The five-hour meeting, held behind the closed doors and boycotted by the country’s most outspoken opposition forces, was part of “internal political consultations” which the Armenian and Turkish governments have pledged to hold before signing fence-mending agreements next month.
“I too see risks, I too have concerns,” Sarkisian said in his opening remarks publicized by the presidential press service. He nonetheless defended Armenia’s dramatic rapprochement with Turkey that began shortly after he took office in April last year.
Armenia -- President Serzh Sarkisian briefs Armenian party leaders on his recent agreements with Turkety on September 18, 2009.
“Let us judge together,” continued Sarkisian. “Are we sacrificing our convictions and our belief in truth with these documents, or we are paving the way for driving them home instead of confining ourselves to secluded purity? Let us understand that together.”
The president referred to two draft protocols envisaging the establishment of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey and the reopening of their border. Local opposition groups, notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), strongly object to some of their key provisions such as formal recognition of Armenia’s existing border with Turkey.
Dashnaktsutyun was represented at the meeting by one of its top leaders, Armen Rustamian. He said he reiterated the nationalist party’s concerns and pressed Sarkisian to clarify whether the protocols can be altered before their signing by the two governments.
“It emerged that major changes in them could be made only during the [parliamentary] ratification phase,” Rustamian told RFE/RL. “This means that if there are really important and serious views [voiced on the subject,] the negotiating party must take them into consideration but will be free to decide whether or not to back them … This is simply unacceptable to us.”
Rustamian added that the Dashnaktsutyun concerns were echoed by other party leaders and seemed to have influenced Sarkisian’s thinking. “I think that as a result of the discussions, some changes occurred in the president’s attitudes,” he said. “Thank God, there were also other political forces that had the same concerns and expressed them in one way or another.”
According to Aram Karapetian, the leader of the opposition Nor Zhamanakner party who also attended the meeting, most participants agreed that the protocols are “flawed.” He said they were also worried that the planned formation of a Turkish-Armenian commission of historians would thwart greater international recognition of the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire. “Serzh Sarkisian looked a different person after the meeting,” claimed Karapetian.
“He had the same concerns which others had,” said Vazgen Manukian, the veteran leader of the National Democratic Union, a once influential party loyal to Armenia’s current leadership. But, he said, Sarkisian at the same time made a convincing case for the continuation of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue.
“When you lock yourself in a room, you won’t have any concerns,” Manukian told RFE/RL. “But when you get out, walk the streets and start talking to others, there will always be problems. That’s what makes life interesting.”
Meanwhile, the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Zharangutyun party defended their decision to boycott what they see as a meaningless discussion. HAK spokesman Arman Musinian also said that the opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian will not cooperate with the authorities on any issue until the latter release all of the opposition members arrested following the February 2008 presidential election.
For his part, Zharangutyun leader Armen Martirosian insisted on the party’s demands for a national referendum on the Turkish-Armenian agreements. “Besides, the foreign minister said in the National Assembly yesterday that nothing will be changed in the finalized protocols,” said Martirosian. “So what are we supposed to discuss?”