By Hrach Melkumian
Romania’s President Ion Iliescu, in Armenia on an official visit, argued on Thursday that the bitter conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is part of a “heavy legacy” left by Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union. He said both Armenians and Romanians are victims of historical injustice perpetrated by the late Soviet dictator, pointing to the 1940 Soviet occupation of Moldova -- then a province in Romania and currently an independent state.
Iliescu made the remarks at a meeting with the faculty of Yerevan State University, the final engagement of his two-day trip. The Romanian leader did not elaborate, saying only that solutions to territorial disputes should be based on existing realities. “I think that such issues must be resolved by political means, not by force,” he said.
The Armenians, who regard Karabakh as part of their historical homeland, believe that the disputed territory was incorporated into Soviet Azerbaijan in 1923 after Stalin’s personal interference. The Azerbaijanis, however, strongly disagree, maintaining that Karabakh’s indigenous population was not Armenian.
Iliescu, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, on Wednesday offered to mediate the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. "We have good relations with the countries in conflict," he told journalists after meeting President Robert Kocharian. "That is why it seems to us that we are able to encourage dialogue between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan with the goal of settling the conflict in Karabakh."
The Karabakh negotiations have been for years sponsored by the OSCE’s Minsk Group led by France, Russia and the United States.
Iliescu’s Thursday itinerary also included a meeting with Catholicos Garegin II in Echmiadzin and visit to the Tsitsernakabert memorial to the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide. His talks with Armenian leaders largely focused on economic issues. The two countries vowed to increase the currently modest level of their commercial exchange.