Armenia: Time for a Change on Karabakh?
Amid calls from President Serzh Sarkisian for a more "pro-active" policy, Armenia's parliament has adopted a statement that some observers say toughens the country's position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The statement, adopted on April 29, calls for Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian to create policies that will enable Yerevan to assume the initiative in "settling the Nagorno-Karabakh problem," and to provide the legal basis for Armenia to act as the official guarantor of the breakaway region's security. Negotiations with Azerbaijan on Karabakh's status are termed the only acceptable way to resolve the territorial conflict.
In recent months, the two countries have experienced a rise in rhetorical jostling over everything from the format of negotiations to alleged cease-fire violations and Azerbaijan's $2 billion military build-up. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. At the same time, several instances of intensive fighting along the contact line separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have occurred in recent weeks. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Within the context of rising tension, the parliamentary statement appeared designed to send Baku a signal that Yerevan won't be bullied, and it won't remain inactive in the face of expanding lobbying efforts by Azerbaijan. During a speech to parliament, the statement's author, Parliamentary Speaker Tigran Torosian, declared that "[t]he Armenian side has for a long time overlooked the fact that full and truthful information about the origin and development of the conflict must be presented to the international community."
"It seems to Azerbaijan that it can solve the Nagorno-Karabakh problem by means of war," continued Torosian. "Azerbaijan even began to blackmail different international organizations, as well as against the Minsk Group co-chairmen [who oversee negotiations] and, unfortunately, we have to admit that it has had its certain influence."
Foreign Minister Nalbandian will hold his first meeting with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov in Strasbourg on May 6. The encounter has been billed merely as a get-acquainted session, although Nalbandian has told Armenian media that he hopes that the meeting could lead to a resumption of talks between the two countries.
For now, Azerbaijan has dismissed the Nagorno-Karabakh statement as nothing new. "We call on Armenia to be constructive," Azerbaijani foreign ministry spokesperson Khazar Ibrahim was quoted as saying by the APA news agency. "Such types of statements have not influenced the negotiation process positively."
In recent months, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and other top Azeri official have tweaked Armenian leaders and experts with a series of provocative statements, such as advancing a claim that Yerevan is "an old Azerbaijani town" that needs to be returned to Azerbaijan. On occasion, the claim has extended to all of the Republic of Armenia.
"We react to [the claim] ironically, but it may have serious consequences," commented independent analyst Levon Melik-Shahnazarian. He termed Armenia's April 29 statement on Karabakh "the first step" towards responding to these allegations.
One influential political force in Yerevan criticized the statement for not going far enough. MPs belonging to the Heritage Party, the only opposition force in parliament, voted against adopting the statement. Party leader Raffi Hovannisian, who supports recognition of Karabakh's independence, called the document "toothless" and "unprincipled." His preference is for government recognition of Karabakh's independence.
Gayane Abrahamyan is a writer for the ArmeniaNow.com weekly in Yerevan.
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