By Emil Danielyan
Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian on Friday called a “temporary” halt to his year-long campaign of anti-government demonstrations, citing the need to stave off greater Armenian concessions on Nagorno-Karabakh which he said are sought by the West.
In a trademark long speech at what may have been his last rally in Yerevan this year, Ter-Petrosian launched his most blistering attack yet on the United States and other Western powers, saying that they are turning a blind eye to government “repressions” in Armenia in their quest for a “unilateral” resolution of the Karabakh conflict. He also accused President Serzh Sarkisian of radically re-orienting Armenian foreign policy and assisting in what he described as Western efforts to drive Russia out of the region.
“The pause will not be long-lasting because a denouement in the Karabakh conflict is a matter of just two or three months,” Ter-Petrosian told thousands of supporters who again rallied in central Yerevan to hear him announce the new opposition strategy of confronting the Sarkisian administration.
“There is a danger that the opposition may become a tool in the hands of foreign forces against its will,” he said. “To fall into this trap would be an unforgivable delusion and a political short-sightedness on our part. Therefore, being sincerely in favor of a quick settlement of the Karabakh conflict and Turkish-Armenian relations, we do not want to prevent the Armenian authorities from solving those issues,” he added.
Ter-Petrosian at the same time charged that Sarkisian is now ready to go as far as to “put Karabakh up for sale” and renounce Armenia’s political and military alliance with Russia in an effort to legitimize his rule in the eyes of the international community. “In return for this, the West is ready to turn a blind eye to Serzh Sarkisian’s vices; forget the disgraceful elections of February 19 and the March 1 crime; ignore his dictatorial internal policy; tolerate restrictions on democratic freedoms and widespread human rights abuses; and come to terms with the existence of political prisoners,” he said, repeatedly condemning the Western stance as “immoral.”
“By turning his back on Russia and fully relying on the West and the United States of Armenia and its ally Turkey in particular, Serzh Sarkisian is effectively entrusting the latter with the pivotal issue in Armenia’s foreign policy: a unilateral settlement of the Karabakh conflict,” Ter-Petrosian claimed. “Such a conclusion stems from the fact that the West is clearly trying to drive Russia out of the Karabakh peace process.” Russia’s ouster from the process would be tantamount to a “national disaster” for Armenia, he said.
The charismatic leader, who had served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998, did not mention unusually optimistic statements made by senior Russian officials of late about prospects for a resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani. Russia has long co-chaired the OSCE Minsk Group together with France and the U.S.
Washington and Moscow have said they will continue to work together in trying to broker a Karabakh peace deal despite a sharp deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations that followed the recent war in Georgia. The mediating powers are expected to step up in the coming weeks their joint efforts to get the conflicting parties to accept a framework peace accord that was put forward by them in November last year. The document calls for a gradual resolution of the conflict that would supposedly end in a referendum of self-determination in Karabakh.
Ter-Petrosian listed the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement proposed by the Minsk Group co-chairs but did not specify whether he thinks Yerevan should go along with them. He said only that the Armenian side should have the mediators clarify when proposed referendum would take place and who would administer it. Ter-Petrosian had earlier described those principles as largely acceptable and stressed the fact that they are similar to a peace plan which he had strongly advocated while in power.
With his 45-minute speech Ter-Petrosian ended speculation about a renewed opposition campaign of daily street protests aimed at forcing Sarkisian to step down and call fresh national elections. Ter-Petrosian and his opposition coalition came close to toppling the government with such protests in the wake of the disputed presidential ballot. The Armenian authorities used lethal force and arrested scores of opposition members to suppress the campaign.
Throughout last summer Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) told supporters to get ready for renewed “decisive” actions against the government in September. But the HAK refrained from making another push for power last month amid the continuing imprisonment of more than 70 opposition leaders and supporters arrested following the February 19 election and the ensuing unrest.
Ter-Petrosian acknowledged on Friday that for many of his ardent supporters his decision not hold more rallies in the capital in the coming months will be “difficult to digest.” But he insisted that further street protests would “weaken Serzh Sarkisian’s positions and thereby increase possibilities of exerting external pressure on him and clinching concessions from him.”