In a classified 2008 cable released by WikiLeaks, Marie Yovanovitch, the then U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, said Ter-Petrosian also told her that he publicly branded U.S. policy on Armenia “immoral” as part of his efforts to placate radical supporters demanding a new opposition push for power.
Yovanovitch rejected this explanation as “dishonest,” deploring the former Armenian president’s “lack of integrity” and saying that he is willing to “sell out his own policy views for the sake of personal political expedience.”
The leaked cable recounts the former ambassador’s first meeting with Ter-Petrosian that took place on November 4, 2008. It reveals that the meeting was scheduled for October 20 but that Yovanovitch postponed it to demonstrate Washington’s “displeasure” with his speech at an opposition rally held on October 17, 2008.
Speaking at that rally, Ter-Petrosian charged that the U.S. and other Western powers are turning a blind eye to a continuing government crackdown on his opposition movement in their quest for a “unilateral” resolution of the Karabakh conflict. Such a settlement, he said, would spell a “national disaster” for Armenia because it would exclude Russia.
Ter-Petrosian also claimed at the time that in return for strong Western support for his regime, President Serzh Sarkisian is ready to “put Karabakh up for sale” and renounce Armenia’s political and military alliance with Russia.
According to Yovanovitch, Ter-Petrosian made diametrically opposite statements when they met three weeks later. She quoted him as saying that the U.S. should hijack the initiative in Karabakh conflict mediation from the Russians by dispatching then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region to negotiate a final Armenian-Azerbaijani agreement and having it signed in Washington in the presence of outgoing President George W. Bush.
“LTP (Levon Ter-Petrosian) said the U.S. would be doing Armenia and its people a great favor by intervening to achieve a balanced settlement that would leave neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan with ‘a loser's complex,’” Yovanovitch wrote. She said Ter-Petrosian assured her that his Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance “will not do anything to complicate Sarkisian’s settlement efforts” in the coming months.
The envoy told top U.S. State Department officials that Ter-Petrosian also justified his harsh verbal attacks on the West voiced at the October 2008 rally. She quoted the HAK leader as saying that he simply sought to sell his decision to suspend anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan to “the radical elements in his opposition movement.”
Explaining that decision in his 45-minute speech at the rally, Ter-Petrosian asserted that further street protests would “weaken Serzh Sarkisian’s positions and thereby increase possibilities of exerting external pressure on him and clinching concessions from him.”
Throughout the summer of 2008, senior HAK figures told supporters to get ready for renewed “decisive” actions against the Sarkisian administration. One of them stated that the October 17 rally will mark a “turning point” in the opposition movement’s struggle.
In Yovanovitch’s words, Ter-Petrosian said that the protest suspension carried “great risks” for him and that he had “no other way to get people off the streets and back in their homes.”
Yovanovitch, who completed her three-year tour of duty in Armenia last June, dismissed the alleged explanation. “Painting the United States in an immoral light on resolving [the Karabakh conflict] is intellectually dishonest no matter the motive,” she told the charismatic opposition leader, according to the cable.
Yovanovitch suggested the following motives behind his “dishonest rhetoric.” “Our
read is that LTP saw support for public rallies dwindling with each passing month, and was desperate to find a face-saving tactic,” she told officials in Washington. “Empty-handed after months of a stridently rejectionist strategy, LTP chose to cloak himself in nationalism and concoct a conspiracy theory of great power machinations to cover his political retreat.”
Levon Zurabian, a close Ter-Petrosian associate coordinating the HAK’s day-to-day activities, insisted on Thursday that there were no contradictions between what the ex-president said at the rally and the conversation with the U.S. ambassador.
In particular, Zurabian, who was also present at that meeting, strongly denied her claims that Ter-Petrosian admitted misleading his most loyal supporters. “Ter-Petrosian never said such a thing, I refute that,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “And Marie Yovanovitch also refutes herself in that report.”
But Zurabian would not comment on whether Ter-Petrosian indeed urged the U.S. to aggressively push for an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace deal.
Ter-Petrosian was quoted as questioning Russia’s commitment to Karabakh peace in another leaked cable which Yovanovitch sent to Washington in August 2009. The confidential document also publicized by WikiLeaks gives details of his meeting in Yerevan with Matthew Bryza, the then U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state.
“LTP worried that Russia does not actually want a solution, but rather a lingering problem that leaves both Armenia and Azerbaijan dependent on Russia,” reads the document.
Ter-Petrosian’s alleged concerns contrasted with his exceedingly positive public statements on the Russian government. The HAK leader has been far more critical of the Western powers in his public pronouncements made since the disputed February 2008 presidential election. He has repeatedly accused them of tolerating human rights abuses in Armenia for “geopolitical considerations.”
Zurabian claimed that relations between American diplomats and the HAK began worsening in September 2008 because Armenia’s leading opposition force refused to unconditionally back Sarkisian’s controversial policy of rapprochement with Turkey.
“We were angry that for the sake of geopolitical aims the United States can turn a blind eye to the trampling of democracy,” he said. “We were angry with the United States for that reason, while the United States probably had motives to be angry with our position.”
“But over time -- when it became obvious that our evaluations are correct, that Turkey will not delink relations with Armenia from the Karabakh issue, that Serzh Sarkisian is exploiting the normalization process to keep political prisoners and destroy the opposition -- the same Marie Yovanovitch learned to respect Levon Ter-Petrosian,” added the HAK coordinator.