By Georgi-Ann Oshagan
DEARBORN, Mich. (A.W.)—Pulling out of the governing coalition will not derail the ARF’s role as a leader for positive change, said ARF Bureau member Hayg Oshagan at a town hall meeting on June 27. The event was sponsored by the ARF Detroit “Azadamard” Gomideh at the Armenian Community Center in Dearborn.
Oshagan began his talk by providing a synopsis to the events that led up to the ARF’s withdrawal from the coalition, saying the party had no moral choice but to withdraw.
Focusing on Turkey’s gamesmanship in the months leading up to the April 2009 “roadmap” announcement—to purportedly resolve long-standing conflicts between Turkey and Armenia, and open their shared border—Oshagan outlined Turkey’s assertion of itself as a player in regional politics, including its attempts to broker relationships with Syria, Israel, and Iran, as well as Albania, Bosnia, and Russia.
“This is not just by chance,” Oshagan noted. “This is why what Turkey wants becomes more important that what we [Armenians] want.”
Oshagan especially noted Turkey’s strengthened relationship with Russia, particularly in the aftermath of Russia’s conflicts with Georgia. The Turkey-Russia alliance is especially problematic for Armenia, he said, because of Russia’s increasing control over Armenia’s infrastructure, including ownership of cell phone and energy companies.
“As Russia has gotten closer to Turkey, it’s put us in a difficult position,” Oshagan said. “It’s no coincidence that the invitation to [Turkish President Abdullah] Gul was made in Russia by [Armenian President] Sarkisian” to watch the September 2008 soccer match between the two countries’ national teams.
Oshagan emphasized that the combination of Turkey’s assertion as a regional player with Sarkisian’s desire to make a personal mark on history by resolving the genocide issue culminated on April 22, 2009, with the revelation that Turkey and Armenia had agreed on a roadmap to open the Turkey-Armenia border.
“Sarkisian sees himself as the one person to resolve the genocide issue, the one person to resolve the border issue with Turkey, to resolve the border issue with Azerbaijan,” Oshagan noted.
He added, however, that Turkey’s gamesmanship and Sarkisian’s desire to make history resulted in Armenia finding itself in the unfortunate position of kowtowing to Turkey and—for now—in the weak, losing position. The resulti was not a surprise for the ARF, which had warned Sarkisian that in the party’s experience, nothing good would come of Armenia’s repeated acquiescence to Turkey’s demands, which includes the establishment of a historical commission to research the genocide and other preconditions.
“It’s not bragging to say that the ARF is very experienced in dealing with political and foreign policy issues,” Oshagan explained. “From the very beginning, we thought it was a mistake to cooperate with Turkey under these conditions. All along we tried to slow down what we felt was a giving up by Armenia.”
On the eve of the announcement of the roadmap to the border reopening, Sarkisian met with two ARF Bureau representatives. However, Oshagan revealed, Sarkisian did not give the ARF the courtesy of being able to closely examine the roadmap document, instead snatching it back quickly and not allowing notes on the contents to be taken.
“Here’s a historic agreement being written up and we don’t even know what it is,” Oshagan said. The other Armenian coalition government parties were treated similarly.
In the end, when its contents were revealed to the ARF, the roadmap’s concessions for the Armenian side of the equation proved too much for the ARF to accept and crossed “the red line, the line we would not cross as a party,” Oshagan said. As is now known, the roadmap required Armenia to recognize Turkey’s current borders (precluding full genocide reparations discussions) and to establish a body to investigate whether the Turkish massacre of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 constituted genocide.
The ARF urged and demanded changes to the roadmap, but “the president [of Armenia] rejected our demands,” Oshagan revealed. “He did not agree that the roadmap crossed the red line.”
Oshagan said that the ARF’s withdrawal from the Sarkisian government was difficult but the right thing to do and a long time coming.
“It pains us to be in this status,” Oshagan added. “It was not easy for us. But the ARF is not a party by itself. It is a party for the people and agreeing to this road map would have made Armenia worse off. We tried our best not to have it get to this point, but the situation was untenable.”
Sarkisian had promised the ARF that he would not announce the roadmap prior to April 24, so as not to derail U.S. Congressional efforts to pass a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide. However, when that very announcement was made on April 22, it was clear to the ARF that Sarkisian “lied to us.”
Oshagan reminded the audience that it had never been comfortable in its role as a Sarkisian government coalition partner. However, Oshagan explained, the ARF decided to become a coalition partner to help stabilize a worsening civic situation in Armenia occurring shortly after the February 2008 election that put Sarkisian in power over rival Levon Ter-Petrossian and sparked post-election protests that turned violent and resulted in several deaths.
“We helped stabilize the government and have the situation not go into chaos,” Oshagan said. “We were not very comfortable in the coalition. I think Sarkisian expected us to leave the government.”
In the aftermath of the ARF’s disengagement from the coalition, the party is adjusting to its new outsider role, having have spent 10 years—in combination with the government of former President Robert Kocharian—as a government partner.
“It’s easier to implement your policies if you’re in the government,” Oshagan acknowledged, emphasizing that the party is embarking on a path of establishing a wide-ranging social agenda on behalf of the people of Armenia, including issues dedicated to women’s rights, children’s rights, poverty eradication, and retirement security.
“We are developing a socialist platform and will be discussing that platform in Artsakh at our Bureau meeting in July,” Oshagan revealed. “We are an opposition party, but we are not going to be the type of opposition that wants to tear things down and only complain. We want to be an alternative.”
Looking back at the events over the past several months and the benefits Armenia was convinced it would gain as a result of agreeing to the Turkish-driven roadmap, Oshagan said that the ARF’s fears had been justified and Sarkisian should have heeded the party’s warnings.
“As of today, the border between Turkey and Armenia is not open and there is no genocide recognition by Turkey. When you play along with everyone, they give you nothing.”