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Dashnaks Quit Armenia’s Ruling Coalition


Armen Rustamian, announces the Amenian Revolutionary Federation's departure from the governing coalition on April 27, 2009.

Armen Rustamian, announces the Amenian Revolutionary Federation's departure from the governing coalition on April 27, 2009.

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) announced on Monday its decision to pull out of Armenia’s governing coalition, citing “insurmountable fundamental disagreements” with President Serzh Sarkisian over his conciliatory policy toward Turkey. (UPDATED)

The three other parties represented in the government defended that policy.

In a written statement, the Dashnaktsutyun leadership in Armenia reiterated the nationalist party’s condemnation of an agreement on the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations announced by the two governments on Wednesday. “We also have fundamental disagreements with the Armenian authorities’ position on some issues raised during Armenia-Turkey negotiations,” it said.

The dramatic move followed a Saturday meeting between Sarkisian and two Dashnaktsutyun leaders, Hrant Markarian and Armen Rustamian. According to the latter, Sarkisian briefed them on the essence of the still unpublicized “roadmap” for gradually normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations. “The president’s explanations did not satisfy us,” Rustamian said on Monday.

Dashnaktsutyun strongly condemned the roadmap agreement just hours after it was announced by the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries on the night from April 22-23. Earlier last week, Markarian publicly lambasted Sarkisian’s year-long diplomatic overtures to Turkey, saying that Yerevan has made major concessions to Ankara while failing to secure the lifting the of the Turkish economic blockade of Armenia.

Rustamian echoed that criticism, saying that Armenia has effectively ended its long-standing insistence on an unconditional establishment of diplomatic relations and reopening of the border between the two estranged nations. He claimed that Ankara continues to make that conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and an end to the decades-long campaign for worldwide recognition of the 1915-1918 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

“The Turks are now trying to turn those preconditions into conditions and include them into a package [deal with Armenia,]” Rustamian told a news conference. “For them the key thing is to exploit the process of normalization and they are doing that very well,” he said. “We must realize that.”

Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian insisted on Monday, however, that the two sides are heading for a far-reaching settlement “without preconditions,” dismissing speculation that Ankara has tricked Yerevan and the international community during year-long dialogue. “If Turkey were to deceive us, it would first of all deceive itself, it would deceive the international community, the United States, Russia, the European Union,” Nalbandian told the Armenpress news agency in an interview. “I think we have the impression that Turkey’s government also has a desire to move forward and normalize relations between the two countries,” he added.

Nalbandian declined to divulge any details of the announced “roadmap,” saying only that it contains “no provisions and principles” and is a mere “time guideline for steps to be taken by the parties.” “Provisions and principles will be contained only in an agreement or agreements that are due to be signed by the two sides,” he said

Artur Baghdasarian, secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council, indicated on Saturday that the roadmap will not be disclosed to the public before the signing of such an agreement. He spoke to journalists after a meeting of the body advising Sarkisian on national security. The latest developments in Turkish-Armenian dealings were high on the meeting’s agenda.

According to Turkish and Western media, one of the key points of the announced deal is the creation of a commission of historians that would look into the 1915 massacres and determine whether they indeed constituted a genocide. The Turkish government has for years been advocating such a study. In an April 22 interview with “The Wall Street Journal,” Sarkisian effectively confirmed that he has agreed to the Turkish proposal.

In a clear reference to this commission, Rustamian said that the Turkish-Armenian understandings could deter more countries of the world from officially recognizing the Armenian genocide. “We must never allow the replacement of the process of international recognition by efforts to force Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide,” he said. “One process should not suspend the other.” “Nobody here doubts that Turkey will do everything to avoid recognizing the Armenian genocide,” added the Dashnaktsutyun leader.

Rustamian, who heads the Armenian parliament’s committee on foreign relations, confirmed that Dashnaktsutyun’s departure from the four-party coalition government means all members of the party holding senior positions in the executive and legislative branches must now tender their resignations. “That process has already begun,” he said.

In accordance its March 2008 power-sharing agreement, Dashnaktsutyun has been represented in Sarkisian’s four-party coalition cabinet by three ministers and several deputy ministers. The influential party also holds 16 seats in the 131-member National Assembly.

Its exit will still leave Sarkisian with a comfortable majority in the parliament. His Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) alone controls at least half of the parliament seats.

In a joint statement released on Monday, the HHK and its two remaining coalition partners, the Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Orinats Yerkir parties, said they “respect” Dashnaktsutyun’s decision but believe that the rapprochement with Turkey is good for Armenia. “We welcome President Serzh Sarkisian’s steps aimed at the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations without preconditions and within reasonable time frames,” they said. That policy will not undermine efforts at greater international recognition of the genocide or lead to more Armenian concessions to Azerbaijan, added the statement.

Still, the BHK leader, Gagik Tsarukian, was highly skeptical about the success of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue. “My personal view is that this is a game and that Turkey will not open the border,” he told journalists.

Tsarukian, who is believed to be close to the more hardline former President Robert Kocharian, also said that Dashnaktsutyun’s pullout will “weaken” the ruling coalition. “How can we underestimate Dashnaktsutyun?” he said.

But Galust Sahakian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader, disagreed with that assertion. He also denied that Dashnaktsutyun was kept in the dark about all details of Turkish-Armenian negotiations and downplayed the significance of the resulting “roadmap.”

Armen Ashotian, another senior HHK lawmaker, claimed that those negotiations were only a pretext for Dashnaktsutyun to leave the government and try to win more votes in the next presidential and parliamentary elections. “Experience has shown that the pro-government electorate fails to live up to Dashnaktsutyun’s expectations in terms of the number of votes,” he told RFE/RL.

The coalition leaders said they have yet to discuss who will take up the vacant government posts held by Dashnaktsutyun until now. “The president of the republic will decide that,” said Tsarukian.

The end of Dashnaktsutyun’s decade-long presence in government was hailed by Zharangutyun party, the hitherto sole opposition force in the National Assembly. “Welcome to the opposition!” its top leader, Raffi Hovannisian, told RFE/RL. He said Zharangutyun is ready to cooperate with Dashnaktsutyun.

The other major opposition force, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) had no comment on the development. Both the HAK and Zharangutyun demanded late last week the immediate disclosure of the Turkish-Armenian roadmap.

The Dashnaktsutyun statement said that the party, which is particularly influential in the worldwide Armenian Diaspora, will now position itself as a “full-fledged alternative” to the country’s leadership and try to “counterbalance and restrain” the Sarkisian administration. Rustamian also made clear that unlike the HAK, Dashnaktsutyun will not seek to topple Sarkisian or force pre-term national elections for the time being.

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