkish-Armenian relations and the situation in neighboring Georgia. scorching
Vahan Hovannisian, one of the leaders of the nationalist party represented in Armenia’s government, spent much of his speech making a case for Georgia’s transformation into a “confederation” where the Armenian-populated Javakheti region would have a high degree of autonomy. “In this case, the rights of Javakheti [Armenians] would be protected,” he said.
Hovannisian claimed that giving Javakheti the status of an autonomous region would discourage other ethnic minorities from seeking to secede from Georgia. It was an apparent reference to the populations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Dashnaktsutyun has voiced similar calls in the past. Official Yerevan has always disavowed them, placing the emphasis on the need to address grave socioeconomic problems facing Javakheti.
Dashnaktsutyun leaders further exposed their foreign policy differences with President Serzh Sarkisian when they reaffirmed plans to organize street protests against Gul’s likely arrival in Yerevan. One of them, deputy parliament speaker Hrayr Karapetian, said the protests will start at Zvartnots international airport where the Turkish president is expected to arrive on Saturday morning.
“We will properly meet Abdullah Gul,” Karapetian told the demonstrators, many of them school students and other young people bused from outside Yerevan.
“We are preparing to hold a serious, solid and disciplined demonstration in order to show the mood of our people,” another Dashnaktsutyun leader, Hrant Markarian, told RFE/RL. “After all, a counter-propaganda is underway and we must react to it correctly.”
“When the Turkish president visits France, French Armenians demonstrate. When he visits Greece, Greek Armenians demonstrate. So if it would be shameful if we did not make our voice heard in our own country,” he said.
Markarian was careful not to openly criticize Sarkisian for the invitation extended to Gul, citing the need for Armenia to maintain inter-state relations with Turkey. “But the existence of those relations can not cause us to abandon our causes,” he added.
Dashnaktsutyun believes that the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations is impossible without Ankara recognizing the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. The party, which has branches in major Armenian communities around the world, also does not rule out the possibility of Armenian territorial claims to Turkey in the event of such recognition.