Opposition’s Case: ARF-D Leader Explains Why Sargsyan Should Not Go to Turkey

By Gayane Abrahamyan
ArmeniaNow reporter
14 October 2009

A chief foreign policy spokesman for the major party opposed to the current deal with Ankara considers President Serzh Sargsyan’s travel to Turkey “a wrong step that is in conflict with his own outlined conditions.”

Giro Manoyan, director of the International Secretariat of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) Bureau in Yerevan, says in an interview with ArmeniaNow that Armenia and Turkey are “as close to opening their border now as they were 60 years ago.” He reminds that an open border or a situation close to opening the border was the condition for paying a visit to Turkey that President Sargsyan voiced still in April.

Within hours Sargsyan and his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul are expected to attend together a World Cup qualifier between the national soccer teams of the two countries to be played in the northwestern Turkish city of Bursa tonight (October 14). Sargsyan in fact will be making a payback visit. His invitation to Gul to come to Yerevan for the first-leg match between the two teams in Yerevan in September 2008 in fact set his “soccer diplomacy” initiative going. The far-reaching rapprochement efforts by Armenia, Turkey and their Swiss brokers culminated last Saturday in the signing of two protocols in Zurich that envisage the establishment of diplomatic ties and development of bilateral relations between the two historical foe.

Dashnaktsutyun has condemned the protocols as flawed and containing “Turkish preconditions” and has opposed the normalization of ties at the cost of what it views as damaging Armenian state and national interests.

Manoyan, like many in Armenia, thinks that the signing of the protocols does not yet mean that Turkey is about to lift the blockades of Armenia that it imposed in 1993 out of solidarity with regional ethnic ally Azerbaijan that was waging an unsuccessful war against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“There is no legal difference between the status that existed at the moment of Sargsyan’s voicing his condition and now. The signing does not yet mean that the process has started, since the timetable will be set in motion only after ratification [by parliaments], and we are not anywhere near it today,” says Manoyan.

The senior ARF-D member thinks that Sargsyan has decided to go to Turkey in order to show that he “plays by the rules”.

“But one can play by the rules only if all play by the rules,” Manoyan adds.

Manoyan also denounces the aspiration to satisfy the wishes of superpowers and calls for an approach that does not neglect the state and national interests.

“It is worrisome that these negotiations are being conducted not only to normalize relations with Turkey, but also target a certain audience, in this case the great powers that were present and forced Armenia to sign this disgraceful document. True, one cannot disregard their opinion, but to do everything to convince this audience that we are an obedient pupil and will not interfere with their plans is unacceptable,” says Manoyan.

The Dashnaktsutyun representative still thinks that the situation can be changed and says the party plans to use all constitutional means and also go as far as pushing for leadership change in the country.

Dashnaktsutyun that holds 16 seats in the 131-seat parliament and quit the governing coalition last April over its disagreement with Sargsyan’s conciliatory policy on Turkey, is currently more active in opposing the deal with Ankara, including through public demonstrations of protest, than Armenia’s main radical opposition led by former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Unlike the latter, however, Dashnaktsutsyun have not explicitly sought an immediate power change, a stance dismissed and even ridiculed by Ter-Petrosyan’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) as “an imitation of struggle”.

Dashnaktsutyun on Tuesday indicated that it was determined to stage a public rally in Yerevan on Friday despite the rejection of their bid for holding such an event by the city authorities. It said through various events, including dissemination of CDs and DVDs, it should “get people to their feet and inform them about the dangers of the signed protocols.”

The party’s various protest actions, including hunger-strikes, sit-ins and marches, during the six-week period of “internal political consultations” failed to convince the authorities not to sign the protocols. And the parliamentary majority of the coalition parties periodically reaffirms its readiness to ratify the deal.

Meanwhile, Manoyan insists Dashnaktsutyun still has instruments in its political arsenal, but refuses to name them “not to miss the result”.

“Work with separate members of parliament could have a positive effect as through this lobbyist effort we could scuttle the vote. But before achieving that, there is also the issue of legality of the protocols,” says Manoyan.

Manoyan explains that the protocols were signed without positive opinions about them received from corresponding ministries, as it is required by law and which is a serious violation. “There are also other such obvious violations that could question the ratification of these protocols,” he says, adding that Dashnaktsutyun also possesses more powerful instruments to wage the struggle.

Some analysts believe that the tandem of Dashnaktsutyun and ex-foreign minister Raffi Hovannisian’s Heritage party are facing an uphill battle not only domestically but also internationally in trying to achieve change. The leading Western nations, Russia and international organizations have voiced their strong support for the foreign policies of Sargsyan. (The respected journal “Christian Science Monitor”, has opined that Sargsyan’s overtures to Turkey are a resume for Nobel peace prize nomination.)

“Yes, the forces are not equal. But if the people show their united will, then it is possible to overcome, because any force must reckon with people’s opinion,” says Manoyan.

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