Monday, September 1, 2008

Interview with LTP's U.S. rep. Arman Grigorian

First published in May 10, 2008 Armenian Reporter

Opposition is ready to work with Serge Sargsian
But only after the prosecution of activists ends

Arman Grigorian, ex-president Levon Ter-Petrossian’s campaign advisor who testified at the Helsinki Commission hearing on Armenia on April 17 (see our coverage in the April 26 issue) spoke with our Washington Editor Emil Sanamyan on April 30. Mr. Grigorian was a Turkey specialist on the staff of Mr. Ter-Petrossian from 1991 until 1993; he has since studied and taught in the United States and is currently a visiting professor at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

Reporter: You have heard the concerns of members of the U.S. Congress as well as the State Department regarding the post-election developments in Armenia. What is your reaction to these concerns and to the Helsinki Commission hearing specifically?

Grigorian: The opposition was shocked and disappointed by the initial reaction of the international community, which appeared to have rubber-stamped falsified elections.

But under pressure from the demonstrations in Yerevan, international institutions started to change their tone and their assessments. And more recent reactions, particularly in Europe, have been more reflective of the public dissatisfaction in Armenia and the government’s actions, particularly in the post-election period and the violence of March 1.

The Helsinki hearing was a good opportunity for us to express our views and we are grateful for it. But I personally was dissatisfied by the fact the Q&A did not take place and the hearing was cut ten minutes before the allotted time.

Reporter: The international community, particularly the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, appears to focus on four issues: opposition activists currently in pre-trial detention; the opposition’s right to
assemble in demonstrations; an independent investigation of the March 1 violence; and the opposition’s recognition of its electoral defeat.

While Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s campaign is sympathetic to the first three recommendations, it has made no indication that it would agree with the fourth. Do you expect any change in that?

Grigorian: No. The opposition may go ahead and make a deal with the government even without recognizing the legitimacy of the election. Right now we focus on one issue before all others, and this is indeed the only true precondition for us – that is the release of the arrested opposition members. All other issues are also important, but we cannot start negotiations with the government with a gun pointed to our head in the form of political prisoners.

Reporter: In your testimony you said that the government should “come to terms with the idea that the dismantling of the current kleptocratic system, in one way or another, will have to be the purpose of these negotiations, or the negotiations will have no purpose.”

Considering Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s pre-election rhetoric does this mean that you are only seeking to negotiate the government’s surrender?

Grigorian: No, this is a misrepresentation of what I said. If this government is really ready to work with the opposition and to dismantle the current kleptocratic system then we will help [them do it].

Reporter: Then you do not identify the system with the government?

Grigorian: Not necessarily. Although de facto they are one and the same, but if by some miracle Serge Sargsian decides to dismantle the kleptocracy in Armenia then we will help him do it. We are not inclined to do what other opposition forces have done – that is work with the government in exchange for tactical concessions, get a ministry or two, and call it a day. That is not what we want to do nor what our supporters want us to do. The current system cannot become democratic through cosmetic changes and tactical concessions...

Reporter: While the rhetoric in this election cycle has focused on domestic matters, what really distinguishes Mr. Ter-Petrossian from the current government is his position on foreign policy, particularly on matters of the Armenian Genocide and the Karabakh settlement. That position seems to be rooted in general pessimism about Armenia’s ability to withstand the opposition from Turkey and Azerbaijan, and that it should compromise with both.

In a 2003 paper you conceded that your 1998 assessments of Armenia’s chances were too pessimistic, but that you were not ready to concede the debate. Do you sense that Mr. Ter-Petrossian may have reassessed the position that he held in the 1990s?

Grigorian: I think he has not. And I think he still believes that a speedy resolution to the Karabakh conflict is necessary to Armenia’s normal development, its security and independence. Certainly some details have not worked out quite as Mr. Ter-Petrossian had predicted. Perhaps he was more pessimistic in 1998 than was justified but in general I do not think he was wrong then or is wrong now. Azerbaijan is becoming stronger and is developing faster than Armenia, and the longer we postpone a resolution, the more difficult it will be for us.

I have not heard persuasive arguments from those saying that “everything would be fine.” Our opponents just resort to mysticism – for example, no one believed that Karabakh could succeed during the war [but did], and that we have the support of the diaspora, and that the Armenian people coalesce in times of danger. But these are not real arguments.

Reporter: But Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s settlement formula, based on 1997 proposal (Armenian withdrawals from former Azerbaijani districts around Karabakh without addressing Karabakh’s status), seems to be closer to Azerbaijan’s position than is the position of international mediators, as was expressed in the Madrid Principles last year. Are you comfortable to be in that position?

Grigorian: That is a way of framing the issue that I do not appreciate. If the world says that the solution should be so and so and Azerbaijan does not agree to it, then we still have no agreement. And if the international community is not willing to contribute sufficient force to make Azerbaijan agree to it, then it is just a cheap propaganda trick. The only country’s agreement that matters is Azerbaijan’s agreement.

Certainly, the agreement would also have to be acceptable to Karabakh Armenians, and this is a number one issue for me.

Reporter: Why shouldn’t Armenians expect and in fact try to achieve a Kosovo-like settlement with international recognition of Karabakh’s independence without Azerbaijan’s acquiescence?

Grigorian: Because Armenians have much more formidable opponents than U.S. policy on Kosovo ever did. The situation in Serbia arose out of the West’s determination to dismember Serbia. If you provide me with a reasonable argument that in some near future the same policy would be applied to Azerbaijan, then I would be willing to reconsider my position.

Reporter: From what I can tell this willingness to compromise is not a very popular position in Armenia, not even among opposition parties that supported Mr. Ter- Petrossian in the election. Is this accurate?

Grigorian: The parties that supported Mr. Ter-Petrossian indeed have different views on Karabakh, on Turkey, and many other issues. As a political scientist, I would say that if this opposition were to come to power, some parts of it would probably break away and be in opposition to Mr. Ter-Petrossian on a number of issues. But all these forces were united in a belief that the current system had to be changed.

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