Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian on Monday urged the Armenian opposition to put aside its differences with President Serzh Sarkisian and strengthen his hand in crunch negotiations with Azerbaijan which he said will be held soon.
In an interview to Ilur.am published two days after his surprise meeting with Sarkisian, Ter-Petrosian said a “national consolidation” must now the top priority of political and civic groups critical of Armenia’s government.
“As regards the role of opposition forces and the society, it must amount to nothing except a temporary freeze on internal disagreements and a national consolidation,” he said. “Now is not the time to accuse the authorities and try to hold them accountable for mistakes and failings. The war [with Azerbaijan] is about to move from the battlefield to a diplomatic front or very difficult negotiations.”
“Serzh Sarkisian must feel strong at the negotiation table, having the support of his people,” declared the top leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) who served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998.
For its part, the Sarkisian administration, Ter-Petrosian went on, should genuinely combat corruption, strengthen the rule of law, tackle electoral fraud and take other “positive steps” that have long been sought by the opposition. “You can’t disregard the opposition and the people in trouble-free times but expect their support at difficult moments,” he warned.
Sarkisian visited Ter-Petrosian at the latter’s private residence in Yerevan on Saturday to discuss Armenia’s response to heavy fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh that nearly escalated into a full-scale Armenian-Azerbaijani war. Sarkisian’s office said the two bitter political foes spoke about the “need for a national consolidation” in the face of fresh “challenges” awaiting Armenia and Karabakh.
Ter-Petrosian confirmed that he was the one who initiated the meeting. He revealed an April 5 letter to Sarkisian saying that their face-to-face encounter would provide “positive impetus” to the nation and be welcomed by the international community.
“Since Serzh Sarkisian was going to be in Germany in the following days, he replied to me by phone that we will meet at my home on his return, which is what happened,” he told Ilur.am.
The ex-president, who has for years lambasted Sarkisian and sought to unseat him, gave no details of their conversation. He commented instead on Azerbaijan’s April 2 offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh, comparing it with the 1973 Arab-Israeli war unleashed by Egypt and Syria.
Ter-Petrosian claimed that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev will now try to use the fighting to boost his popularity at home and “strengthen his positions in forthcoming negotiations on a Karabakh settlement.” Armenia should adopt a “tough but constructive” stance in those talks, he said.
Ter-Petrosian suggested that hostilities on the Karabakh “line of contact,” stopped by a Russian-brokered truce on April 5, are unlikely to resume soon. “Russia is able to prevent large-scale ceasefire violations,” he said.
Ironically, Ter-Petrosian was forced to resign in 1998 after advocating a controversial peace deal with Azerbaijan that was opposed by key members of his cabinet, notably then Interior Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Prime Minister Robert Kocharian. The latter succeeded him as Armenia’s president.
The existing Basic Principles of a Karabakh settlement put forward by U.S., Russian and French mediators have many similarities with the propose deal that had led to Ter-Petrosian’s resignation. The ex-president has until now avoided explicitly backing or rejecting them.
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) was quick to praise Ter-Petrosian’s statements. Armen Ashotian, an HHK deputy chairman, posted the interview on his Facebook page, commenting: “The April war has changed and is changing a lot in our country. Regardless of all kinds of disagreements, we continue to be united by the Homeland.”
Ter-Petrosian’s HAK and virtually all other major opposition parties voiced support for the Armenian military and government immediately after the outbreak of what many in the region are now calling a “four-day war.” None of them supports a solution that would place Karabakh back under Azerbaijani control.