“Change of power in Armenia will change the current situation… And for that reason, Armenians should not be dismayed.” — Ishkhan Saghatelyan
Ishkhan Saghatelyan, representative of the Supreme Body of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) of Armenia and representative of the “Armenia Alliance” opposition faction of the National Assembly of Armenia, visited the Greater Boston community last month and was interviewed at the Hairenik Building. The text of the interview, translated from Armenian by Weekly contributor Ara Nazarian, appears below.
Hairenik Staff (H.S.): Welcome to the editorial office of the Hairenik, which has been in publication since 1899. For the last five years, our homeland has been facing a series of troubles. How does the opposition evaluate the situation before and after the war?
Ishkhan Saghatelyan (I.S.): The Hairenik is one of our oldest publications, and it has played a very important role in the Diaspora in preserving Armenian identity and maintaining our political direction. I am very pleased to participate in this interview.
In 2018, a colorful revolution took place in Armenia, more precisely, a change of power. The new cadre who came to power promised love, tolerance, justice, security, well-being, but within a short period of time, they demonstrated only the opposite. Today, we are witnessing a period of profound hatred and division in Armenia. From a security perspective, we have been a complete failure; the enemy is within the territory of Armenia, 75-percent of Artsakh is under enemy occupation and what remains of Artsakh has been under siege for the past four months. And it is unnecessary to talk about democracy and justice, because they do not actually exist.
With those mottos, people assumed power; however, they moved away from their declared goals. But even so, there was excitement in Armenia and the Diaspora regarding the change of power, given the promises that were made and the widespread belief on part of the population. There is great disappointment now. What did the opposition do? The work of the opposition before the war was very difficult, because people unconditionally believed in the authorities, where no criticism or any dissenting views registered with the population.
In 2019, the ARF was the first entity to organize a public rally against these authorities. The rally was dedicated to Artsakh and carried the slogan “Develop without compromising,” during which time, the threats emanating from the Armenian authorities were voiced in public.
That rally was held on May 23, 2019, when an alert was issued against the Armenian authorities. However, this did not resonate with the public, given the prevailing euphoria surrounding the authorities.
The situation changed after the war. It was clear that the ruling elite needed to leave, to end the cycle of defeat and have a chance to recover, regain our dignity and change the nation’s course.
Unfortunately, the government did not have the foresight to relinquish power. We opted to get on the streets with the people. In that regard, we implemented three initiatives. First, we initiated the “Homeland Salvation Movement,” which was the consolidation of 17 opposition parties and the nomination of a unified candidate for the post of prime minister. Second, during the elections, we turned to the Armenia Alliance and considered the possibility of removing the prime minister, and third, we established the resistance movement, the people’s movement.
The resistance movement is one of the largest and longest-running movements in the modern history of Armenia. The resistance movement addressed important problems: that the current government has no right to lead the country to new concessions; that the surrender of Artsakh is unacceptable to our people; and that there is a resistance movement in the country. However, the resistance movement did not achieve its most important goal, which was to change the government and prevent all this. The opposition must reevaluate its previous path and start fighting anew with more effective means.
H.S.: During the first weeks of the war, was there really an expectation that the authorities of the day would extend a hand of cooperation? Because after the unleashing of the war, an announcement was made that there was no more opposition, simply because the country was at war and there was a protest against the issue of life and death. Did you feel any change during that period, or was it the same situation that continued?
I.S.: During the war, the opposition’s position was very clear. On the first day, all the opposition forces confirmed that they would put aside all differences and stand in solidarity with the state. The opposition showed exceptional unity and solidarity in those days. On October 16, we held a meeting with the initiative to create an emergency response center with the participation of former presidents, prime ministers, defense ministers and foreign ministers of the republic to unite their forces and fight for our homeland with a united front. In other words, the opposition demonstrated an exemplary attitude, but unfortunately its outstretched hand was not met by the government.
H.S.: Does the Supreme Body of the ARF, having reviewed the events in the past three years after the war, believe that different results could have been achieved should there have been other authorities leading the homeland during the war, having demonstrated a different approach and managed the affairs of the nation differently?
I.S.: Definitely. Nikol Pashinyan will always say that regardless of who was in power, the outcome of the war would have been the same. Even after the war, whoever was in power would not have had the opportunity to change anything. Of course, Mr. Pashinyan has been engaged in deception. Had we had a national government, we would not have been saddled with the results of the war, as we are today, and had Mr. Pashinyan been removed from power and replaced with a normal government, then we would not have had the losses of the past two and a half years. The defeated government is unable, and at times does not even have the desire, to organize the security of our country and its citizens.
H.S.: Is there a difference in the attitudes and mentality between the population of Yerevan and the border villages regarding the developments that have happened in Armenia and Artsakh?
I.S.: Border residents with the enemy in close proximity feel the danger on their skin. In Yerevan, there is a significant conscious segment of the society that understands the dangers, but there is also an indifferent segment that does not believe any misfortune will befall them. The population in the regions who have already lost their pastures and have shown resistance against the enemy and have survived certainly feel that danger.
H.S.: Recently, some Azerbaijani soldiers reached the vicinity of Sisian. They have moved kilometers into Armenia, and no one has noticed. Fortunately, no harm was done to the family whose door the infiltrators knocked on, but the concern is whether we have come to a point where our borders are unprotected, and the residents of Yerevan, happily enjoying life, do not realize what is happening.
I.S.: Unfortunately, this government has abandoned its mission to protect the borders of the Republic of Armenia and asks the people to meet all the wishes of the enemy in order to achieve peace. Of course, the enemy is not coming in peace, rather planning a new genocide.
We referenced this during the days of the resistance movement in July. Since then, we continuously discussed that if the Berdzor region is surrendered to the enemy again, then they will reach Tegh village, where a new frontline needs to be built.
It is necessary to be ready for that day. To begin with, the lands should not be handed over, and if they must be handed over, then the border line should be fixed, whereas the government of the day has done nothing to that effect. That is why the enemy has strolled into Armenian territory, for which only the government of the day is guilty and responsible.
H.S.: The western world has gradually started to show more interest in Armenia and Artsakh and wants to enter the political process at any cost. We are also informed that you will have meetings with major states, especially the ambassadors of France and other key countries. Do we expect any tangible results from these meetings?
I.S.: The purpose of these meetings is to present our points of view and listen to theirs. In the course of our foreign relations, we present our views and ideas in detail. However, in this situation, it is very important that the state leads the state policy. We present an alternative point of view and fight for it; however, they must be followed by the state, and unfortunately, the points of view between us and the state or the government of the day are vastly different.
H.S.: How do you imagine the ARF’s participation in the current government and after?
I.S.: The ARF has ruled out becoming a part of the Pashinyan government, as this is impossible. At one time, in 2018, we did that experiment. We emphasized that the people have a demand and an expectation, and that’s why we decided to be a part of the government, and we tried to fulfill those demands with our capabilities. That mission lasted only four months, and it became clear to us that Mr. Pashinyan had a very different agenda.
Now, it is impossible, as our ideas are completely different, especially in terms of the future of the country; therefore, we will not be able to work with this government.
I confirm the statements that it is necessary to unite; however, it is impossible to do so with Mr. Pashinyan, as he has shown no desire to fight for our country. This is a Turkophile government, and in this situation, it is impossible for us to be a part of this government.
H.S.: The latest incidents in Yerevan serve to obfuscate the main issue. Do the recent issues with Mher Sahakyan, Karen Mkrticyan and the despicable behavior of the Speaker of the Armenian Parliament Alen Simonyan resonate with the population? Do they not realize that the current government needs to be removed from power?
I.S.: These people always talk about democracy and the need for government officials to behave with proper decorum, yet their behavior has breached all boundaries of decency and normal, dignified behavior. Their arrogance has no bounds. This government has demonstrated brazen disregard, for in its behavior and glory, it has brought calamity and loss of life to Armenia, yet it continues to remain in power. They are not spitting in the face of a single soul, but in the face of a millennia-old people.
H.S.: We probably have the youngest yet lifeless district in the world in Yerablur. The families of those in this lifeless district are alive and number in the thousands. Would they come together to express their anger and demand justice?
I.S.: This is a profound question. Not everyone in Armenia thinks Mr. Pashinyan is the cause of these misfortunes and disasters and that there will be an opportunity to solve these problems after removing the current regime. The trouble is that he has been able to deceive people with his propaganda machine, falsifications and fraud that he has done everything within his powers. He has convinced the people that he is not guilty and that the war would have had no other outcome, in the sense that whoever was in power would have gotten the same result.
In other words, there is an extremist segment of the population that strongly believes in Mr. Pashinyan. Additionally, the whole society is still not of the opinion that he is the one who has brought this level of loss and tragedy to Armenia. Therefore, we have a responsibility to inform the people.
H.S.: Armenia has turned into a police state where the police are stronger and better paid than the army. Do you think you are being followed at all times?
I.S.: Opposition figures in Armenia are subjected to serious pressure from the authorities. The government is working against us and our families, friends and the party. However, none of this will hinder us. We know who we are dealing with and what we are fighting for. Therefore, those pressures are transitory and will not last long.
H.S.: How big is this externally orchestrated conspiracy against Armenia, and how can we dismantle this and address our issues?
I.S.: The first step to call the hands of all the players is to change the government. These external forces make their calculations in coordination with the current government in Armenia. Once there is a change of power in Armenia, everyone’s playing cards will be reshuffled, and the prevailing atmosphere will also change.
I repeat again that the government continuously tries to convince the people that they are weak, incapable, defenseless, that the world is against them and they should acquiesce to the enemy, meet all their demands and hand over everything they demand.
We reject this approach and propose to fight. We are not alone in our struggle. We have allies and sources, and we also believe that the only way to achieve peace is to fight for it.
If there is a change of power in Armenia, the agreement between external forces and Mr. Pashinyan will be null and void, and the situation will change in favor of our state and our people.
H.S.: Besides financial support, how else can the Diaspora establish close ties with Armenia?
I.S.: The Diaspora has great potential, and today Armenia is consistently pushing the Diaspora away from it. You hear the expression that they are responsible only for the Republic of Armenia and the citizens of the Republic of Armenia; that is, they have put aside the pan-Armenian spirit and the Armenian nation. The Diaspora should respond and confirm that it stands up for its homeland, that this homeland belongs to them as well, not just the citizens of the Republic of Armenia living in Armenia, but also for 10 million Armenians worldwide. Of course, this assumes both rights and duties. The Diaspora should have full access to those rights and obligations. There are many ways to help the homeland: political, economic and the defense of the nation. It is necessary to work on all these fronts.
H.S.: In light of your current visit, what do you have to convey to American Armenians?
I.S.: I had an interesting and full agenda during this visit to the eastern and western US in 10 short days. I had meetings in all regions; the most important were meetings with my fellow party members, where I had the opportunity to reflect and explain the current situation in Armenia and Artsakh, as well as listen and answer questions.
I held important public meetings, as well as political meetings with the ANCA. I try not to be away from Armenia for more than two or three days, but America was an exception. The Diaspora’s work is important to me and part of my visit agenda: how we should consolidate our forces, how we should focus and how we should take control of our homeland.
There is a question of re-evaluating the Diaspora after the war with a new vision, because the Diaspora is very different before and after the war. The Commissioner of the Diaspora is entrusted with the duty of dividing the Diaspora and not to carry out real work in the Diaspora. The Diaspora has serious work ahead and a number of difficulties to overcome.
Armenia and its Diaspora should strengthen each other. Together, with 10 million Armenians, we must move forward with the vision of restoring the trinity of Armenia-Artsakh-Diaspora.
I would like to thank our compatriots in the Diaspora and repeat that the authorities in Armenia do not represent the nation, and given the prevailing situation, we should not be disappointed in Armenia. We should not lose hope, as these are all temporary, and we must support the homeland.