By Hovannes Shoghikian and Emil DanielyanFormer President Levon Ter-Petrosian on Sunday effectively extended the Armenian opposition’s moratorium on street protests in Yerevan, saying that they can not bring down the government at this juncture.
Ter-Petrosian also cited the need not to weaken President Serzh Sarkisian now that he seems close to cutting a peace deal with Azerbaijan. He again accused the West of turning a blind eye to government “repressions” in Armenia for the sake of a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.
Ter-Petrosian similarly spoke of an impending “denouncement” in the Karabakh peace process as he suspended for “two or three months” his year-long campaign of anti-government demonstrations on October 17. Some elements in his Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance, notably nationalist figures opposed to any territorial concessions to Azerbaijan, openly disagree with the move. They say the opposition should resume protests to scuttle Yerevan’s acceptance of international mediators’ current peace proposals that call for such concessions.
Ter-Petrosian admitted that “quite a few” opposition activists share this view as spoke at an HAK conference in Yerevan. He spent much of its hour-long speech trying to disprove their arguments and defending the rally moratorium.
Ter-Petrosian contended that Armenia’s and Karabakh’s ruling elites are united and have a vested interest in supporting any peace accord with Azerbaijan advocated by Sarkisian. “That means that in the event of stirring up a wave of public protest over the Karabakh issue the [opposition] Popular Movement would deal with a monolithic opponent that would stop at nothing to contain that wave,” he said.
The HAK leader added that a renewed campaign of rallies, which nearly toppled the government following last February’s presidential election, would also attract no international support. “Today the West is not only failing to support the powerful popular movement established in Armenia in any way but is doing everything to destroy that movement, putting up with the falsified elections, the March 1 slaughter, the repressions and violence unleashed against the opposition, and the existence of political prisoners,” he charged.
“Thus, the unanimity of Armenia’s government system and economic elite, the attitude of the international community and especially the passive stance of Nagorno-Karabakh’s leadership make the launch of a powerful popular revolt over the Karabakh issue in Armenia impossible,” stated Ter-Petrosian.
Instead of challenging the Armenian authorities in the streets, he said, the opposition should help them achieve a more “favorable” solution to the Karabakh conflict within the framework of the so-called “Madrid principles” proposed by the U.S., Russian and French mediators. He claimed that both Sarkisian and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev have “officially” accepted those principles.
Ter-Petrosian predicted earlier that an Armenian-Azerbaijani framework peace accord will likely be signed in the United States in December. While repeatedly condemning Sarkisian’s Karabakh policy, the ex-president has stopped short of rejecting the mediators’ current peace plan. It has many similarities with a compromise settlement that Ter-Petrosian had advocated in the months leading up to his February 1998 resignation.
Ter-Petrosian went on to assert that fresh opposition rallies in Yerevan would also not accelerate the release of approximately 70 opposition members and supporters that were arrested following the February election and remain in prison. He noted that the Armenian authorities are under growing Western pressure to free those individuals, pointing to the Council of Europe’s latest threats to sanction them.
Ter-Petrosian reiterated that he stands ready to engage in a “sincere dialogue” with the authorities if they release all “political prisoners.” He also said that the HAK, which unites 18 opposition groups, will seek to not only criticize government policies but come up with “alternative constructive programs and proposals.”
The Ter-Petrosian-led alliance had to hold its one-day conference, attended by some 300 activists, at a large restaurant in Yerevan after being denied permission to use state-owned and private conference halls. Conference organizers retaliated by refusing to let a state television crew cover the gathering. Levon Zurabian, a top Ter-Petrosian aide, defended the “symbolic” action.
Also, two photojournalists covering the event walked out of the conference venue in protest against the alleged obstruction of their work by Ter-Petrosian’s bodyguards.