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Armenia: Nationalists launch hunger strikes against Turkey reconciliation deal

Publisher EurasiaNet
Publication Date 16 September 2009
Cite as EurasiaNet, Armenia: Nationalists launch hunger strikes against Turkey reconciliation deal, 16 September 2009, available at: [accessed 23 November 2017]
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Marianna Grigoryan: 9/16/09

The tentative Armenian-Turkish plan for diplomatic normalization has sparked Armenia's oldest political party, the nationalist-oriented Armenian Revolutionary Federation, to take to the streets with sit-down protests and hunger strikes. Public support for the party's criticism that the Armenian government risks selling out Armenia's national security interests appears to be spreading, even though it remains far from uniform.

Bearing red party flags and banners proclaiming "Don't forget, don't surrender, let's rebel!" 74 party activists, including 24 hunger strikers, kicked off their campaign in front of the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister's Office in downtown Yerevan on September 15. The protests will continue until the end of the six-week period envisaged for discussion of the protocols within Armenia and Turkey before the documents' ratification, the party's TV ads state.

President Serzh Sargsyan plans to start consultations on the protocols on September 17 with the leaders of Armenia's major political parties.

Supporters claim that the August 31 protocols imply that Armenia should recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, accept the current Armenian-Turkish state border, and, by agreeing to "implement a dialogue on the historical dimension," potentially backtrack on the country's longstanding demand for international recognition of Ottoman Turkey's 1915 mass slaughter of ethnic Armenians as genocide.

The documents, however, make no such specifications on these topics. Written in broad language, they commit the two sides to opening their joint border within two months of the protocols' ratification and to establishing bilateral government commissions to work on expanding cooperation in fields ranging from education to energy. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has emphasized in media interviews that border recognition is the first step in the reconciliation process, but the protocols do not mention border recognition.

That, however, does nothing to reassure many Armenians. "We will fight until the end since [the protocols signed with Turkey] contradict our national interests," one male protestor in his late 20s told EurasiaNet. "We will do everything that promotes our national interests."

Statements from Turkish government officials that the border will not open until Armenia and Azerbaijan make progress in settling the Nagoro-Karabakh conflict suggest that attention on the Karabakh issue will increase in the coming months, opined political analyst Yervand Bozoian. "That's the most dangerous thing," he said.

The governing Republican Party of Armenia counters that the Armenian Revolutionary Federation is using the protest to score self-interested political points. The 119-year-old party left Armenia's coalition government in April in protest at President Sargsyan's Turkey policy.

"The Armenian Revolutionary Federation and other political forces have the right to choose what way to fight," commented Republican Party parliamentarian Eduard Sharmazanov, the party's spokesperson. "Any preconditions from Turkey are unacceptable for us."

Other members of the governing coalition have echoed those comments. "I think we just need good will and courage. We see it in the actions of this president [Serzh Sargsyan]. We'll help the president to settle this issue," declared Heghine Bisharian, head of the Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) parliamentary faction.

But many Armenians do not see any manifestation of "good will" in the protocols' provisions. "Turks are so cunning, they will do everything to serve their interests. We know it perfectly well," asserted 70-year-old Anzhela Garanian, whose parents survived the 1915 slaughter. "How can I believe in their sincerity when I have heard all these stories from my father?"

Philologist Mkrtich Hambardzumian similarly equates the Turkey of the Ottoman past with the Turkey of the present. He takes issue with Turkish assertions that Turkey's border with Armenia cannot be reopened until Armenian forces withdraw from Azerbaijani territory surrounding Karabakh. "What are we talking about? Turkey forgetting its bloody history now tries to interfere with the Karabakh issue," he fumed. "I'm not a political scientist, but the protocol is worrying."

Suspicion in Yerevan about Turkey's motives is far from universal, however. Some passers-by at the protest commented on the irony of a former government coalition member now staging hunger strikes to block a government policy. Other Yerevan residents said protestors should consider the future. "I don't say we need to forget the past," said 25-year-old designer Emma Babaian. "But two neighbors cannot live with closed borders forever. Bilateral relations will help Armenia economically and will offer an alternative route to Europe."

The protests are not limited to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. The Heritage Party, the only opposition party represented in parliament, has written Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian about holding a referendum on the protocols. Earlier, Heritage Party leaders proposed a vote of confidence in the president, and a petition to the Constitutional Court. On September 15, the party called on all members of parliament to appeal for "radical" changes in the protocols.

"The development of Armenian-Turkish relations cannot directly or indirectly be linked to the establishment of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic," asserted the Heritage Party's parliamentary faction secretary, Larisa Alaverdian.

Meanwhile, Suren Surenyants, a senior supporter of ex-President Levon Ter-Petrosian, the head of Armenia's main opposition coalition, argues that Turkey wants to take on a leadership role in the South Caucasus, and will, therefore, try to play the role of an impartial mediator to Karabakh. The documents pose no danger to Armenia, he continued. Those casting doubt on Turkey perhaps are trying to conceal their own private agenda, he hinted. "Political groups should be sincere," he said. "Either we want [to establish] diplomatic relations [with Turkey], which means we need these protocols, or we do not."

Editor's Note: Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter in Yerevan.

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