By Emil Danielyan
Elizabeth Jones, the outgoing U.S. assistant secretary of state, has apologized to Armenia for referring to Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leadership as “criminal secessionists,” Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said over the weekend.
Speaking on Armenian state television, Oskanian revealed that Jones telephoned him late on Friday and said, “I assure you that I did not and could not mean Nagorno-Karabakh by using the term criminal separatists. I apologize for that.”
“I think we have to calm down after this phone call and consider the issue to be closed, ” Oskanian said. “If we give it a closer look, we can see that it could not have been otherwise.”
“I welcome and appreciate the fact that Jones had the courage to apologize for it,” he added.
Jones, who is resigning along with Secretary of State Colin Powell later this month, has faced a storm of criticism and condemnations in Armenia since the publication of details of her January 13 video conference with Russian journalists that touched upon Russia’s role in the resolution of ethnic disputes in the former Soviet Union. “It is in Russia's interest for these areas -- whether it is Transdnestr, Abkhazia, South Ossetia or Nagorno-Karabakh -- to be stable, for corruption to end there, for criminal secessionists who rule there to be removed,” she said, according to “The Moscow Times” daily.
The Armenian government did not officially react to the remark, but appears to have been behind the ensued uproar ranging from a student demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Yerevan to statements of condemnation issued by pro-government politicians, academics and even doctors.
Oskanian defended the protests heavily publicized by TV channels controlled by the Armenian authorities. “I was positively surprised at all this and naturally, this is the way it should be,” he said.
The U.S. mission in Yerevan initially declined to comment on Jones’s remark, stressing in a statement that Washington “does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent country.” But Ambassador John Evans told the private Armenia TV station later in the week that he thinks Jones’s description of ex-Soviet breakaway regions did not apply to Karabakh.
The U.S. has regularly negotiated with the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) over the past decade within the framework of the OSCE’s Minsk Group which it co-chairs together with France and Russia. In addition, the U.S. Congress has allocated millions of dollars worth of direct humanitarian assistance to the Armenian-populated territory despite Azerbaijani protests.
Jones was also condemned by the Armenian National Committee of America(ANCA), one of the influential lobbying groups on Capitol Hill. “We condemn her statements as counter to the long-standing U.S. policy of helping the parties reach a negotiated settlement, and call on the Administration to begin repairing this damage by immediately and clearly renouncing these patently unfair and demonstrably inaccurate remarks,” the ANCA chairman, Ken Hachikian, said in a statement. “”
Not surprisingly, Azerbaijani reaction to the controversy was diametrically opposite. “I think Mrs Jones's statement was objective and reflected the reality,” Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov told the ANS television in Baku on Saturday. “She said nothing that did not reflect the official position of the USA because the USA has repeatedly stated its recognition of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity.”
Jones’s statement prompted far-reaching and conflicting speculations in the Armenian media about U.S. policy in the region. Vox Populi, a private polling organization, interviewed more than a hundred Armenian politicians, government officials, journalists and intellectuals on the issue last week. It said 85 percent of them believe that the statement reflected the U.S. government’s position on the Karabakh dispute.