By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh is opposed to a gradual resolution of the conflict with Azerbaijan that would enable the disputed region’s population to determine its future status at a referendum, an opposition politician in Yerevan claimed on Tuesday.
Senior Armenian sources privy to the peace process have told RFE/RL that this formula is at the heart of a peace accord which is likely to be reached by Armenia and Azerbaijan. They said the deal calls for an independence referendum to be held in Karabakh within 10 to 15 years from the liberation of most of the Armenian-occupied lands in Azerbaijan proper and the restoration of economic links between the two neighbors.
Aram Sargsian, a senior member of the opposition Artarutyun alliance, spoke out strongly against this idea, saying that the return of Azerbaijani refugees presumably envisaged by the deal could change the demographic make-up of Karabakh.
“They will come back with children allegedly born after 1988,” he told RFE/RL. “So you can imagine what a number this will make in ten years’ time.”
Sargsian, who was Stepanakert recently, claimed that Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian is also against such resolution of the bitter ethnic dispute. “I can simply say that our views converged,” he said. “I have no differences with Arkady Ghukasian.”
The authorities in Stepanakert have always ruled out Karabakh’s return under Azerbaijani control, saying that any peace accord must formalize its de facto independence. Ghukasian and other Karabakh leaders have not yet publicly commented on the phased settlement which is reportedly discussed by Yerevan and Baku.
The idea is supported in principle by Armen Rustamian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, a nationalist party which is represented in Armenia’s government and favors a hard line on the Karabakh conflict.
“The main demand of the Armenian side is that the issue of Karabakh’s status be solved in accordance with the Artsakh people’s right to self-determination,” he told RFE/RL. “So we must achieve the realization of that right.”
“But we don’t have the remaining details,” he added. “As they say, the devil is in the details. A few concrete issues must be clarified. For example, the territory on which the referendum is to be held and the electorate that will take part in the vote.
“If we see that the details nullify the idea, that will mean we are again in an illusory situation and we of course will not agree to that.”