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Armenian Government ‘Lacking Mandate’ To Mend Ties With Turkey


Levon Zurabian, a leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress.

Armenia’s government will fail to sell any ground-breaking agreements with Turkey to the domestic public as long as it holds dozens of “political prisoners” and refuses to engage in dialogue with its political opponents, the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) said on Tuesday.

“It is impossible to carry out a process of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, which requires serious public support, without a process of internal Armenian reconciliation,” said Levon Zurabian, a top HAK representative. “Today any consideration of the Turkish-Armenian roadmap is meaningless. One must first consider a roadmap for internal national reconciliation.”

Zurabian referred to the April 22 statement by the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries on a gradual normalization of strained relations between the two neighboring states. Both the HAK and another major opposition force, the Zharangutyun party, have demanded the immediate disclosure of the “roadmap” announced by the two ministries. The Armenian authorities have so far refused to do that.

According to Zurabian, although the HAK does not trust government assurances that the announced framework is good for Armenia, it will reserve final judgment on the deal until it is made public. In any case, he said, the authorities lack the popular mandate to normalize ties with Turkey and accept a compromise solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict because of their continuing crackdown on the opposition stemming from the troubled presidential election of February 2008.

Zurabian pointed to the continuing imprisonment of 55 opposition members arrested in the wake of the vote and “police repressions” against other HAK activists. “The authorities do not realize that until the domestic political crisis is resolved progress in any process fateful for the Armenian people will not be possible,” he told journalists.

Echoing statements by the HAK’s top leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, Zurabian suggested that the authorities are exploiting the ongoing rapprochement with Turkey and the Karabakh peace process to get the West to “turn a blind eye” to their poor human rights record. “We have serious reason to suspect that the processes of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and Karabakh settlement are used by Serzh Sarkisian for securing the international community’s support or consent for crushing the opposition,” he said.

The Turkish-Armenian dialogue and Karabakh talks were on the agenda of Zurabian’s meeting late on Monday with the visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza and Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Armenia. Yovanovitch held a separate meeting with Ter-Petrosian on April 22, in a further sign that Washington finds opposition support important for the success of the Turkish-Armenian and Armenian-Azerbaijani talks.

“It’s a time when Armenia needs unity,” Bryza told RFE/RL on Monday. “I hope that the entire country will remain unified or will become unified in supporting an agreement that will improve everyone’s life,” he said.

Chances of such unity decreased further on Monday as the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) announced its decision to leave Armenia’s governing coalition in protest against President Sarkisian’s conciliatory policy on Turkey. Leaders of the nationalist party believe that the year-long dialogue with Ankara has produced no tangible results for Yerevan and has only complicated greater international recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide.

Zurabian described Dashnaktsutyun’s exit as a “first sign that this regime is not viable” and will show deeper cracks in the coming months. He said the HAK will be ready to cooperate with Dashnaktsutyun only if it acts like “real opposition.” “They need to earn the right to be a real opposition,” he said.

Dashnaktsutyun leaders, who had been in strong opposition to the Ter-Petrosian administration in 1991-1998, have sounded even more skeptical about chances of such cooperation. The influential party unequivocally endorsed the government crackdown on the opposition and, in particular, the bloody suppression of Ter-Petrosian’s massive post-election demonstrations in Yerevan.
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