By Emil Danielyan
Nagorno-Karabakh’s outgoing President Arkady Ghukasian warned on Wednesday that his self-proclaimed republic must have a “final say” in any internationally backed settlement of the conflict with Azerbaijan as he presided over a military parade in Stepanakert alongside President Robert Kocharian.
The parade, broadcast live by Karabakh and Armenian state televisions, involved hundreds of troops and dozens of tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery systems. It was dedicated to the 15th anniversary of the capture of the nearby town of Shusha, a key Armenian military victory during the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. Kocharian’s presence at the biggest show of Karabakh’s military might in years underscored the event’s significance for the Armenian side.
The anniversary was also officially marked in Armenia, with the Karabakh-born Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian inaugurating a square in Yerevan named after Shusha. Sarkisian had played a major role in the May 1992 battle which enabled Karabakh Armenian forces to open a vital land corridor with Armenia proper. In a decree signed on the occasion, Kocharian awarded medals to some 1,760 participants of the military operation.
“The liberation of Shusha strengthened our resolve to win and our belief in the future, and spurred the birth of our military force: the Defense Army of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,” Ghukasian told troops lined up in Stepanakert’s main square. He praised them as a “reliable guarantor” of the security of Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population.
“We are the masters our fate, we have the right to a final say in the determination of our future. This is the unbending will of our people. This is what stipulates the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s Constitution,” Ghukasian said, in an apparent reference to the ongoing Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations that seem to have made substantial progress of late.
French, Russian and U.S. diplomats spearheading the peace process hope that Armenia and Azerbaijan will cut a framework peace deal before the end of this year. A senior Azerbaijani official confirmed on Tuesday that the conflicting parties are close to doing that.
Ghukasian and other Karabakh Armenian leaders have repeatedly expressed their frustration with the NKR’s exclusion from the ongoing peace talks. They have also voiced serious misgivings about the mediators’ existing peace plan that calls for a gradual settlement of the conflict culminating in a referendum of self-determination in Karabakh.