Armenia’s main political parties at odds with President Serzh Sarkisian on Thursday criticized him for sending a high-level Armenian delegation to the inauguration of Turkey’s new President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The delegation headed by Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian was among official representatives of around 90 countries present at the ceremony held in the Turkish parliament. Only one of those countries, Armenia, has no diplomatic relations with Turkey, a fact emphasized by critics of Sarkisian’s decision.
Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian defended the high-level Armenian presence, calling it “normal.” He also downplayed the fact that a Turkish head of state was sworn in the presence of an Armenian minister for the first time ever.
“There have been no such inaugurations in Turkey before because the Turkish president used to be elected by parliament,” Kocharian told journalists. “This ceremony is therefore the first of its kind.”
Opposition leaders dismissed these explanations. “The participation of our chief diplomat in Erdogan’s inauguration is not justified. They should have chosen a different level of participation,” said Naira Zohrabian of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest parliamentary force.
The opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) also criticized Nalbandian’s trip to Ankara. Its foreign policy spokesman, Giro Manoyan, pointed to Erdogan’s recent offensive remarks about Armenians. “Erdogan … has frankly demonstrated his feelings and thoughts about Armenia and the Armenians,” he said.
According to Manoyan, Dashnaktsutyun is worried that Nalbandian’s visit may be part of Sarkisian’s broader efforts to revive the 2009 Turkish-Armenian normalization protocols strongly condemned by the party. Dashnaktsutyun has repeatedly demanded that Yerevan withdraw its signatures from those agreements which Erdogan’s government has refused to implement unconditionally.
Levon Zurabian of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), another opposition party highly critical of the protocols, expressed similar concerns. “The fact that Armenia sent its foreign minister to Ankara is clearly connected with its desire to kick-start some diplomatic process,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The only diplomatic process related to Turkey is the Turkish-Armenian protocols which we have discussed on numerous occasions. This was one of Armenia’s biggest failures.”
Announcing Nalbandian’s trip last Saturday, Sarkisian said the chief Armenian diplomat will use the occasion to clarify whether Erdogan will accept his invitation to visit Yerevan next April and attend official commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.