By Hrach Melkumian
Leaders of Armenia’s three governing parties said on Thursday that any internationally brokered peace agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh will have to be put on a referendum and win popular approval before it can take effect.
But their opponents dismissed this as another indication of President Robert Kocharian’s alleged intention to dodge responsibility for his failure to secure a pro-Armenian solution to the dispute with Azerbaijan.
“We believe that a final decision will naturally be taken by the people,” said Mher Shahgeldian, chairman of the parliament committee on defense and security who represents the Orinats Yerkir Party, one of the three members of the governing coalition.
The remarks, made at weekly parliament briefings, were echoed by senior lawmakers from Orinats Yerkir’s coalition two partners, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Republican Party (HHK).
“It is possible that the final variant of resolving the problem will be put on a referendum,” said Hrair Karapetian of Dashnaktsutyun. “The republics of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh can not accept any solutions without taking into account the people’s opinion.”
The party leaders spoke in advance of a new, possibly crucial round of Karabakh shuttle diplomacy by a team of U.S., Russian and French negotiators. The three co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are expected to start a four-day visit to Baku, Yerevan and Stepanakert on Friday with new peace proposals. It will be their first trip after this year’s presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan that effectively froze the peace process.
Armenian lawmakers got a rare glimpse into its specifics late last month when they were briefed by Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian at a special parliamentary hearing. Although the hearing took place behind the closed doors, some deputies leaked their details to journalists.
The pro-opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” published on Saturday what it described as the transcript of Oskanian’s comments. The minister was quoted as saying Yerevan fears that the new peace proposals may considerably differ from agreements reached in Florida in 2001 by Kocharian and his then Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev. Oskanian reportedly said that those agreements would keep Karabakh under Armenian control.
The opposition and some media have speculated that the very fact of Kocharian divulging confidential details of the negotiating process to parliamentarians suggests that he is intent on rejecting the new Minsk Group plan with the National Assembly’s and the electorate’s hands.
Senior deputies from the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) bloc claimed on Thursday that the referendum calls are part of the same effort. One of them, Grigor Harutiunian, said Kocharian can not count on ordinary Armenians’ support on the issue because he did not win a second term in office in a free and fair election.
Artarutyun’s Victor Dallakian likewise alleged that Kocharian has failed to deliver on his pledge to win international recognition of Karabakh’s de facto independence that helped him oust his predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosian in 1998. “I consider any manipulation [of public opinion] unacceptable,” he said.