Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian is ready, in principle, to cooperate with President Serzh Sarkisian, a leading member of his Armenian National Congress (HAK) confirmed on Tuesday.
“How can we rule that out?” Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s central office coordinator, told journalists. “If Serzh Sarkisian wishes to take steps towards the people, releases the political prisoners, reinstates A1+ [television on the air,] punishes those guilty of the March 1 [2008 crackdown on opposition protesters,] restores democratic freedoms in the country, breaks this illegal oligarchic system of economic monopolies, how can we not cooperate?”
When asked what concrete forms that cooperation might take, Zurabian said: “If steps are taken in that direction, then Ter-Petrosian and the entire opposition will only be ready to help.” He did not elaborate.
Ter-Petrosian hinted at his readiness to recognize Sarkisian’s legitimacy, strongly contested by the HAK, in a November 11 speech delivered at a high-level meeting of his opposition alliance. He cited in that regard the example of a 17th century Armenian bishop who became a self-styled spiritual leader of the Ottoman Armenians by fraudulent means, threatening to split up the Armenian Apostolic Church. The church responded to the threat by electing the cleric as its new supreme leader in 1681.
“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?” asked Ter-Petrosian.
The remarks sharply contrasted with another major speech which Ter-Petrosian delivered in the wake of the May 31 municipal elections in Yerevan which he denounced as “the ugliest in Armenia’s history.” “Serzh Sarkisian is not the president of Armenia,” the former Armenian president declared at the time. “Serzh Sarkisian is an ordinary usurper who must be immediately ousted and put on trial. We are officially refusing to engage in any dialogue with Serzh Sarkisian on any condition.”
Zurabian echoed Ter-Petrosian’s November 11 claims that Sarkisian is ready to make major concessions to Turkey and Azerbaijan in an effort to win strong Western support and thereby offset what the HAK sees as a lack of legitimacy at home. The president should look for that legitimacy within Armenia, he said. But he said at the same time that the HAK itself “can not recognize” it because the bloc continues to believe that the February 2008 presidential elections were rigged.
The apparent change in the HAK’s tough stand against the Armenian leadership has prompted negative reactions from other opposition groups such as the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). Hrant Markarian, a top Dashnaktsutyun leader, on Sunday spoke with alarm of the possibility of Sarkisian and Ter-Petrosian joining forces. Markarian expressed hope that the president will not “finally turn his back on his teammates and surrender” to Dashnaktsutyun’s longtime antagonist.
Zurabian scoffed at the warning, saying that the nationalist party admitted remaining a Sarkisian “teammate” despite leaving Armenia’s governing coalition in April. “They are worried that Serzh Sarkisian could lose a teammate like Dashnaktsutyun,” he said. “I welcome such an eloquent revelation made by Dashnaktsutyun.”
Zurabian also shrugged off derogatory attacks on Ter-Petrosian launched by former President Robert Kocharian on Monday. In a written statement circulated by the Mediamax news agency, Kocharian compared his predecessor to a scared man whom he said he encountered during a recent, hitherto unpublicized, safari to Africa. He said the “European” hunter had been attacked and deeply traumatized by a bear several years ago and now flinches at every mention of the animal.
“Unfortunately, it was a hunter’s statement containing a hunter’s vocabulary,” commented Zurabian. “We can’t understand it because we are in politics and don’t go on safaris.”