Addressing several thousand supporters rallying in Yerevan, Ter-Petrosian claimed that Armenia is facing a “forced solution” to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict because it has ceased to be Russia’s sole ally in the region. Citing Russia’s warming ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey, he spoke of the ongoing emergence of a “Russian-Turkish-Azerbaijani format” which he said will effectively drive the United States and France out of the Karabakh peace process and seek a pro-Azerbaijani settlement of the dispute.
Ter-Petrosian portrayed the reported sale of Russian S-300 air-defense missiles to Azerbaijan and the extension of Russia’s lease on a military base in Armenia as an indication that Moscow is “infinitely increasing its role in the Karabakh settlement process.” The leader of the country’s largest opposition force, whose public pronouncements have been quite sympathetic to the Kremlin until now, avoided passing judgment on the Russian-Armenian defense accord.
“On behalf of the Armenian National Congress, I am declaring that although we stand for a quick settlement of the Karabakh conflict, we will resolutely act against any settlement plan in which the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is not presented as a conflicting party as well as any peace accord not signed by the latter’s representative,” he said. Such an accord must also be put on a referendum in both Armenia and Karabakh, he added.
“Sarkisian did not receive a popular mandate to make any concession … because he is simply not an elected president,” continued Ter-Petrosian. “Therefore, he has no right whatsoever to make any decision, issue a decree, ratify a law or sign an agreement. All decisions, decrees, laws and agreements signed by him until now are devoid of legal force.”
Armenia -- Opposition supporters rally in Yerevan, 17Sept 2010.
Ter-Petrosian, who had served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998, at the same time stood by his view, articulated in a June speech, that the unresolved disputes with Azerbaijan and Turkey are an “insurmountable obstacle” to Armenia’s long-term security and economic development. But he rejected government loyalists’ claims that he himself would agree to Karabakh’s return under Azerbaijani rule.
Ter-Petrosian again claimed that Sarkisian’s resignation and the holding of snap presidential and parliamentary elections is the only way to save the country from “destruction.” Regime change therefore remains the HAK’s supreme goal, he said.
Despite its harsh anti-government rhetoric, the charismatic ex-president and his allies have pursued a cautious strategy of challenging Armenia’s leadership ever since failing to return to power in the disputed February 2008 presidential election. Their Friday demonstration the first in six months. Attendance at it was visibly poorer than at the previous HAK rallies, which were already a far cry from Ter-Petrosian’s massive 2008 demonstrations.
Ter-Petrosian announced that his alliance uniting about two dozen opposition groups is now entering “a new period of struggle” that will involve more frequent and vocal actions. The HAK’s next “national” rally will be held on October 15, he said.
According to Levon Zurabian, his right-hand man and the HAK’s central office coordinator, the opposition bloc will also stage other street protests in the capital next month. “We are launching a new wave of demonstrations and marches aimed at showing the entire world the power of our popular movement and proving the inevitability of pre-term elections,” Zurabian told the crowd.
Representatives of Sarkisian’s three-party governing coalition have repeatedly dismissed HAK pledges to topple the Armenian government. They say Armenia’s next parliamentary and presidential elections will be held as planned in 2012 and 2013 respectively.