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Will Dashnaks Quit Armenian Coalition Government?

Dashnak leader Hrant Markarian savaged the government's negotiations.

Dashnak leader Hrant Markarian savaged the government's negotiations.

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) condemned on April 23 as "a blow to the interests of Armenia and the Armenian people" the announcement that Armenia and Turkey "have agreed on a comprehensive framework for the normalization of their bilateral relations in a mutually satisfactory manner."

The HHD accused the Armenian government of a "negative shift" in foreign policy and said it will consider leaving the four-party coalition.

The two-paragraph announcement that Armenia and Turkey have, with Swiss mediation, agreed on a "road map" for normalizing relations was made late on April 22. It includes no specifics or details, or any indication of a time frame. The HHD was particularly incensed at the timing, just two days before April 24, the date on which Armenians worldwide commemorate the victims of the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

The HHD was founded in 1890 in present-day Tbilisi and campaigned in the early years of the 20th century for the rights of minorities, including Armenians, in Ottoman Turkey. It was banned in Soviet Armenia, but survived for seven decades among the Armenian diaspora, and its representatives returned to Armenia in the early 1990s after Armenia became an independent state.

Then-Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian declared the party illegal in December 1994, and had some 30 of its members arrested on nebulous charges of terrorism. One of then-acting President Robert Kocharian's first moves after Ter-Petrossian's forced resignation in February 1998 was to release them.

The HHD accepted President Serzh Sarkisian's invitation last February to join a coalition government with his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). But it has repeatedly expressed reservations about Sarkisian's pursuit of rapprochement with Turkey, a policy that he has advocated since late 2006, when he was still defense minister. In mid-August 2008, the HHD made clear its disapproval of the invitation to visit Armenia Sarkisian extended to his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul.

Three months later, at a meeting in Beirut of its bureau, the HHD again warned that Ankara seeks to manipulate the Armenian desire for a normalization of bilateral relations in order to thwart worldwide recognition that the 1915 killings constituted a genocide. The party further warned that Ankara sought to peg that desired rapprochement to concessions by Armenia to Azerbaijan in the search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict.

The Dashnaktsutiun Beirut statement said that Armenia's "supreme leadership" views genocide recognition by the international community and Turkey as a top foreign-policy priority. But in a thinly veiled warning to Sarkisian, the party added, "On the other hand, it was stressed [during the Bureau meeting] that the immediate importance of normalizing Armenia-Turkey relations must not take precedence over the rights of generations."

Speaking in Yerevan on April 22, just hours before the Armenian-Turkish announcement, Hrant Markarian, who is de facto HHD bureau head, alleged that the Armenian government "has been defeated in this stage of Turkish-Armenian fence-mending negotiations," an allusion to recent statements by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In contrast to Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, Erdogan has insisted that no normalization of relations with Armenia is possible until the Karabakh conflict is resolved. The April 23 statement said that the HHD considers "absolutely unacceptable" the normalization of relations with Turkey "at the expense of the sovereign and viable existence of our state and the national-state rights of our descendants."

The rapprochement with Turkey is not the only issue on which the HHD's position diverges from that of its coalition partners. In mid-March, Artashes Shahbazian, who is the HHD parliament faction secretary, told journalists that he does not rule out the formation of a new coalition in the wake of the May 31 Yerevan mayoral elections, the composition of which might today seem astonishing. He did not elaborate. Ter-Petrossian is regarded as a serious challenger in that election to HHK candidate and incumbent Mayor Gagik Beglarian.

The HHD has nominated its own mayoral candidate, Artsvik Minasian. On April 1, the party formally appealed to President Sarkisian to pledge publicly that the HHK will not resort to fraud or pressure on voters to determine the outcome of the ballot.

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.