Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and his former coalition partner and current top critic Gagik Tsarukian are said to have met on Tuesday less than a week after “completely” falling out over the domestic political process.
The information about the meeting of the two was confirmed to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun) by Aghvan Vartanian, a senior member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), which appears to have mediated the talks. Vartanian did not report any details of the meeting that was not confirmed by either Sarkisian’s or Tsarukian’s offices as of Tuesday evening.
Another ARF leader Armen Rustamian only voiced cautious optimism, saying that “ice is melting”.
“We have always said that sharp differences should be smoothed out,” Rustamian told the 168 Zham newspaper. “We are glad that the meeting has finally taken place, that there is this contact and that the ice is melting.”
Tensions between Sarkisian, the leader of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and Tsarukian, a tycoon who heads the second largest parliamentary party, Prosperous Armenia (BHK), aggravated on February 12 as the head of state lashed out at his opponent, describing him as “evil” and effectively ordering his exclusion from the country’s political process.
Tsarukyan and his key opposition allies, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Heritage, responded by scheduling a rally for February 20 to demand Sarkisian’s resignation.
The alliance known as the trio, in particular, opposes the government plans for a constitutional reform that it claims is designed to extend the current administration’s rule beyond 2018 when President Sarkisian is due to leave his office.
In the meantime, the BHK claimed political reprisals against its members as a number of activists of the Tsarukian-led party were detained by police late on Monday on suspicion of different offenses. The police said, however, that the detentions were not politically motivated.
Commenting on the possibility of “rapprochement” between Sarkisian and Tsarukian, the leader of the HHK parliamentary faction, Vahram Baghdasarian, said that while an “armistice” could be concluded, it would only be a “temporary solution”. He implied that no permanent solution to the issue is possible as long as people like Tsarukian remain in politics.
Given the degree of antagonism existing between the government and opposition camps, some observers in Armenia do not exclude the possibility of political upheavals if the government, on the one hand, continues its crackdown on the opposition and the opposition, on the other hand, presses ahead with its plans for “nonstop” rallies.
The ARF and other ‘moderate’ forces on both sides of the political fence have pointed out risks for Armenia in the event of internal political instability, including an increased likelihood of hostilities with neighboring Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Meanwhile, in an unrelated development it also emerged on Tuesday that HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, one of Tsarukian’s closest allies, had planned to seek a meeting with President Sarkisian to discuss issues not related to domestic politics prior to the exacerbation of tensions between the two.
Ter-Petrosian revealed today that he wanted to offer a meeting to Sarkisian on the “pan-Armenian declaration” on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide that he criticized in an article last week. The HAK leader said he planned to make the offer in an open letter to be published through media on February 13, but refrained from doing that after the previous night’s events.
In his letter Ter-Petrosian proposed the establishment of a separate commission that would “finalize the position of the Republic of Armenia in the Genocide issue.”
“I regret that in conditions of political revenge and violence unleashed against Gagik Tsarukian, the Prosperous Armenia Party and the opposition in general my idea that meets exclusively the interests of the nation is impossible to realize,” Ter-Petrosian said.
Presidential spokesman Arman Saghatelian told 168.am later on Tuesday that there will be a “corresponding response” from Sarkisian to Ter-Petrosian’s open letter. He did not specify when and in what format that response will be provided.