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By Armen Dulian and Astghik Bedevian
Nagorno-Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian appointed on Monday a prominent member of the local branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) as the unrecognized republic’s new foreign minister.

Georgi Petrosian, Ghukasian’s foreign relations adviser until now, replaced Arman Melikian who has combined the job with the post of Karabakh’s permanent representative in Yerevan. Melikian was based in the Armenian capital throughout his one-year tenure.

Presenting Petrosian to the Karabakh Foreign Ministry staff, Ghukasian linked the appointment to the “existing political situation,” an apparent reference to substantial progress made in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks over the past year. The Mediamax news agency quoted him as saying that the Karabakh leadership could become directly involved in the negotiating process next year.

Ghukasian was visibly dissatisfied with his meeting in Yerevan earlier this month with international mediators, fueling speculation that he is unhappy with the peace deal discussed by Armenia and Azerbaijan. The deal reportedly calls for a gradual resolution of the Karabakh conflict whereby the disputed region’s status will be determined after the liberation of most Armenian-controlled territories in Azerbaijan proper.

Petrosian refused to comment on the peace process and his appointment when contacted by RFE/RL by phone. The 53-year-old politician was one of the founding leaders of Dashnaktsutyun’s Karabakh chapter and played a major role in local politics in the early 1990s. He briefly headed the government in Stepanakert in 1992 before it was taken over by Robert Kocharian, then Dashnaktsutyun rival and now president of Armenia. He openly disagreed at the time with a more conciliatory line on Azerbaijan favored by the then Armenian government.

Petrosian held no leadership positions in Dashnaktsutyun in recent years and remained an aide to Ghukasian even after the pan-Armenian nationalist party fell out with the Karabakh leader one year ago. A Dashnaktsutyun-led alliance was the main opposition force that contested the last parliamentary election held in Karabakh in June. The bloc suffered a crushing defeat, getting only three out of the 33 parliament seats.

“The appointment has no connection with Dashnaktsutyun,” the party’s current Karabakh leader, Artur Mosiyan, told RFE/RL from Stepanakert. “The president appointed the foreign minister by himself.”

“Having said that, we welcome the appointment because Georgi Petrosian is one of the individuals who is well-informed about the Karabakh problem and its history,” said Mosiyan. But he added that Dashnaktsutyun will remain in opposition to Ghukasian.

The Karabakh parliament speaker, Ashot Ghulian, similarly insisted that Ghukasian was guided by Petrosian’s personal qualities and track record, rather than his party affiliation, in making the appointment. “The elections are over and domestic political consensus is now a higher priority in Karabakh,” he told RFE/RL. Ghulian stressed at the same time that the move will not entail any major policy changes.

For his part, a senior member of the opposition Dashink-88 party, which teamed up with Dashnaktsutyun for the June elections, claimed that Ghukasian needs someone who would help him sell an unpopular peace deal with Azerbaijan to the Karabakh Armenians. “One of the theories circulating here is that in the event of a less-than-desirable settlement the new foreign minister will shoulder responsibility and ease the president’s burden,” said Gegham Baghdasarian.

(Photolur photo: Georgi Petrosian.)
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