On May 25, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Artsakh Central Committee released a statement regarding its decision not to participate in the newly-formed government of Artsakh. Following is an interview with ARF Artsakh Central Committee representative and MP of the republic’s National Assembly Davit Ishkhanyan during which he discusses the statement, the political situation in the republic and the future of the ARF in Artsakh. The interview was conducted by Tatik Aghajanyan for Aparaj and has been translated by Weekly staff.
Tatik Aghajanyan: What is the reason that the ARF in Artsakh did not find it expedient to be part of the new government? What were the topics of the negotiations with newly-elected President Arayik Harutyunyan and whether positions were offered to the ARF?
Davit Ishkhanyan: President Arayik Harutyunyan initiated negotiations with various political forces, including the ARF Artsakh, with a view toward cooperation and internal solidarity. On April 22, at the ARF Artsakh Central Committee’s Stepanakert office, we had our first official meeting and tried to clarify our principles not only for the formation of the emerging government, but for the development of the country in general.
We could not ignore the seven important principles, published in a statement in August 2019, on which we reached some understanding as a result of consultations with the political forces of Artsakh. Then, together with various political groups, we initiated the formation of a joint agenda based on these principles. In our opinion, those principles should have guided the direction of Artsakh’s development after the national elections in March 2020. These principles include ways to overcome both internal and external problems. It was on these principles that our negotiations took place, and we tried to present them to President Harutyunyan once again. As a presidential candidate and leader of the Free Homeland Party in the days leading up to the elections, Harutyunyan accepted all the points in principle. At this point, it was important for us to discuss these issues once more with the president-elect. It seems that our proposals were acceptable, but on the other hand, it is necessary to address one important point.
We believe that in order to be part of the government, it is necessary to have a role and influence in the decision-making process. In other words, the extent of our cooperation is directly proportional to the role of the ARF Dashnaktsutyun in making political decisions. We have proposed a way of making consensual decisions on some fundamental issues. In that case, the extent of responsibility offered to us was secondary to us. For the sake of transparency, we have been offered to lead various departments and sign a memorandum of cooperation. However, the Central Committee did not consider it appropriate to be part of this government.
T.A.: The President of the Republic of Artsakh has expressed readiness to cooperate with all political forces, recently signing a memorandum with the United Homeland Party. Do you consider it possible to cooperate with the authorities and other political forces?
D.I.: Nothing is ruled out in politics. In our statement, we also wished the newly-formed authorities success, adhering to the principles of the ARF Dashnaktsutyun for the past 30 years, always standing by the state of Artsakh, always supporting the establishment of Artsakh’s statehood and overcoming the problems facing it. If the authorities deviate from the general principles they have voiced not only during the election campaign, but also during President Harutyunyan’s inauguration speech, the ARF will of course exhibit the toughest stance. And if they remain faithful, continue to govern and lead the country on these principles, of course we will always be supporters. Մեր գործունէութեան առանցքը լինելու է Արցախի պետութեան հզօրացումը և Արցախի հիմնահարցի վերջնական լուծումը:
As for the recently signed memorandum, we have witnessed a similar document before. I want to remind you of 2015 and the memorandum of understanding signed between the Free Homeland and Artsakh Democratic parties. Over the past five years, cooperation between the two political forces in parliament has not been smooth. So, I think this document will also serve as a curtain with a memorandum on one side and other processes on the other. However, the two political forces must be accountable to each other and to the public if they sign a political document. Based on the realization of this responsibility, the ARF proposed to sign a document on consensus-based decision-making on key issues, which was not adopted.
T.A.: By not joining the emerging government, will the ARF be considered an opposition force from now on?
D.I.: The Dashnaktsutyun is not a government force. So in the classical sense, it is considered opposition. However, these classic political divisions do not work in Artsakh. Even though we were part of the government three years ago, we were against the Constitution, and in 2000-2005 the ARF had a minister and party members who took on responsible positions, but we were the opposition in the parliament. However, it would be more appropriate to use the term “constructive opposition.”
It is clear that there has been a change in the political course. Of course, the concept of opposition has its nuances. It will also depend on the policy and modus operandi of the authorities. The activities of the authorities cannot be assessed only by statements. Of course, the principles and directions of governance that are being circulated so far are pleasing to the ear, but they must be followed by practical steps. We will follow these steps closely and hope that the authorities will adhere to and be guided by the policies they have announced.
T.A.: In your statement you expressed hope that the new authorities will spare no effort for a successful resolution of a number of issues that were further highlighted during the internal political consultations. How will it be interpreted in the event of adopting an opposition position?
D.I.: Being in opposition is not an end in itself. The role of the opposition is to be able to properly assess, criticize, guide the public in the right direction, and play a constructive role as both deterrent and controller over the authorities. On the other hand, the government must cooperate with the opposition, refrain from political persecution, and create appropriate conditions for the formation of the opposition. In this case, it is important that the two sides work together. This work should not be a matter of nature; the activities of the government and the opposition should be carried out to overcome the challenges facing the country.
It is important that mutual enmity is not created, the contradictions are natural, as a result of which it is possible to ensure development and overcome the problems. Unfortunately, a lack of political awareness often leads to hostility and hatred. In any case, this hostility must be avoided. The atmosphere of hatred does not suit the political forces of Artsakh.
T.A.: On April 9, the statement of the ARF Artsakh Central Committee says that in 2020 the developments prior to the March 31 elections and the voting process are comparable to the flawed electoral processes that took place in 2005. What exactly is this about and has it had a decisive impact on the election results?
D.I.: Our people’s memory over the last 30 years should not exclude the most tragic and political consequences of 2005. During the elections at that time, the government did everything possible to push the current opposition, the ARF Dashnaktsutyun and the forces united around it, out of the political arena or reduce it. In 2005, this was the general “philosophy” of elections. And in this sense, the 2020 national elections are very comparable to 2005.
Without going into too many details, in these electoral processes, the people felt in their hearts the 2005 set of electoral processes. Maybe all this was not perceptible and visible in the period before March, but in the post-election period through careful review and analysis, we determined this election to be comparable to 2005.
T.A.: The pan-Armenian role of the ARF is undeniable. The ARF has been the driving force that has united all Armenians around Artsakh. In the new situation, could the national potential to unite around Artsakh be reduced?
D.I.: Using the ARF Dashnaktsutyun’s potential is in the national and state interests of the Armenian people. Over the past 13 years, we have been able to make full use of our potential. However, the key is the behavior of the current authorities and their readiness. The problem is not whether the ARF was in power or not; the previous authorities, represented by Bako Sahakyan, were able to understand the ARF’s place and role in the pan-Armenian domain within the framework of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and efforts to secure international recognition for Artsakh. We hope that the new government will continue the policy adopted by the previous authorities.
In a rather difficult domestic political situation, we will try to make full use of our external opportunities. The ARF Artsakh has a key role to play in consolidating targets at the pan-Armenian level and uniting forces.
T.A.: In your statement, you also referred to the issue of constitutional amendments, noting that there is some consensus on it. Taking into account the fact that the ruling political force voted for the current Constitution three years ago, do you consider it possible to implement the constitutional reforms in the near future? Are any steps being taken in that direction?
D.I.: In 2017, the ARF Artsakh spoke out against the proposed draft Constitution and urged supporters to vote against it. Unfortunately, it was adopted and we are guided by that Constitution. In our statements and during the talks, the issue of constitutional amendments was discussed. We have discussed this issue with 15 parties in Artsakh and almost all of them, including the ruling political force and the newly-elected president, were in favor of starting the process of constitutional reform after the elections. We have not yet had the opportunity to discuss this issue with President Harutyunyan. But a few days ago, during a meeting at the ARF Artsakh’s Nikol Duman Center, the speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Artsakh Arthur Tovmasyan reaffirmed the need for constitutional reforms.
We will have the opportunity to hold further discussions with other political forces in the near future. The Dashnaktsutyun has always been in favor of a parliamentary system of government, and in the near future, probably in the fall, we will try to take steps in that direction.
T.A.: As a result of the elections, the number of ARF mandates in the National Assembly has decreased. Do you consider it possible to cooperate with other factions? In general, how would you assess the new composition of the National Assembly of the Republic of Artsakh?
D.I.: It should be emphasized that the role of the ARF Dashnaktsutyun, if it is not an absolute majority, is not based on the number of mandates. Over the past 10 years, ARF initiatives based on national and state interests have rarely found supporters.
Compared to the National Assembly of the sixth convocation, it is difficult to pin high hopes on this parliament. At the first sitting of the already-established parliament, we witnessed a lack of professionalism. This refers to the election of the new leadership of the National Assembly, the chairmen of the commissions and the vice-chairmen.
As for cooperation with other factions, the ARF Dashnaktsutyun has its own direction and program principles with which it will be guided.