A close associate of Levon Ter-Petrosian on Monday pointedly declined to refute a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable saying that the opposition leader had secretly offered to stop campaigning for President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation in return for government concessions.
In a classified September 2008 cable publicized by WikiLeaks recently, the then U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, Joseph Pennington, said that Davit Shahnazarian met him to ask the U.S. Embassy to communicate the offer to Sarkisian.
Pennington cited Shahnazarian as saying that Ter-Petrosian is “willing to forego street protests and other provocative opposition activities” in case of the release of some 75 opposition supporters kept in jail at the time.
According to the document, the oppositionist also said that Ter-Petrosian and his Armenian National Congress (HAK) are increasingly concerned about former President Robert Kocharian’s perceived efforts to return to government as prime minister.
“He added that while [Ter-Petrosian] and his supporters are not pleased by Sarkisian’s administration to this point, they believed that a return of Kocharian to a governing role would be ‘a disaster for us, a disaster for the President, and a disaster for Armenia,’” reads the leaked document.
“I don’t comment on WikiLeaks,” Shahnazarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) when asked to comment on the information.
“I have been in active politics for more than 20 years and bear full responsibility for all of my decisions and steps. And none of those steps needs to be justified,” he said vaguely.
Pennington’s reported conversation with Shahnazarian took place on September 16, 2008, the day after an HAK rally held in central Yerevan. Ter-Petrosian and his aides said ahead of that rally that it will kick off a fresh opposition campaign of “decisive” actions aimed at toppling Sarkisian. But addressing thousands of protesters on September 15, they indicated that the HAK has opted for a more prolonged and less confrontational struggle.
Shahnazarian said in his speech at that rally that the opposition bloc will avoid “drastic actions” for the moment because of serious external challenges facing Armenia in the aftermath of the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war.
In his classified message to Washington, Pennington said that he conveyed the opposition offer to Mikael Minasian, Sarkisian’s son-in-law and closest confidante, the next day. “Minasian listened carefully and pledged to pass the idea to the President,” he wrote.
“Minasian suggested that the opposition is weakening in any event judging by the reduced numbers at [Ter-Petrosian’s] rally on September 15,” added the U.S. diplomat. Pennington went on to describe the proposed deal as “another sign that [Ter-Petrosian] has started to recognize that his path back to power has firmly and finally been blocked.”
In the following months the Armenian authorities avoided a mass release of Ter-Petrosian loyalists controversially imprisoned in connection with the March 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan. It was not until May 2011 that the last jailed oppositionists were set free in line with a general amnesty declared by the authorities.
The amnesty followed Ter-Petrosian’s threats to unleash the kind of popular uprising that brought down the ruling regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. The HAK leader softened his rhetoric in the following months. But he failed to secure fresh concessions from the government even after the HAK staged weeklong non-stop protests in Yerevan’s Liberty Square in early October.
Ter-Petrosian acknowledged afterwards that the HAK may well fail to force early national elections, its key demand since 2008, and should therefore start preparing for regular legislative polls due in May 2012.