The extraordinary statement by Hrant Markarian, the de facto head of Dashnaktsutyun’s worldwide governing Bureau, could further strain relations between Sarkisian and the influential nationalist party represented in his coalition government. It already threatened last week to quit the government if the upcoming municipal elections in Yerevan are marred by serious fraud.
“The Armenian side must acknowledge that it has been defeated in this stage of Turkish-Armenian fence-mending negotiations,” Markarian said, dismissing Sarkisian’s recent assurances that Armenia will “emerge stronger” from the year-long dialogue even if Turkey refuses to unconditionally normalize relations with it.
“One year ago we were saying that Armenia stands for normalizing relations with Turkey without preconditions while Turkey sets preconditions. We presented ourselves to the world as a peace-loving nation, whereas Turkey was seen as a crude and inexplicable state,” Markarian said. The situation has since changed dramatically, he added in a speech during a public seminar on Turkish-Armenian relations.
The event underscored Dashnaktsutyun’s growing unease over the unprecedented Turkish-Armenian rapprochement that began shortly after Sarkisian took office in April last year. The Bureau urged Yerevan in December to exercise caution in this process, saying that the Turks are exploiting it to scuttle greater international recognition of the Armenian genocide.
Dashnaktsutyun, which also has branches in all major Armenian communities abroad, has traditionally favored a harder line on Turkey. Its leader’s open criticism of Sarkisian followed growing indications that Ankara is again linking the establishment of diplomatic relations with Yerevan and reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border with a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Markarian claimed that the Armenian side itself allowed the Turkish government to renew that linkage. “One year ago, Turkey did not have a moral right to even express views on the Karabakh issue as it wasn’t considered a party [to the conflict,]” he said. “Today it is being presented as a party. It is already becoming clear why the Karabakh issue should be solved also for normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations.”
Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian insisted earlier this month that Karabakh has not been on the agenda of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue. They also ruled out any Turkish mediation of Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks.
Markarian also expressed concern at reports that a tentative agreement reached by the two governments earlier this year envisages the creation of a joint commission to study the 1915-1918 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as well as Armenia’s explicit recognition of its current border with Turkey. “If there were some agreements on forming some commission of historians … and if there was any intention on Karabakh and the recognition of Turkey’s territorial integrity and the existing border, we must abandon all of that,” he said.
Dashnaktsutyun repeatedly warned Sarkisian last year against agreeing to the creation of such a commission which was proposed by the Turkish side in 2005 and rejected by then President Robert Kocharian. The warnings came after Sarkisian indicated that he does not object to the proposal in principle. Many in Armenia and especially its Diaspora view it as a Turkish ploy designed to deter more countries, notably the United States, from recognizing the Armenian massacres as genocide.
Meanwhile, a senior U.S. official insisted on Wednesday that Turkey’s leadership remains committed to normalizing ties with Armenia and that the two sides are still “working very hard” to achieve that objective. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza held what he described as “very fruitful” talks in Ankara over the weekend.
“I had some very fruitful discussions in Turkey where it became clear to me how serious Turkey is about normalizing relations with Armenia,” Bryza told RFE/RL in Yerevan. “It’s a very complex mix of issues in Turkey. There are strong opinions in Turkey as in Armenia about whether or not to go forward, whether or not other issues need to be involved.”
“What I can say is that I sense that the top leaders in Turkey really are committed to opening a completely new historical and positive phase in relations with Armenia in pursuit of a common Anatolian home,” he said.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly stated this month that the 16-year Turkish economic blockade of Armenia will not be lifted without a Karabakh settlement that would satisfy Azerbaijan.