By Anna Israelian, Ruzanna Khachatrian and Atom Markarian
Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian defended over the weekend his calls for Armenia to formally recognize the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) as an independent state, denying any ulterior motives behind them. He also put a brave face on his defeat in a repeat election to the Armenian parliament.
In an extensive interview with RFE/RL, Hovannisian insisted that his controversial draft bill on the NKR’s recognition “would in no way instigate another war” with Azerbaijan. “Nor is it a means of solving personal or partisan issues,” he said. “On the contrary, it aims to put our problems on the table, before the people.”
The bill in question was rejected last week by all parliament factions except Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party. Leaders of the pro-government majority in the National Assembly said that the NKR has long been effectively recognized by Armenia and that the bill’s passage would only complicate international efforts to settle the Karabakh conflict. Some of them accused the U.S.-born politician of trying to score political points with the initiative.
Hovannisian, who had served as Armenia’s foreign minister in 1992, rejected the claims, suggesting that they were prompted by “personal jealousy.” He also chided the Armenian press for its overwhelmingly negative reaction to his bill.
“I simply presented something which has long required a public discussion,” he said. “In my capacity as the first foreign minister of the Republic of Armenia, I myself placed, together with [then] President Levon Ter-Petrosian the issue of Karabakh’s international recognition at the heart of our first year of diplomacy,” he added.
In its official reaction to the bill, the Armenian government said on Friday that the NKR’s unilateral recognition by Yerevan would be premature. “That must come at a time when it can be maximally effective and can help achieve a lasting resolution. That time has not yet come,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Karapetian said in a statement.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Hovannisian also addressed his poor performance in the August 26 repeat parliamentary election that was won a candidate of the governing Republican Party. Official election results gave him only 3.4 percent of the vote.
Hovannisian refused to concede defeat, calling the vote “fundamentally unfree and unfair.” Still, he chose to congratulate the election winner. In addition, Zharangutyun’s representative to the Central Election Commission endorsed its official results.
The Zharangutyun leader denied on Monday any ambiguity in his party’s stance and claimed that the outcome of the race was decided by vote buying and other irregularities. “It is wrong to have an illusion that a small party could have documented and exposed all that, especially considering the fact those vote irregularities occurred before voting day,” he said.
“The fact that we got more than votes without bribes is of great value to me because our goal in those elections was to present a political alternative,” he said.