Some 200 Armenians gathered near an Armenian genocide memorial in the French capital, condemning the fence-mending agreements that are expected to be signed by the Armenian and Turkish governments in the coming days. The protest turned violent when riot police pushed back the crowd as the Armenian leader laid a wreath there. Police dragged several protesters away kicking and screaming.
One of the organizers of the demonstration, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), sought on Thursday to rationalize furious Diaspora reactions to what it considers a sellout deal with Turkey. “People became unmanageable and unrestrained,” said Hrant Markarian, a top Dashnaktsutyun leader. “There were also incidents, outbursts. [Turkish-Armenian] developments were assessed in an extreme fashion. We didn’t feel good but this was the reaction of a raw nerve.”
The authorities in Yerevan must “respect and reckon with that opinion,” said Markarian. “The Diaspora is facing the danger of losing its raison d’etre,” added the Diaspora-born politician.
Sarkisian downplayed, however, this and other vocal expressions of dissent that accompanied his high-profile meetings with influential community figures around the world. “My goal was not say on my return from the pan-Armenian trip that the Diaspora stands for the signing of the Turkish-Armenian protocols,” he said.
The president nonetheless found the trip useful, saying that he received “very important messages.” “I had a chance to once again feel just how different we are depending on our birthplace, community of residence, organizational affiliation and at the same time just how similar we are with our collective Armenian identity,” he said.
Sarkisian spent most of his speech again defending his policy of rapprochement with Turkey and trying to allay serious concerns expressed by his some Diaspora groups. He insisted in particular that the planned establishment of a Turkish-Armenian panel of historians will not stop Yerevan from pressing more countries of the world to recognize the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
“On the question of the recognition and condemnation of the genocide, we have an obligation and we will fulfill that obligation till the end,” he told the advisory body comprising Armenia’s top state officials.
Nationalist groups in Armenia and the Diaspora believe that such recognition should be eventually followed by Armenian territorial claims to parts of what is now eastern Turkey. They say that the Sarkisian administration precludes such possibility by agreeing to formally recognize Armenia’s existing border with Turkey.
Sarkisian again brushed aside opposition allegations that as part of the Western-backed deal with Ankara he also agreed to ensure greater Armenian concessions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “We will never opt for unilateral concessions in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, regardless of what we could be offered in return,” he said.
The president also scoffed at suggestions that the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border would make Armenia economically dependent on Turkey and hurt domestic manufacturers. “It is like suggesting that the best remedy against headache is decapitation,” he said.