By Emil Danielyan
Armenia has welcomed the decision by voters in Montenegro to opt for independence from Serbia, implying that the “civilized” divorce of the two former Yugoslav republics should serve as a blueprint for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“We welcome the decision by the people and the government of Montenegro to create an independent state,” a spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Vladimir Karapetian, said in a statement late Tuesday. “We congratulate the people of Montenegro and wish them the best of luck in state building.”
The tiny Balkan republic is poised to formally declare independence in the coming days as a result of the May 21 referendum closely watched by the European Union. According to its preliminary results, 55.5 percent of Montenegrins voted for independence, barely above the 55 percent threshold needed to end their shaky confederation with Serbia. The final vote results were due to be released on Wednesday.
The EU and its member states have already indicated their intention to recognize Montenegro’s independence. Serbia’s leaders have said they will also respect the historic choice of the Montenegrins, who have close cultural and linguistic affinities with the Serbs.
The referendum was made possible under an EU-brokered treaty in 2003 that bound Serbia and Montenegro in a loose common state. The deal gave each republic an option to vote on independence after three years.
For official Yerevan, the Montenegro referendum sets another important precedent of the principle of self-determination of peoples superseding that of territorial integrity of states. Leaders of some of Armenia’s main political parties said last week that its outcome will make it easier for the Karabakh Armenians to win international recognition of their secession from Azerbaijan.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry statement said: “In this peaceful separation, Armenia considers particularly important the fact that the Montenegrin people’s right to self-determination was expressed by means of a referendum, which proves that in international relations referendum remains a universally accepted and civilized way of resolving such problems.”
The statement clearly referred to an international peace plan currently considered by the parties to the Karabakh conflict. The plan reportedly calls for a referendum on Karabakh’s status within 10 to 15 years from the start of a gradual Armenian withdrawal from six of the seven Azerbaijani districts surrounding the disputed enclave. The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan seem to be facing growing international pressure to accept this formula.
Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leadership has repeatedly indicated its unhappiness with such a deal, arguing that the Karabakh Armenians had already voted for independence in December 1991. “Even if the Karabakh side agrees to it for some reason, which I don’t consider likely, I doubt that such a referendum will ever be held,” Arman Melikian, an aide to Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian, told RFE/RL on May 22.
Melikian rejected any parallels between the Montenegrin case and the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Armenia’s leadership, however, apparently thinks otherwise.
(AP-Photolur photo: Supporters of Montenegrin independence wave a Montenegrin flag and celebrate in the capital Podgorica on May 21.)