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Armenian Opposition Divided Over Russian-Led Union


Armenia - Opposition leaders Levon Ter-Petrosian (R) and Raffi Hovannisian speak at Liberty Square in Yerevan, 05Oct2011.

Armenia - Opposition leaders Levon Ter-Petrosian (R) and Raffi Hovannisian speak at Liberty Square in Yerevan, 05Oct2011.

Armenia’s leading opposition parties have given differing assessments of government plans to join the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, with only one of them condemning the unexpected U-turn in Armenian foreign policy.

Raffi Hovannisian, the U.S.-born leader of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, on Tuesday again accused President Serzh Sarkisian of sacrificing Armenia’s independence and sovereignty to cling to power. He said he will raise the matter in fresh anti-government protests which he plans to stage in the coming weeks.

Hovannisian also denounced Russia’s plans to expand the three-nation trade bloc into a Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union of ex-Soviet states as an attempt to recreate the former USSR. “I believe this does not correspond to Russia’s and Armenia’s interests,” he said.

Hovannisian’s view is shared by several smaller opposition groups not represented in the parliament as well as outspoken opposition parliamentarians like Alexander Arzumanian and Nikol Pashinian, who are not affiliated with any party.

Armenia - Armen Rustamian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, at a news conference in Yerevan, 10Jul2012.

Armenia - Armen Rustamian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, at a news conference in Yerevan, 10Jul2012.

By contrast, the two other opposition parties holding seats in the parliament -- the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Armenian National Congress (HAK) -- have effectively backed Armenian membership in the customs union. Armen Rustamian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, said on Tuesday that it is vital for Armenia’s survival. He said neither the United States nor the European Union have offered Armenia the kind of security guarantees that Russia has.

“We have long worked with the Europeans on the formation of a South Caucasus security system. Have we achieved it? No,” Rustamian told a news conference.

Rustamian, whose nationalist party has traditionally favored close ties with Moscow, compared the upcoming Armenian entry into the customs union with the 1920 transfer of power from the Dashnaktsutyun-led government of an independent Armenian republic to Bolshevik Russia. Armenia was incorporated into the Soviet Union as a result.

“Our task today is to solve the issue of our survival … Our task is to bequeath 42,000 square kilometers [of Armenian-controlled territory] to future generations,” declared the head of Dashnaktsutyun’s governing body in Armenia.

For his part, HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, who led Armenia to independence in 1991-1992 as its first president, sought to rationalize Russian pressure on Yerevan, which is thought to have been instrumental in Sarkisian’s last-minute about-face. “I would be surprised if Russia did not exert pressure,” Ter-Petrosian said in written comments posted on Ilur.am on Monday. “Russia is a superpower and is understandably guided by superpowers’ rules of the game.”

“Why would Russia guarantee Armenia’s security, control the risk of renewed war in Karabakh, ensure one-third of Armenia’s Gross Domestic Product through cash remittances [from Armenian migrant workers] and at the same time sit idly by and watch Serzh [Sarkisian] lead Armenia towards the EU?” added Ter-Petrosian.

Addressing senior HAK members last week, Ter-Petrosian warned supporters against making anti-Russian statements in response to Sarkisian’s decision to make Armenia part of the customs union and thereby forego a far-reaching Association Agreement with the EU.
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