By Emil Danielyan
A hard-line nationalist group mostly uniting veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh war condemned Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian on Thursday for reaffirming the Armenian side’s readiness to return occupied Azerbaijani territories as part of a future peace accord.
The Public Initiative to Defend the Liberated Territories (ATP) charged that Sarkisian committed “treason” when he said last week that the Armenians would withdraw from the “security zone” around Karabakh in return for international guarantees of continued Armenian control of the disputed enclave.
“There must be no doubt that a resolution of the Karabakh problem can only be based on mutual compromise,” Sarkisian told an online news conference. “That we did not aim to enlarge the territory of Armenia or Karabakh by creating the security zone in 1992-94 is also a fact. And if we manage to create more secure conditions for Karabakh’s population by giving up that security zone then we can seriously talk about the issue [of troop withdrawal].”
“We have repeatedly stated that even mere statements about territorial concessions, especially if they are made by the defense minister, amount to treason,” ATP said in a statement. It said that with his remarks the powerful defense chief, who was the commander of Karabakh Armenian forces in 1992-93, indicated the Armenian leadership’s readiness for “disproportionate concessions” to Baku.
ATP is strongly opposed to major concessions and regularly accuses the government of Armenia of planning to “sell out” Karabakh and the surrounding lands. The group is led by Zhirayr Sefilian, a Lebanese-born Armenian who was a field commander during the war with Azerbaijan.
In his interview with readers of the “Yerkir” weekly, Sarkisian did not specify which of the seven occupied districts he thinks should be given back to the Azerbaijanis in return for international recognition of Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan. Officials in Yerevan and Stepanakert have repeatedly ruled out the return of at least one of those districts that serves as the shortest overland link between Armenia and Karabakh.
Sarkisian emphasized that Karabakh “can never be subordinated to Azerbaijan” and “must have a land border with Armenia.”