By Ruzanna Stepanian
Artashes Geghamian, one of Armenia’s most popular opposition leaders, on Tuesday put his refusal to join recent anti-government protests in Yerevan down to substantial progress in international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Geghamian said he believes it is wrong to challenge Armenia’s leadership now that there is a real possibility of securing a solution to the dispute acceptable to the Armenian side. He at the same time complained that the West is disinterested in regime change in Yerevan for that reason.
“The Karabakh issue is a dominant issue [in Armenia] thanks to our people and even the opposition,” Geghamian told RFE/RL. “In order to avoid undermining a possible Karabakh settlement or making it anti-Armenian, we adopted a policy which I believe is definitely justified.”
Geghamian and his National Unity Party (AMK) pointedly avoided any participation in demonstrations staged by the other major opposition groups following the disputed November 27 referendum on President Robert Kocharian’s Western-backed amendments to the Armenian constitution. They until now declined to provide a clear explanation for their reluctance to join the opposition offensive.
The Karabakh peace process, which may well yield a breakthrough next year, is seen by analysts as the main reason for the West’s cautious response to serious fraud reported during the referendum. While the European Union and the United States questioned the Kocharian administration’s commitment to question, they are unlikely to impose any sanctions on Armenia. They have taken a similar stance on the leadership of Azerbaijan which held a reputedly fraudulent parliamentary election last month.
“Unfortunately, the international community, notably the countries co-chairing the [OSCE] Minsk Group, are of the opinion that only these authorities are able to bring the decade-long peace process to an end,” Geghamian said, referring to America, France and Russia.
Geghamian said the Armenian opposition has no choice but to resign itself to this fact. Further attempts to trigger a popular revolt against Kocharian, planned by several opposition parties, are therefore “politically short-sighted,” he added.
Other, more radical opposition leaders will not share this line of reasoning. Some of them believe that Kocharian will never agree to a compromise peace deal with Azerbaijan, while others are not averse to exploiting the Karabakh issue for political aims.
That the conflicting parties have moved closer to hammering out a peace accord, was confirmed by Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian late on Monday. But in an interview with Yerkir-Media television, he cautioned that it is not a forgone conclusion, saying that the Azerbaijani government had already reneged on Karabakh deal reportedly cut on the Florida island of Key West in April 2001.
Oskanian also rejected the notion that the Karabakh conflict must be resolved next year by all means because 2006 will see no national elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan. “If the process continues in the positive direction, we really think that the problem can be solved in 2006,” he said. “But a solution must not be imposed.”