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By Astghik Bedevian
Armenia’s current leaders are embracing the kind of settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that was strongly advocated by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian but rejected by them as “defeatist,” one of the ex-president’s close associates claimed on Thursday.

Aleksandr Arzumanian, who served as foreign minister under Ter-Petrosian from 1996-1998, pointed to international mediators’ peace proposals that call for a gradual solution to the bitter territorial dispute. “For three years Armenia has been negotiating over mechanisms for its withdrawal from five of the seven [occupied Azerbaijani] districts,” he said. “That is part of the so-called framework agreement which was discussed in Rambouillet and Prague.”

“Thus, the phased variant which was rejected in 1998 as defeatist now forms the basis of the negotiating process,” added Arzumanian.

The 1998 peace plan put forward by the OSCE Minsk Group would indefinitely delay agreement on Karabakh’s status until after the liberation of Armenian-controlled territories around the enclave and the lifting of the Azerbaijani and Turkish blockades of Armenia. Ter-Petrosian and his allies said the Armenian side would effectively retain its control over Karabakh in return for giving up its main bargaining chip.

However, the key members of his cabinet, notably then Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, found the plan too risky, forcing Ter-Petrosian to step down in February 1998. They insisted on a “package” peace accord that would resolve all contentious issues, including Karabakh’s status, at once.

Kocharian’s foreign minister, Vartan Oskanian, admitted on Tuesday that this policy has undergone important changes. “If until recently we were insisting that unless the issue of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh has been finally resolved, the Armenian side is not prepared to discuss, let alone begin the implementation of the elimination of the consequences of this military conflict,” he told visiting members of the European Parliament. “That position, as a compromise from the Armenian side, has been modified”

“Today we are simply saying that if the Azerbaijani side simply accepts the fact that the people of Karabakh have the right for self-determination that can be exercised in the future, the Armenian side is prepared to begin discussing the consequential issues such as territories, refugees and other security matters,” said Oskanian.

Arzumanian’s claims that this amounts to reverting to the peace strategy favored by Ter-Petrosian were dismissed by Tigran Torosian, the pro-Kocharian deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament. “The documents made public [in 1998] had absolutely nothing to do with Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence,” he said. “We couldn’t find any provisions there which we could associate with Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence.”

The existing proposals by the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the Minsk Group reportedly envisage the return of all but one of the occupied Azerbaijani districts in exchange for allowing Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population to determine the disputed region’s status in a referendum to be held within 10 to 15 years. Most observers believe that such a referendum would almost certainly formalize Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan.

(Photolur photo: Torosian, left, and Arzumanian debating in front of journalists on Thursday.)
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