By Ruben Meloyan and Ruzanna Stepanian
The governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has welcomed opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian’s decision to halt his year-long campaign of anti-government protests which he attributed to an “impending denouement” in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. By contrast, some of Ter-Petrosian’s opposition allies have openly taken issue with the move.
Addressing thousands of supporters who gathered in Yerevan on Friday, the former Armenian president said his opposition alliance will not hold more rallies in the next few months to make sure President Serzh Sarkisian does not make greater concessions on Karabakh. He claimed that Sarkisian would agree to such concessions in order to get the West to shore up his positions. Ter-Petrosian strongly condemned what he described as a pro-Western tilt in Armenia’s foreign policy.
“While disagreeing with many of his views, we find positive the fact that during yesterday’s rally the first president and his teammates adopted a more balanced position and stated that national and state interests are their chief priority and they don’t want to exploit the Karabakh issue,” Eduard Sharmazanov, the HHK’s chief spokesman, told RFE/RL on Saturday.
Sharmazanov dismissed opposition claims that Sarkisian, who came to power in a disputed presidential election last February, lacks legitimacy at home and abroad. “Mr. Sarkisian’s internal and especially foreign policies have only increased the president’s legitimacy,” he said.
Sharmazanov also insisted that the Armenian president is “neither pro-Russian, nor pro-Western” and, contrary to Ter-Petrosian’s statements, is not acquiescing in alleged U.S. efforts to squeeze Russia out of the Karabakh peace process. That process will continue to be jointly spearheaded by the United States, Russia and France, he said.
While renewing his harsh attacks on the government, Ter-Petrosian stopped short of rejecting a Karabakh peace accord proposed by the three mediating powers. It calls for a gradual settlement that would result in the liberation of virtually all Armenian-controlled districts in Azerbaijan proper that surround Karabakh.
Zhirayr Sefilian, the leader of a hard-line nationalist group aligned in Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK), on Monday denounced the proposed settlement as a “capitulation” and said he will not hesitate to stage street protests to scuttle its acceptance by official Yerevan. He said there are also other, unspecified factions in the HAK that disagree with Ter-Petrosian on this issue.
“We are in favor of continued popular pressure on this regime,” Sefilian told RFE/RL. “First of all, they must forget about conceding any Armenian lands. The majority of our people won’t accept that. And secondly, the world must understand that it is impossible to agree with the leaders of this regime on any issue because they have lost touch with the Armenian people.”
Also disagreeing with Ter-Petrosian were two senior members of Zharangutyun, the only opposition party represented in Armenia’s parliament. Although not affiliated with the HAK, Zharangutyun endorsed Ter-Petrosian in the run-up to the February vote and has supported him since then.
Zaruhi Postanjian, an outspoken parliamentarian and civil rights campaigner, said Ter-Petrosian should have continued his campaign not least because of the continuing imprisonment of more than 70 of his supporters arrested following the post-election unrest in Yerevan. “Having so many victims of March 1 and a huge number of imprisoned individuals, I think we had no right to stop mass events,” she said. “The Armenian National Congress may find it necessary to stop holding such events, but a large segment of the society wants to hold protests and may exercise their constitutional right.”
Another Zharangutyun lawmaker, Stepan Safarian, disagreed with Ter-Petrosian’s view that Armenia is drifting away from Russia, its historical ally.