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Armenian Opposition Leader Backs President On Turkey

Levon Ter-Petrossian
Levon Ter-Petrossian
YEREVAN -- Armenian opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian has signaled his readiness to recognize the legitimacy of President Serzh Sarkisian and attacked nationalist critics of Yerevan's ongoing rapprochement with Turkey, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Ter-Petrossian on November 11 again condemned Sarkisian for agreeing to the establishment of a Turkish-Armenian panel of historians, but insisted that he and his Armenian National Congress (HAK) support the other provisions of the fence-mending agreements signed by Yerevan and Ankara last month.

That includes Armenia's official recognition of its existing border with Turkey, the reopening of the countries' border, and the establishment of diplomatic relations.

In a speech to the HAK leadership, a transcript of which was circulated by his office, Ter-Petrossian lambasted the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun) and other "extreme nationalists" for insisting that Yerevan should not have shut the door to future Armenian demands of reparations and territory from Turkey.

The HAK leader argued that Turkey will never normalize relations with Armenia without precluding possible Armenian claims to its eastern regions that were populated by Armenians until the World War I-era mass killings and deportations of ethnic Armenians.

Ter-Petrossian, who was president from 1991 to 1998, continued that the only part of the deal with Turkey that he finds unacceptable is the provision of the protocols establishing a commission of Turkish-Armenian historians.

The panel is to look into the mass killings in the final years of the Ottoman Empire and try to address the different accounts and interpretations by Armenia and Turkey.

Critics of the panel believe that Turkey could exploit the formation of such a body to keep more countries from recognizing the mass killings of many hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Armenians as genocide.

Ter-Petrossian said that will deal a "severe psychological blow" to the worldwide Armenian diaspora.

While reiterating that Sarkisian's resignation is the only way to prevent "dangerous developments" in Turkish-Armenian relations and the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, Ter-Petrossian stressed that Sarkisian could seek to legitimize his rule at home.

The speech was remarkable given the long-standing HAK claims that Sarkisian rigged the February 2008 presidential election and benefited from the ensuing deadly suppression of opposition protests to succeed Robert Kocharian as president.

HAK leaders have until now insisted that his resignation and the holding of fresh national elections is the only way to overcome the lingering fallout from the disputed vote.

Ter-Petrossian did not specify on November 11 just how he thinks Sarkisian could gain domestic legitimacy, speaking only of the need for solving "internal political problems" and creating "national solidarity."

He also noted that the HAK will not take "imprudent actions" or opt for "political maximalism."

It was a clear indication that Armenia's largest opposition force will not resume its antigovernment demonstrations, which were suspended in September, anytime soon.