By Anna Saghabalian
Armenians now seem more supportive of territorial concessions to Azerbaijan than in the past, but continue to consider Armenian control over Nagorno-Karabakh non-negotiable, according to an opinion poll released on Tuesday.
The survey conducted by the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), a private think-tank, shows that exactly half of 1,900 people randomly polled across the country did not object to the return of Armenian-controlled territories in Azerbaijan proper. Only 37.7 percent of them were against.
The pollsters made it clear that such a withdrawal would fully or partially affect all of the seven Azerbaijani districts around Karabakh.
Stepan Safarian, a senior ACNIS analyst, said this suggests a greater acceptance by the Armenian public of the need for a compromise solution to the Karabakh dispute. He said the apparent change in public opinion results from recent “government propaganda” and Council of Europe criticism of the continuing occupation of the Azerbaijani lands by Karabakh Armenian forces.
“Besides, the society does want to see peace and a full resolution of the conflict,” Safarian told RFE/RL.
The survey’s findings should be good news for the Armenian authorities as they seem to be preparing ground for their possible acceptance of a new international peace plan on Karabakh. President Robert Kocharian said as recently as on Monday that a compromise peace deal with Azerbaijan is “inevitable,” while Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian stressed earlier that it will be “painful” both parties.
The ACNIS poll also shows that at least 84 percent of Armenians believe that Karabakh must be either independent or become an integral part of Armenia under any peaceful settlement. Only 2.6 percent said they would support its return under Azerbaijani rule. Kocharian’s administration likewise insists that it will never agree to such a solution.
The poll also revealed widespread pessimism about the conflict’s resolution, with less than a quarter of respondents believing that it will happen in the next five years. The majority, 56 percent, described external forces, including them the United States and Russia, as the number one obstacle to Karabakh peace, and only 23.8 percent laid the blame on Azerbaijan.
Armenian public opinion appears almost evenly split on the question of the decade-long status quo in the conflict zone. Almost 40 percent of respondents believe the dispute should remain “frozen,” while 34 percent said it is not good for the Armenian side.
(Photolur photo: Stepan Safarian.)