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Armenia: Azerbaijani Politicians Mull Implications Of Ter-Petrossian Comeback

Levon Ter-Petrossian -- preparing for a comeback? (file photo) (ITAR-TASS) October 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The possibility that Levon Ter-Petrossian, who served as Armenian president from the fall of 1991 until his forced resignation in February 1998, may announce his candidacy for the Armenian presidential ballot due in early 2008 has not only sent waves of shock and alarm through the incumbent Armenian leadership. It has also triggered speculation in Azerbaijan that the United States may back a presidential bid by Ter-Petrossian in the hope that he would adopt an unequivocally pro-Western position and help to undercut Russia's influence in the South Caucasus.

Asked to comment on the possibility that Washington may seek to return Ter-Petrossian to power by means of a new "colored revolution" such as catapulted Viktor Yushchenko into the presidency of Ukraine, analyst Rauf Radjabov told on October 24 that Washington would have to secure, first, the agreement of Ter-Petrossian -- who won a convincing and overwhelming victory in the 1991 presidential ballot -- to return to power by means of a revolution, and then to the complicity of Armenia's security services, which are currently under the firm control of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Incumbent President Robert Kocharian has already identified Sarkisian as his preferred successor, and few doubt that he will be elected. The Armenian Constitution bars Kocharian from seeking a third consecutive presidential term.

The 'Karabakh Clan'

Radjabov suggested that what he branded the "Karabakh clan" is determined to cling to power, and would only admit defeat if given cast-iron guarantees of immunity from prosecution and that its members would not be stripped of the fortunes they amassed while in office. Moreover, Radjabov noted, Russia would be unlikely to condone any move by Washington that would call into question the future of its military base in Armenia.

Radjabov did highlight one perceived dangerous consequence for Azerbaijan in the event that Washington does manage to engineer Ter-Petrossian's return to power, namely that the United States might exert pressure on Baku to accept a solution to the Karabakh conflict that is damaging to its interests.

Asim Molla-zade, who heads the Party for Democratic Reforms, similarly stressed that it is unlikely that the "Karabakh clan" would voluntarily cede power. He went on to argue that it is to Azerbaijan's advantage that they should not do so, given the favorable comparison between the present Azerbaijani leadership and a clan that he described as accustomed to resorting to "terror, bestial murders, and the harsh suppression of dissent" to retain power.

(Eldaniz Quliyev of the Movement of Intelligentsia of Azerbaijan similarly reasoned on October 3 that Ter-Petrossian's chances of being elected president are "minimal," and that it would be to Azerbaijan's advantage if Sarkisian, whom Quliyev described as "leading Armenia toward the precipice at a Stakhanovite pace," were to succeed Kocharian. Quliyev also dismissed the argument that Ter-Petrossian might adopt a more conciliatory stance on resolving the Karabakh conflict than Sarkisian.)

At the same time, Molla-zade cautioned against speculation about a possible colored revolution, noting that Ter-Petrossian has still not formally announced his intention of running for president, and it remains unclear how much popular support he enjoys. Molla-zade also questioned the perception that Ter-Petrossian is pro-U.S., recalling the close military and economic ties with Russia cemented while Ter-Petrossian was president.

To date, the only Azerbaijani official to have commented on the possibility of a colored revolution in Armenia is Foreign Ministry spokesman Xazar Ibragim. In an October 24 interview with, Ibragim noted that any discussion of such a revolution only serves to highlight the weakness of the Armenian state and its leaders' inability to implement an independent policy. That weakness, he continued, is the fault of the incumbent leadership, and can be overcome only by a shift in foreign policy, liberating the districts of Azerbaijan currently occupied by Armenian forces, and seeking peaceful coexistence with all the states of the region.

Ibragim further cautioned against focusing on specific political figures, including Ter-Petrossian, reasoning that "for Armenia, much depends not on who is elected president but on what position he adopts with regard to foreign policy." But he did not rule out the "hypothetical possibility" that a pro-U.S. politician could come to power in Armenia, resulting in "a certain degree of support" for Armenia in resolving the Karabakh conflict. Ibragim warned, however, that unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan is "immune" to any such pressure from world powers.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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