Oshagan Discusses ARF’s Way Forward after Leaving Coalition

By Georgi-Ann Oshagan

DEARBORN, Mich. (A.W.)—Pulling out of the Armenian government coalition of parties will not derail the ARF’s role as a leader for positive change, said ARF Bureau member Hayg Oshagan at a town hall meeting on June 27, 2009.  The event was sponsored by the ARF Detroit Azadamard Gomideh at the Armenian Community Center, Dearborn.

Oshagan began his talk by providing a synopsis to the run up to the ARF’s withdrawal from the coalition of parties in the government of Armenia President Serzh Sarkisian. Oshagan noted that the events leading up to the ARF’s withdrawal were such that the Party had no moral choice other than withdrawal from the government.

oshaganarf (Medium)Focusing on Turkey’s gamesmanship in the months leading up to April 2009 and the “road map” announcement to purportedly resolve long-standing conflicts between Turkey and Armenia and open the border between the two countries, Oshagan outlined Turkey’s assertion of itself as a player in regional politics, including its attempts to broker relationships with Syria, Israel and Iran, as well as Albania, Bosnia, and Russia.

“This is not just by chance,” Oshagan noted. “This is why what Turkey wants becomes more important that what we [Armenians] want.”

Oshagan especially noted Turkey’s strengthened relationship with Russia, particularly in the aftermath of Russia’s conflicts with Georgia. He added that the Turkey-Russia alliance is especially problematic for Armenia because of Russia’s increased control over Armenia’s infrastructure, including ownership of cell phone and energy companies in recent payback for loans Russia made to Armenia and which Armenia could not otherwise satisfy.

“As Russia has gotten closer to Turkey, it’s put us in a difficult position,” Oshagan said. “It’s no coincidence that the invitation to [Turkish President Abdullah] Gul was made in Russia by [Armenia President] Sarkisian” to watch the September 2008 soccer match between Armenia’s and Turkey’s national teams.

Oshagan emphasized that the combination with Turkey’s assertion of itself as a regional player with Sarkisian’s desire to make a personal mark on history by resolving the Armenian Genocide issue with Turkey culminated on April 22, 2009 with the revelation that Turkey and Armenia had agreed on a “road map” to open the Turkey-Armenia border.

“Sarkisian sees himself as the one person to resolve the Genocide issue, the one person to resolve the border issue with Turkey, to resolve the border issue with Azerbaijan,” Oshagan noted.

Oshagan added, however, that Turkey’s gamesmanship and Sarkisian’s desire to make history resulted in Armenia finding itself in the unfortunate position of kowtowing to Turkey and—for now—finding itself in a weak, losing position. The resulting situation was not a surprise for the ARF, which had warned Sarkisian all along that in the Party’s experience, nothing good would come of Armenia’s repeated acquiescence to Turkey’s demands, including establishment of a so-called “history” commission to research the 1915 Armenian Genocide and other pre-conditions which were not requisites to opening the Turkey-Armenia border.

“It’s not bragging to say that the ARF is very experienced in dealing with political and foreign policy issues internationally,” Oshagan explained. “From the very beginning, we thought it was a mistake to cooperate with Turkey under these conditions. All along we tried to slow down what we felt was a giving up by Armenia.”

Prior to the announcement of the “road map” to purported border reopening, Sarkisian met with two ARF Bureau representatives to discuss the road map. However, Oshagan revealed, Sarkisian did not give the ARF the courtesy of being able to closely examine the important document, snatching it back quickly and not permitting notes on the document’s contents to be taken.

“Here’s a historic agreement being written up and we don’t even know what it is,” Oshagan said. The other Armenian coalition government parties were treated similarly.

In the end, when its contents were revealed to the ARF, the sketchy road map’s concessions for the Armenian side of the equation proved too much for the ARF to accept and crossed “the red line, the line we would not cross as a Party,” Oshagan said. As is now known, the road map required Armenia to recognize Turkey’s current borders (precluding full genocide reparations discussions) and to establish a body to investigate whether the 1915 Turkish massacre of 1.5 million Armenians constituted genocide.

The ARF urged and demanded changes to the road map but “the President [of Armenia] rejected our demands,” Oshagan revealed. “He did not agree that the road map crossed the red line.”

Oshagan said that the ARF’s withdrawal from the Sarkisian government was difficult, but the right thing to do and a long time coming.

“It pains us to be in this status,” Oshagan added. “It was not easy for us. But the ARF is not a party by itself. It is a party for the people and agreeing to this road map would make Armenia worse off. We tried our best not to have it get to this point, but the situation was untenable.”

Sarkisian had promised the ARF that he would not announce the road map prior to April 24 so as not to derail U.S. Congressional efforts to pass a resolution recognizing the 1915 Armenian Genocide. However, when that very announcement was made on April 22, it was clear to the ARF that Sarkisian “lied to us.”

Oshagan reminded the audience that it had never been comfortable in its role as Sarkisian government coalition partner. However, Oshagan explained, the ARF decided to become a coalition partner to help stabilize a worsening civic situation in Armenia occurring shortly after the February 2008 election that put Sarkisian in power over rival Levon Ter-Petrossian and sparked post-election protests that turned violent and resulted in several deaths.

“We helped stabilize the government and have the situation not go into chaos,” Oshagan said. “We were not very comfortable in the coalition. I think Sarkisian expected us to leave the government.”

In the aftermath of the ARF’s disengagement from the coalition, the Party is adjusting to its new outsider role, having have spent 10 years—in combination with the government of former President Robert Kocharian—as a government partner.

“It’s easier to implement your policies if you’re in the government,” Oshagan acknowledged, emphasizing that the Party is embarking on a path of establishing a wide-ranging social agenda to push with the government on behalf of the people of Armenia, including issues dedicated to women’s rights, children’s rights, poverty eradication, and retirement security.

“We are developing a socialist platform and will be discussing that platform in Artsakh at our Bureau meeting in July,” Oshagan revealed. “We are an opposition party, but we are not going to be the type of opposition that wants to tear things down and only complain. We want to be an alternative.”

Looking back at the events over the past several months and the benefits Armenia was convinced it would gain as a result of agreeing to the Turkish-driven road map, Oshagan said that the ARF’s fears had been justified and Armenia should have heeded the Party’s warnings.

“As of today, the border between Turkey and Armenia is not open and there is no genocide recognition by Turkey. When you play along with everyone, they give you nothing.”

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