Armenia's framework agreement with Turkey on the possible normalization of relations is already changing the face of politics in Armenia. Citing insurmountable disagreements with Armenia's policy toward Turkey, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutiun pulled out of the government's ruling coalition on April 27 and announced it would join the opposition.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutiun (ARFD), one of Armenia's oldest political parties, stated that its decision, following days of discussion and a meeting with President Serzh Sargsyan, was predicated on the belief that the government was not adequately defending national interests in its negotiations with Turkey. The April 22 statement by the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries, on the eve of Armenia's commemoration of Ottoman Turkey's 1915 massacre of ethnic Armenians, is "unacceptable and condemnable," the party asserted.
Armen Rustamian, a member of ARFD's senior political council, told journalists that the party does not question "the good wishes" of the president, but believes, nonetheless, that "the process will not lead anywhere positive."
"The Turks are now trying to turn those preconditions into conditions and include them in a package," he claimed. "For them, the key thing is to exploit the process of normalization and they are doing that very well. We must realize that."
A spokesman for the governing Republican Party of Armenia, Eduard Sharmazanov, termed the party's decision "amazing," but said that his party will try to respect it.
"Dashnaktsutiun is an independent political force and has the right to express its attitude and state what it feels to be right," said Sharmazanov, a member of parliament. The remaining members of Armenia's governing coalition -- the Republican Party, the Prosperous Armenia Party and the Country of Law Party -- are "preparing to summon a session and define its plans for the future and the distribution of the vacant ministerial posts," he told EurasiaNet.
A joint statement issued by the remaining coalition members asserts that "[t]he foreign policy of Armenia has been and will be implemented in accord with the national interests of our state."
But with nothing known about the details of the road map agreed with Turkey, one other observer believes the Armenian Revolutionary Federation moved too quickly. Party members, often referred to as Dashnaks, failed to get full answers to their questions about the agreement during an April 27 meeting with President Sargsyan, news sources reported.
"I think the ARFD has made a hasty decision," commented Ruben Safrastian, director of the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Oriental Studies and a Turkic studies expert. "They should at least wait for the publication of the document's details, and then make a decision."
One independent political analyst Yervand Bozoian disagrees, saying the party chose the right time to leave the government. "As a diaspora party, it had to take such a step after the April 22 statement of the foreign ministers. It would lose its prestige if it stayed."
One senior opposition member, Suren Sureniants, believes that the Dashnaks made their move with both an eye to their financial and political future.
Against the backdrop of a normalization of relations with Turkey, the Dashnaks, as a nationalist party, "has been politically marginalized and, as a party largely financed from Diaspora sources, it had to make a decision like that," Sureniants said. "They realized it is time to quit in good time, because they realized they may get political dividends and more votes in the upcoming mayoral vote."
The decision has already scored with one Yerevan voter. "Turkey is our enemy forever and as a national party ARFD is honest and principled," commented 65-year-old pensioner Mkrtich Hakobian. "I am proud of them. If they had not left the coalition, I could not respect them."
Another Yerevan voter sees the ARFD's decision to join the opposition as opportunistic. "Every time before elections, like the last presidential elections [in 2008], Dashnaktsutiun likes to play the role of opposition," commented 56-year-old engineer Aris Harutiunian "And since many sympathized with [the] Heritage [party], they announced that it is possible to work together."
The Heritage Party, the only opposition party with representatives in parliament, has stated that it is prepared to work with the Dashnaks, who hold 16 seats in the 131-member National Assembly. Heritage MP Anahit Bakhshian, commented that if the Armenian Revolutionary Federation shows "it is ready to act as an opposition force also on domestic matters, then, of course, there will be a need to cooperate" with them.
The Dashnaks, however, have eschewed cooperation with former president Levon Ter-Petrosian's Armenian National Congress. As president, Ter-Petrosian banned the party, accusing it of alleged terrorism and a plot to overthrow his government. Ter-Petrosian supporter Sureniants commented that "it is clear" that the two groups could not work together.
ANC representatives, meanwhile, are not ruling anything out. "I do not exclude the possibility of cooperation if the ARFD opts to become part of the main opposition," said Levon Zurabian, head of the ANC's central office.
Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter based in Yerevan.