2009-09-30 – Cool-Headed Opposition Acknowledges Sargsian’s Limited Vulnerability On Turkey-Armenia Normalization

by on 2009/09/30  •  In Wikileaks

Viewing cable 09YEREVAN689, COOL-HEADED OPPOSITION ACKNOWLEDGES SARGSIAN’S

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09YEREVAN689 2009-09-30 13:53 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Yerevan
VZCZCXYZ0003
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHYE #0689/01 2731353
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 301353Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY YEREVAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9550
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L YEREVAN 000689 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/26/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PBTS TU AJ AM
SUBJECT: COOL-HEADED OPPOSITION ACKNOWLEDGES SARGSIAN'S
LIMITED VULNERABILITY ON TURKEY-ARMENIA NORMALIZATION 

Classified By: AMB Marie L. Yovanovitch, reasons 1.4 (b,d). 

-------
SUMMARY
------- 

1. (C) At a reception hosted September 15 by the Ambassador,
PolOffs heard from leaders of the opposition Armenian
National Congress (ANC) and independent observers that the
normalization process with Turkey, by itself, posed little
risk to Serzh Sargsian's rule.  A small minority of
nationalists may continue to rage, but given Sargsian's firm
control of both parliament and the security ministries, he
faces little political vulnerability on the issue, as long as
he steers clear of any appearance of linked "concessions" on
Nagorno-Karabakh.  Some said that other factors -- such as
the continuing economic crisis and higher gas prices this
winter -- could combine with a failure on rapprochement to
weaken the president.  But if Turkey does not open the
border, Sargsian will protect his flanks by blaming and
demonizing the Turks for the diplomatic failure, pushing the
possibility of rapprochement off for another decade or so.
END SUMMARY. 

---------------------------------------------
SITUATION DIFFERENT FROM 1998 WHEN LTP OUSTED
--------------------------------------------- 

2. (C) Alexander Arzumanian, foreign minister from 1996-98
under Armenia's first president, Levon Ter-Petrossian (LTP),
and a recently amnestied political detainee, said he backs
normalization in principle and thinks the President's current
efforts do not pose a threat to his grip on power.  In a
sobering reference to LTP's abrupt fall from power in 1998
for floating the idea of concessions in settling the
Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict, Arzumanian said Sargsian
currently wields complete control over the parliament and the
security services, which was not the case in 1998 when
Armenian MPs, then Interior Minister (and current president)
Serzh Sargsian, and then-Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian all
turned on LTP. Arzumanian bemusedly commented that "now all
those who called us traitors back then on Karabakh are
advocating our (the LTP administration's) approach on
normalization with Turkey," and that the current heads of
security agencies are all squarely in the Sargsian camp. 

-----------------------------------------
ANC LEADERS ON THREATS TO SARGSIAN REGIME
----------------------------------------- 

3. (C) Levon Zurabian, coordinator of the Armenian National
Congress (ANC), said Sargsian's regime would eventually fall,
but not necessarily over the Turkey-Armenia normalization
process.  He said the oncoming winter and the increased gas
prices Armenians would have to pay to heat their homes, the
worsening of the economic crisis and loss of jobs, and the
Turkey-Armenia talks would combine to damage Sargsian's
credibility and loosen his grip on power.  (COMMENT:  In the
fall of 2008, LTP essentially made the same argument about
Sargsian, which Sargsian obviously proved wrong.  END
COMMENT.) 

4. (C) Stepan Demirchian, leader of the opposition People's
Party and another key ally of LTP's in the ANC, said he
didn't view the normalization process as representing a
mortal danger to Sargsian.  He stated that there are "many
people" in Armenia who want to have relations with Turkey.
But he warned that the issue still carried significant
sensitivities, in that "almost every Armenian family was
affected" by the events of 1915.  Demirchian scoffed at the
political consultations that President Sargsian is
conducting, deriding them as "a show."  He said he and other
leaders of ANC member parties had been invited to attend, but
did not go.  Zurabian also disparaged the consultations,
claiming they carried "no weight whatsoever," due to the fact
that an illegitimate president was conducting them, and
because Sargsian had no intention of actually factoring
political parties' concerns into his calculations on
normalization. 

----------------------------
THINK TANKERS ALSO SKEPTICAL
---------------------------- 

5. (C) Alexander Iskandarian, Director of the Caucasus
Institute think tank, called the notion that Sargsian could
be in big trouble if things go south on Turkey-Armenia a
"myth of the Armenian press."  "Even the (nationalistic)
Dashnak party elite admit, off the record, that opening the
border would be OK," since they recognize the security and
economic gains it would bring, Iskandarian said.  Echoing
Zurabian, he believed the President,s greater vulnerability
could come from failing to pull the country out of the
economic crisis.  Karen Bekarian of the European Integration
think tank predicted that failure on rapprochement would put
Sargsian in a tough spot, but that he would get through it by
aggressively blaming the Turks for the breakdown, marshalling
the media and other resources at his disposal to radicalize
attitudes toward Turkey.  "It,s the only way he could
justify failure," Bekarian added.  This strategy would put
Turkey-Armenia rapprochement on ice for years, he said. 

-------
COMMENT
------- 

6. (C) Sargsian is staking his presidency on rapprochement.
If successful, he will have secured his place in Armenian
history, although not everyone will view his achievement
favorably.  If the process blows up, Sargsian will be
subjected to charges of diplomatic incompetence.  He could be
hamstrung in pursuing other foreign policy priorities.  But
LTP's fate -- forced resignation -- is not likely something
Sargsian will be worrying about. 

7. (C) It seems clear, however, that Sargsian does worry
about the growing divergence on this issue between Armenia's
official position and the prevailing view in the Diaspora.
This concerns accounts for his abrubt decision to embark on a
whirlwind Diaspora tour (in the U.S., France, Lebanon, and
Russia) in advance of the signing of the protocols.  Although
we believe the ANC and commentators are right that the
current political constellation in Armenia probably doesn't
pose a risk if Turkey-Armenia fails, Sargsian is well aware
that things can change quickly and that "non-conventional"
threats to leaders in this part of the world -- including
physical threats -- are to be taken seriously.
PENNINGTON

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *