Oshagan Discusses ARF’s Way Forward After Leaving Coalition

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 speaking in Dearborn, Mich.
Oshagan speaking 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.”

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Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles written and submitted by members of the community, which make up our community bulletin board.

8 Comments

  1. I understand and fully agree with the ARF’ s criticism of President Sargsian. 
    However, moving forward, I would like to know what the ARF’s foreign policy is regarding Turkey,  and how the ARF intends to implement this. 
    I would also like to know why, taking into account that the the ARF has been the premier, most well-known political party for the last 100 years, the ARF has not a lot done better electorally in Armenia.   Does the party truly have the confidence of the people?   Has it proven, in Armenia, that it has the people and programs to lead?   What programs has the ARF implemented that would lead us to believe that the answer to that last question is “yes”?  And, specifically, what would the ARF be doing differently than the two most recent presidents of Armenia have done?

  2. Hye, Re: Bedros’ questions.  Questions shall be asked/answered.
    Howsomever, I feel compelled to  point out that the ARF has been the leadership of the Armenian nation since it was in the throes of the Genocide.  When the ARF stood forth in the  current Armenian republic, Der Pedrosian’s anti-ARF position caused the ‘separation’ of the ARF of the diaspora from the ARF of the new Armenian republic.  The Armenian ARF has to prove it itself to the new nation.
    The ARF, patriotic leadership, lead the nation for the two years (1918-1920)  (It is worth mentioning in  those two  years a university was established!)  In other words, the ARF has been ‘In the Arena’…..  Our patriots then and our patriots today in the ARF are, as Theodore Roosevelt spelled out so well  in his writings, all were in the struggle:  ‘In The Arena’.   When they succeeded, they were ‘In the Arena’…..  yet, when they failed,  they were ‘In the Arena’.  But, they were there……Critics, were not ‘In the Arena’ .  Critics can only make their ‘after the fact’ comments/critiques yet are unable to step up to the challenges/solutions and  enter  ‘In the Arena’.   The ARF recognizing their victories and recognizing their losses, but yet still knowing  full well, the ARF  was there …- the ARF has been  ‘In the Arena’ for the Armenia nation.
    Who else?
    Manooshag
    In my lifetime, I  marched with the ARF leading, in the April 24th observance in 1965 (the 50th year) through the streets of New York city proclaiming the Armenian  Genocide.  Some elements of the Armenian community would not even recognize the Armenian flag – and when Armenian nation broke free of the USSR, these entities had to borrow an Armenian  flag from my church……  Thank you, ARF…. for being ‘In the Arena’. M
    Manooshag

  3. The ARF has been part of a coalition that has governed Armenia for the past 10 years.  What has it accomplished ?   Enough with 100 year history.  What are you doing now ?
     

  4. Nowadays, being “in the arena” means laying down with dogs and catching their fleas. Let’s everyone read Khrimian Hairig’s Iron Ladle Speech and implement it.
     

  5. Oshagan did not discuss the “way foraward”, he just tried to justify and make excuses for an embarrassing past. In one sentence only, it was mentioned plans for the future: a social agenda addressing women’s rights, children’s rights, poverty eradication, retirement security. When ARF was partnering with the Kocharian government enjoying double digit economic growth we saw policies empowering the rich and creating a huge gap and rift between the rich and the poor. We saw policies that strengthen the oligarchic, monopolistic economy that shattered local industry and productivity creating huge unemployment and forcing many to go to Russia for work. When ARF will stop talking in the past tense and will start to courageously address the problems of Armenia, then will it have a following in Armenia. As of now it has no following, no respect, no program for Armenia nor it has good analysts or cadres to make a difference in the homeland. ARF, your past was great and inspiring – can you revolutionize a people today to stand up for civil rights, against oligarchs, and corruption? It’s a huge agenda, not to be done overnight, but at least you can start talking about it with courage and for once make demands on the government. Your reader rightfully asked: what is your record for the past 10 years?

  6. Manooshag’s response is very typical of how people feel about the ARF.  You look at the black and white photos of Fedayees with the  ARF flag in full battle dress during the Genocide, you cannot help but feel proud that Armenians fought back in the darkest hour and the ARF led the way.
    Until the Soviet Union crumbled and Armenia was thrust into independence the ARF got a free pass.  It was not held accountable for governing because it couldn’t govern.  They became very comfortable in being an “opposition” group against the Turkish Government and the Soviet Union.  Once Armenia became an independent nation things changed.   Suddenly, marching around with a clenched fist yelling slogans didn’t matter.  People want to prosper, people want better living conditions, people wanted a better life.  You cannot take a tri-color flag to the bank and cash it.
    The Karabagh War gave them a little reprieve from having to govern.   A war not started or won by the ARF but one in which some ( and I do emphasis SOME) ARF members participated.  The war  however tragic went to the heart of how the ARF precieves itself to be and how it wishes to potray its own image to the Diaspora.  A party which will take action on the battlefield against the enemy.  Saradarbad – to Shushi its all the same, its the ARF.  Difficult question regarding healthcare, job creation, and education were readily ignored as long as Azeri T-74 Tanks were rolling in the countryside.
     
    The truth is beyond taking a hardline positions against Turkey and Azerbaijian  with topics it feels it very comfortable with it does not bring much else to the table.  The ARF certainly can take the moral high ground for on whole host of historical issues.  ( Flag, Marchs, Congressional petitions, First Republic).  But that resonates much more with the diaspora then with the people who live in Armenia.    As much ARF would like to to think otherwise, its essentially a diasporan organization.
    Now that they have pulled out of the ruling coaltion, they can become a “professional” opposition force, playing lip service to wanting to be in charge but releaved of the burden to actually do anything.  They can also be “morally” pure as their stance and position will have no influence on state of affairs.  Since they do not have to meet/negoitate with anyone they can take as  hard of stance as they want.
    It kind of becomes a win win situation.  ARF gets to take the moral high ground regarding Genocide recognition/reparations and Karabagh (issues that its supporters in the diaspora care most about) and its free to critique the exisiting Government on everything without having to enter “the arena”.
    But they were in the “arena” for 10 years and have nothing to show for it and that is past they would rather soon forget.
     
     

  7. Maybe the ARF should take a page from the book of the ruling AK party in Turkey.  It is said (though who knows if it’s true?) that the AKP came to power by first serving people through various charities and institutions, and then providing corruption-free governance at the local level.   Whether that is true or not, it sounds like a good plan.
    Aside from the ARS, how does the ARF serve the people in Armenia?  If it does serve it, then tell us how.  There is much opportunity, surely, for productive civil work in Armenia. 
    Regarding a political platform, what exactly are the planks in the ARF platform?  I am not saying there aren’t any.  But those planks, if they exist, must come to life somehow.  They must be fleshed out.  They must be enacted as far as possible,  somehow, even if the ARF is not in power.  There need to be new initiatives.

  8. RootArmo, your points are well taken.
    Re: your comment, “Since they do not have to meet/negoitate with anyone, they can take as hard of stance as they want.,”
    I’d like to insert that Armenian organizations and entities CAN and SHOULD take a hard line EVEN and ESPECIALLY when they meet and negotiate! Take a good look at criminal Turkish and Israeli governments, insisting on having their way like spoiled brats, throwing tantrums and digging in their heels until they do.
     
     

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