Addressing thousands of supporters rallying in Yerevan, Ter-Petrosian charged that Sarkisian’s apparent acceptance of a joint Turkish-Armenian academic study of the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire amounted to “genocide denial.”
“We are left to conclude, without the slightest exaggeration, that for the sake of prolonging his rule Serzh Sarkisian has literally sold out the genocide,” he said. “His next step will undoubtedly be a sellout of Karabakh, after which he will become the first Armenian to win the Nobel prize.”
The year-long Turkish-Armenian dialogue strongly welcomed by the West was a key highlight of Ter-Petrosian’s 40-minute speech that also touched upon the worsening economic situation in Armenia, the upcoming mayoral elections in Yerevan and the continuing imprisonment of dozens of opposition members.
Ter-Petrosian joined Armenian skeptics in contending that despite a U.S.-brokered agreement announced Ankara and Yerevan on April 22 Turkey will not establish diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia before a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“Contrary to optimistic predictions and contrary to all expectations, relations between Armenia and Turkey will not be normalized and the Turkish-Armenian border will not be opened until substantial progress is made in the resolution of the Karabakh conflict,” he said. “A question arises: what was all this fuss about? Unfortunately, the answer to the question will be bitter for the Armenian side.”
Ter-Petrosian claimed that Turkey misled Yerevan and Washington into thinking that it is about to lift the 16-year blockade of Armenia in order to stop U.S. President Barack Obama from describing the 1915 massacres as genocide. Obama did not use the word, resented by Turkey, in an April 24 statement that commemorated the 94th anniversary of the mass killings and deportations. The statement came less than two days after the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries said they have agreed on a still unpublicized “roadmap” for normalizing relations between the two estranged nations.
“Turkey has fully achieved its goal, Armenia has been left empty-handed and the Diaspora again disappointed,” said Ter-Petrosian. “The first half of the game that began with the football diplomacy has ended 1:0 in Turkey’s favor.”
The claim echoed statements on the issue made by the leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), Ter-Petrosian’s old foe that pulled out of the country’s governing coalition this week in protest against Sarkisian’s conciliatory policy toward Turkey. They believe that Yerevan has made major concessions to Ankara while failing to secure the lifting of the Turkish blockade.
Accordingly, the nationalist party condemned the Turkish-Armenian roadmap agreement, saying that it could deter more countries of the world from officially recognizing the Armenian genocide. Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian insist that the deal will not prevent Yerevan from continuing to back the decades-long recognition campaign spearheaded by the Armenian Diaspora. Still, Sarkisian has effectively confirmed reports that one of the Turkish-Armenian commissions which the two sides plan to set up would consists of historians tasked with determining whether the deaths of more than one million Ottoman Armenians constituted genocide.
Both Dashnaktsutyun and Ter-Petrosian and his Armenian National Congress (HAK) are strongly opposed to the idea championed by the Turkish government. The HAK leader, who served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998, rejected it as “unacceptable and offensive” even before the start of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue.
“Can we accuse Turkey and the United States of hypocrisy?” the ex-president said. “Absolutely not. Turkey, displaying an enviable diplomatic ingenuity, has brilliantly achieved its primary objective at this stage, while the U.S. president has acted in the way any responsible leader would act in such a situation. If there is any need to look for a target of the blame, then that target may only be Armenia’s authorities of the last 11 years.”
Ter-Petrosian went on to accuse his successor Robert Kocharian and Sarkisian of “desecrating the sacred concept of genocide” and turning it into “an object of political trading.” He also hit out at unnamed “national bosses in the Diaspora” that have for years vilified him and praised the Kocharian-Sarkisian duo for raising the genocide issue in Armenia’s dealings with Turkey.
Ter-Petrosian was against including the issue on the Armenian foreign policy agenda throughout his presidency, much to the dismay of his nationalist opponents in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora. The ex-president made clear shortly after his return to active politics in late 2007 that he continues to believe that Armenia’s government should leave it to the Diaspora to pursue broader international recognition of the genocide.
Kocharian claimed around that time that his predecessor is “ready to forget the genocide and turn Armenia into an appendage of Turkey.” Shortly after his April 2008 resignation, Kocharian also indicated his disapproval of Sarkisian’s conciliatory line on Turkey and, in particular, the latter’s decision to invite Turkish President Abdullah Gul to visit Yerevan last September.
The latest HAK rally in Yerevan came one day before the official start of campaigning for the May 31 municipal elections. In his speech, Ter-Petrosian defended his surprise decision to top the HAK’s list of candidates and urged supporters to actively participate in the election campaign.
Ter-Petrosian also urged the authorities to ensure that the polls are free and fair. “The proper conduct of the mayoral elections is Serzh Sarkisian’s last chance to gain some authority with Armenian society and the international community,” he said. He did not say what his opposition alliance will do if it considers the vote to have been fraudulent.
Ter-Petrosian further stood by his gloomy economic outlook for Armenia, predicting a further devaluation of the national currency, the dram, and massive job losses. He dismissed anti-crisis measures taken by the Armenian government and its pledge to make large companies, typically owned by government-linked businessmen, “the number one target” of the fight against tax evasion.
“As long as Sarkisian occupies the post of president big business will not be taxed [in full] because it is the most reliable support base of the kleptocratic system headed by him and the main source of his personal prosperity,” he said.
The speech was followed by a traditional march of opposition supporters through the center of Yerevan. Although the protest was not sanctioned by the municipal administration, the police decided to allow it, citing the fact that it is taking place on May Day, a public holiday in Armenia.