By Shakeh Avoyan
Vartan Oskanian, Armenia’s former longtime foreign minister, on Wednesday expressed hope that President Serzh Sarkisian will grant an amnesty to dozens of arrested opposition members and sounded a cautious note about the Turkish-Armenian “football diplomacy.”
According to newspaper reports in Yerevan, Sarkisian could announce the amnesty in a speech at the Armenian parliament scheduled for Thursday. Government officials declined to comment on this.
Oskanian said he was “very happy” to see those reports as he inaugurated his newly established Civilitas think-tank in Yerevan. “I don’t know if that’s true,” he told journalists. “The president will deliver a speech at the National Assembly tomorrow. There are expectations that he will declare an amnesty.”
Oskanian warned that Armenia increasingly risks being labeled by the international community a country with political prisoners. “In that sense, we are already on the brink,” he said. “This issue needs a solution acceptable to the [government and opposition] parties and the Council of Europe.”
More than a hundred supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian were arrested in the wake of Armenia’s February 19 presidential election on charges mainly stemming from the March 1 street clashes in Yerevan that left at least ten people dead. More than 70 of them, including three members of parliament, remain in jail. The Armenian government has insisted all along that none of the jailed oppositionists is a political prisoner.
Oskanian, who served as foreign minister throughout former President Robert Kocharian’s decade-long rule, also commented on the unprecedented thaw in Turkish-Armenian relations that was underscored by Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s September 6 trip to Armenia. He pointedly reserved judgment on Sarkisian’s decision to invite Gul to watch a football match in Yerevan, saying that Ankara has yet to reciprocate this and other Armenian overtures.
“For me, that decision’s being right or wrong will be obvious later on,” said Oskanian. “There is one criterion for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. That is the opening of the [Turkish-Armenian] border or at least [cross-border] rail communication. There is no other criterion.
“Unless one of these two things happens in the coming months, I will say that Turkey has heavily exploited the political opportunity given to it.”