YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia’s Constitutional Court upheld on Tuesday the legality of Armenia’s controversial normalization agreements with Turkey amid continuing protests staged by groups opposed to the deal.
The widely anticipated verdict paved the way for the agreements’ ratification by the Armenian parliament. The National Assembly is not expected, however, to start debating the two “protocols” before their endorsement by Turkey’s parliament.
The ruling read out by the court chairman, Gagik Harutiunian, concluded that the provisions of the two Turkish-Armenian protocols signed in October “conform to the constitution of the Republic of Armenia.”
“The decision is final and cannot be challenged,” Harutiunian said, to shouts of “Shame!” from supporters of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) present in the court. “Try to look into the ruling before expressing yourself,” Harutiunian shot back.
Armen Rustamian, the chairman of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Supreme Council of Amrenia, criticized the ruling and downplayed its passages implicitly stating that the protocols can not have any bearing on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict or inhibit Armenia’s pursuit of greater international recognition of the Armenian genocide. Rustamian said that a court decision to declare them unconstitutional would have been exploited by Turkey. “The issue should not have been sent to the Constitutional Court so early,” he told RFE/RL.
Rustamian expressed hope that President Serzh Sarkisian will now add “reservations” to the document before sending it to the National Assembly for ratification. Eduard Sharmazanov, the chief spokesman for Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) also present in the court, would not be drawn on such possibility.
Sharmazanov insisted instead that the Western-backed agreements provide for an unconditional normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. “The Turkish side must be the first to ratify them because it’s the Turkish side that has always talked in the language of preconditions and ultimatums,” he added.
The court’s decision also was condemned in stronger terms by a senior member of the opposition the Heritage party, another vocal critic of Sarkisian’s Turkish policy. Stepan Safarian claimed that it was ordered by the presidential administration.
“This was an attempt to legitimize the disgraceful foreign policy pursued by Serzh Sarkisian,” Safarian told RFE/RL. He also claimed that Harutiunian compromised his objectivity by accompanying Sarkisian on an October tour of major Armenian communities which was aimed at promoting the protocols.
The Constitutional Court handed down the ruling several hours after formally starting to examine the protocols’ conformity with the Armenian constitution. The session was open to the media for only four minutes.
The court decided that the examination will follow a “written procedure” that does not involve public hearings and verbal questioning of government officials and experts. Harutiunian announced that the panel of nine judges will only consider written statements submitted by the Armenian Foreign Ministry and other interested parties.
“This is an issue which has an exceptional significance,” he said. “All those written documents that have been submitted to the Constitutional Court are available in the deliberations room and the members of the court can take them into account.”
Harutiunian added that they will also look into a nine-page petition from the ARF. ARF leaders handed the document as more than a thousand of their supporters marched to the court building in Yerevan on Monday. They demanded that the Constitutional Court declare the protocols at least “partly unconstitutional.”
ARF members and sympathizers gathered outside the court building on Tuesday morning to keep up the pressure on Armenia’s highest judicial body.
Vardges Hagopian, an elderly resident of New York, was particularly unhappy with a protocol clause that commits Armenia’s to recognizing its existing border with Turkey and presumably precludes future Armenian territorial claims to its big neighbor, which are favored by the ARF. “I can’t forget Western Armenia,” he told RFE/RL, referring to parts of eastern Turkey that were populated by many Armenians until 1915.
“We would lose our lands,” said Hagopian. “We just couldn’t have bigger losses. Shouldn’t our grandchildren grow up in their ancestral lands?”
Another ARF supporter from the Diaspora said the nationalist party should strive to topple Armenia’s current leadership if it fails to scuttle the implementation of the protocols. “The ARF must fight till the end, and there must be a revolt to reverse all this,” he said.