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Former Armenian President Excoriates Government For 'Genocide Denial'


Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian speaks at the rally on May 1

Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian speaks at the rally on May 1

Addressing thousands of supporters at an opposition rally in Yerevan on May 1, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian accused incumbent President Serzh Sarkisian of torpedoing the formal recognition by the U.S. of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey.

Ter-Petrossian similarly criticized what he termed the government's inept response to the global economic crisis, predicting a further deterioration of the economic situation that could result in "serious unrest."

As during the previous opposition rally on March 1, the Armenian authorities sought to curtail transportation to Yerevan from outlying towns and villages to minimize attendance.

Ter-Petrossian argued in his May 1 address that Sarkisian's apparent acceptance of a joint Turkish-Armenian academic study of the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire amounted to "genocide denial."

"We are left to conclude, without the slightest exaggeration, that for the sake of prolonging his rule, Serzh Sarkisian has literally sold out the genocide," he said. "His next step will undoubtedly be a sellout of Karabakh, after which he will become the first Armenian to win the Nobel Prize."

Ter-Petrossian predicted that despite a Swiss-brokered agreement announced by Ankara and Yerevan on April 22, Turkey will not establish diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia before the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is resolved.

"Contrary to optimistic predictions and contrary to all expectations, relations between Armenia and Turkey will not be normalized and the Turkish-Armenian border will not be opened until substantial progress is made in the resolution of the Karabakh conflict," he said.

"The question arises: what was all this fuss about? Unfortunately, the answer to the question will be bitter for the Armenian side."

Ter-Petrossian claimed that Turkey deliberately misled Yerevan and Washington into thinking that it was about to lift the 16-year blockade of Armenia in order to dissuade U.S. President Barack Obama from describing the 1915 massacres as genocide.

Obama did not use the term in an April 24 statement that commemorated the 94th anniversary of the mass killings and deportations

"Turkey has fully achieved its goal, Armenia has been left empty-handed and the diaspora again disappointed," said Ter-Petrossian. "The first half of the game that began with the football diplomacy [when Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Yerevan in September 2008] has ended 1:0 in Turkey's favor."

Ter-Petrossian went on to repeat the apocalyptic predictions he made during the rally in Yerevan two months earlier to mark the first anniversary of the postelection violence on March 1-2, 2008.

On that earlier occasion, he said he was "deeply convinced that the country is...descending into an abyss," and he predicted the impending collapse of the Armenian dram, skyrocketing unemployment, price hikes, the closure of thousands of small shops and small businesses, massive cuts in government spending, and other catastrophic socioeconomic consequences.

Ter-Petrossian dismissed on May 1 the anticrisis measures taken by the Armenian government to date and its pledge to make large companies, most of which are owned by businessmen with close ties to the government, "the number one target" of its fight against tax evasion.

"As long as Sarkisian occupies the post of president, big business will not be taxed [in full] because it is the most reliable support base of the kleptocratic system headed by him and the main source of his personal wealth," he said.

He predicted that the government will be constrained to abandon its efforts to shore up the dram, which will plummet even further in value, leading to the closure of hundreds of businesses, a fall in both exports and imports, a steep decline in budget revenues, and a big rise in unemployment."

"The state does not have the right to wash its hands when problems arise between employers and employees, the state is obliged to address those problems," he protested.

Ter-Petrossian also argued that the May 31 Yerevan municipal elections constitute President Sarkisian's last chance to win the respect of both Armenian society and the international community, and he called on the authorities to ensure that the vote is free and fair.

But he did not say what measures his Armenian National Congress (HAK) will take if it concludes that the outcome of the election was rigged. In mid-March, Ter-Petrossian announced that he will head the HAK list of candidates for the municipal council.

-- Emil Danielyan/Liz Fuller

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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