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Leaked Document Reveals U.S. Anger With 'Dishonest' Ter-Petrossian

Armenian opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian
Armenian opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian
YEREVAN -- U.S. diplomatic records disclosed by WikiLeaks show Armenian opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian angering the U.S. ambassador for being "dishonest," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The documents show that Ter-Petrossian urged the United States to take control in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process in 2008 shortly after he accused Washington of seeking excessive Armenian concessions to Azerbaijan.

In a classified 2008 cable released this week by WikiLeaks, then U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch said in Yerevan that Ter-Petrossian also told her that he publicly branded U.S. policy on Armenia "immoral" in order to placate his radical supporters demanding a new opposition push for power.

Yovanovitch allegedly rejected this explanation as "dishonest," deploring Ter -Petrossian's "lack of integrity" and saying that he is willing to "sell out his own policy views for the sake of personal political expedience."

The leaked cable reveals Yovanovitch's first meeting with Ter-Petrossian on November 4, 2008. It says that the meeting was scheduled for October 20 but that Yovanovitch postponed it to demonstrate Washington's "displeasure" with his speech at an opposition rally held on October 17, 2008.

Speaking at that rally, Ter-Petrossian charged that the United States and other Western powers are turning a blind eye to a continuing government crackdown on his opposition movement in their quest for a "unilateral" resolution of the conflict over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Such a settlement, he said, would spell a "national disaster" for Armenia because it would exclude Russia.

Ter-Petrossian also claimed at the time, according to the leaked documents, that in return for strong Western support for his regime, President Serzh Sarkisian is ready to "put Karabakh up for sale" and renounce Armenia's political and military alliance with Russia.

According to Yovanovitch, Ter-Petrossian made diametrically opposite statements when they met three weeks later. She quoted him as saying that the United States should hijack the initiative in Karabakh conflict mediation from the Russians by dispatching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region to negotiate a final Armenian-Azerbaijani agreement and have it signed in Washington in the presence of President George W. Bush.

"[Ter-Petrossian] said the U.S. would be doing Armenia and its people a great favor by intervening to achieve a balanced settlement that would leave neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan with 'a loser's complex,'" Yovanovitch wrote. She said Ter-Petrossian assured her that his Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance "will not do anything to complicate Sarkisian's settlement efforts" in the coming months.

The envoy told top U.S. State Department officials that Ter-Petrossian also justified his harsh verbal attacks on the West voiced at the October 2008 rally. She quoted the HAK leader as saying that he simply sought to sell his decision to suspend antigovernment demonstrations in Yerevan to "the radical elements in his opposition movement."

In his 45-minute speech at the rally, Ter-Petrossian asserted that further street protests would "weaken Serzh Sarkisian's positions and thereby increase possibilities of exerting external pressure on him and clinching concessions from him."

Throughout the summer of 2008, senior HAK figures told supporters to get ready for renewed "decisive" actions against the Sarkisian administration. One of them stated that the October 17 rally will mark a "turning point" in the opposition movement's struggle.

Yovanovitch is quoted as saying that Ter-Petrossian said that the protest suspension involved "great risks" for him and that he had "no other way to get people off the streets and back in their homes."

Yovanovitch, who completed her three-year tour of duty in Armenia in June 2010, dismissed the alleged explanation. "Painting the United States in an immoral light on resolving [the Karabakh conflict] is intellectually dishonest no matter the motive," she told Ter-Petrossian, according to the cable.

Yovanovitch suggested the following motives behind his "dishonest rhetoric." "Our read is that [Ter-Petrossian] saw support for public rallies dwindling with each passing month, and was desperate to find a face-saving tactic," she allegedly told officials in Washington. "Empty-handed after months of a stridently rejectionist strategy, LTP chose to cloak himself in nationalism and concoct a conspiracy theory of great-power machinations to cover his political retreat."

Levon Zurabian, a close Ter-Petrossian associate who coordinates the HAK's day-to-day activities, insisted on September 8 that there were no contradictions between what the ex-president said at the rally and the conversation he had with the U.S. ambassador.

In particular, Zurabian, who was also present at that meeting with Yovanovitch, strongly denied her claims that Ter-Petrossian admitted misleading his most loyal supporters. "Ter-Petrossian never said such a thing, and I refute that," he told RFE/RL. "And Marie Yovanovitch also refutes herself in that report."

But Zurabian would not comment on whether Ter-Petrossian indeed urged the U.S. to aggressively push for an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace deal.

Ter-Petrossian was quoted in the documents as questioning Russia's commitment to Karabakh peace in another leaked cable which Yovanovitch allegedly sent to Washington in August 2009. The confidential document also publicized by WikiLeaks gives details of a meeting in Yerevan with Matthew Bryza, the then U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state.

"LTP worried that Russia does not actually want a solution, but rather a lingering problem that leaves both Armenia and Azerbaijan dependent on Russia," reads the document.

Ter-Petrossian's alleged concerns contrasted with his exceedingly positive public statements on the Russian government. The HAK leader has been far more critical of the Western powers in his public pronouncements made since the disputed February 2008 presidential election. He has repeatedly accused them of tolerating human rights abuses in Armenia for "geopolitical considerations."

Zurabian claimed that relations between American diplomats and the HAK began worsening in September 2008 because Armenia's leading opposition force refused to unconditionally back Sarkisian's controversial policy of rapprochement with Turkey.

"We were angry that for the sake of geopolitical aims the United States can turn a blind eye to the trampling of democracy," he said. "We were angry with the United States for that reason, while the United States probably had motives to be angry with our position."

"But over time -- when it became obvious that our evaluations are correct, that Turkey will not delink relations with Armenia from the Karabakh issue, that Serzh Sarkisian is exploiting the normalization process to keep political prisoners and destroy the opposition -- the same Marie Yovanovitch learned to respect Levon Ter-Petrossian," added the HAK coordinator.