Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian on Wednesday signaled his readiness, in principle, to recognize the legitimacy of President Serzh Sarkisian and launched a scathing attack on nationalist critics of Armenia’s ongoing rapprochement with Turkey.
While again strongly condemning Sarkisian for agreeing to the establishment of a Turkish-Armenian panel of historians, Ter-Petrosian made clear that he and his Armenian National Congress (HAK) support other key provisions of the fence-mending agreements signed by Yerevan and Ankara last month. That includes an explicit and official recognition by Armenia of its existing border with Turkey.
In an hour-long speech before the HAK leadership circulated by his office, Ter-Petrosian lambasted the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and other “extreme nationalists” for insisting that Yerevan should not have shut the door to future Armenian demands of reparations and territory from Turkey. He said that has enabled Sarkisian to “present himself to the world as a realistic and resolute statesman worthy of the 21st century.”
The HAK leader insisted that the notion of “historical rights” is not accepted in international relations and international law. He also argued that Turkey will never normalize relations with Armenia without precluding possible Armenian claims to its eastern regions that had been populated by Armenians until their 1915 mass killings and deportations.
“From the standpoint of Dashnaktsutyun and other irredentist forces, Turkish-Armenian relations must be normalized on the basis of not mutual concessions and a display of good will but Turkey’s unconditional capitulation,” he said. “And since Turkey does not seem intent on capitulating, they must have the courage to openly state that they are totally against the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.”
Armenia’s first president went on to accuse Dashnaktsutyun and political groups and figures sharing its views on Turkey of adding “non-existent sins to the numerous sins committed by Sarkisian.” “It was not Sarkisian who first recognized the Turkish-Armenian border -- the Dashnaks and Bolsheviks had done that before with the [1920 and 1921] treaties of Alexandropol and Kars,” he said. “It’s not he who renounced territorial claims -- it’s [his predecessor] Robert Kocharian.”
The HAK, continued Ter-Petrosian, will therefore not join in the “nationalist hysteria” sparked by the October 10 signing of two Turkish-Armenian protocols that envisage the establishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of the border between the two states. “For us, the only unacceptable provision of the protocols is the one related to the establishment of a commission of Turkish-Armenian historians,” he said.
The panel is expected to look into the 1915 Armenian massacres in the Ottoman Empire and try to address their markedly differing accounts and interpretations by the two nations. Critics, including both Dashnaktsutyun and the Ter-Petrosian-led alliance, believe that Turkey would exploit the formation of such a body to keep more countries from recognizing the slaughter of up to 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians as genocide.
Ter-Petrosian again stated that the very existence of the historical commission would “cast doubt on the reality of the Armenian genocide and halt the process of its international recognition.” That will deal a “severe psychological blow” to the worldwide Armenian Diaspora, he said, adding that even after it Turkey will continue to make the normalization of bilateral relations conditional on a pro-Azerbaijani solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Ter-Petrosian stood by his claims that Sarkisian willingly made “unforgivable” concessions to the Turks in the hope of gaining strong Western support and thereby offsetting what he called a lack of domestic legitimacy. While reiterating that the only way to prevent “dangerous developments” in Turkish-Armenian relations and the Karabakh peace process is Sarkisian’s resignation, Ter-Petrosian stressed that the Armenian president could and should seek to legitimize his rule at home. “What keeps him from requesting that coveted legitimacy from his own people and not having to make such concessions, instead of enduring so much humiliation?” he said.
Ter-Petrosian cited in that regard the example of a 17th century Armenian cleric who became a self-styled spiritual leader of the Ottoman Armenians, allegedly through corruption and deceit. The Armenian Apostolic Church responded to the resulting threat to its unity and legitimacy by electing the cleric as its new supreme leader in 1681.
Ter-Petrosian, who is a historian by training, touted that event as “the most broad-minded and wise manifestation of national thinking in the entire history of the Armenian people.” “Why does Serzh Sarkisian think that the Armenian people are incapable of once again displaying such broad-mindedness and wisdom for the sake of national aims?” he said, concluding his speech.
The statement was remarkable given the long-standing HAK claims that Sarkisian rigged the February 2008 presidential election and benefited from the ensuing deadly suppression of opposition protests to succeed Kocharian as president. HAK leaders have until now insisted that his resignation and the holding of fresh national elections is the only way to overcome the lingering fallout from the disputed vote. Ter-Petrosian stated in June that he and his allies will never engage in any dialogue with the current Armenian leadership.
The ex-president did not specify on Wednesday just how he thinks Sarkisian could gain domestic legitimacy, speaking only of the need for solving “internal political problems” and creating “ national solidarity.” He also noted that the HAK will not take “imprudent actions” or opt for “political maximalism.” It was a clear indication that Armenia’s largest opposition force will not resume its anti-government demonstrations, suspended in September, anytime soon.