By Anna Saghabalian and Astghik Bedevian
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian expressed concern Thursday about former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s latest criticism of Armenia’s policy towards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying that it could make Azerbaijan more intransigent.
In his first public speech in nearly a decade, Ter-Petrosian referred on Friday to the unresolved state of the conflict as the “greatest crime” committed by the current Armenian government. He said Azerbaijan is less and less prepared to make concessions to the Armenian side because of its soaring oil revenues, a large part of them channeled into a military build-up.
“From now on, they will not agree to any concessions. I don’t know what needs to be done to get out of this situation,” stated Ter-Petrosian.
“The Karabakh problem concerns all of us, the entire nation, and we must be really careful in our statements to avoid giving Azerbaijan more reason to toughen its position,” Oskanian said, commenting on the remarks. “I am concerned that the recently made statement may have such a consequence.”
Samvel Nikoyan, a senior member of the governing Republican Party (HHK), went farther, accusing Ter-Petrosian, widely acclaimed in Azerbaijan for his more conciliatory line, of seeking to create a “mood of defeatism and panic” in Armenia. He also said Ter-Petrosian will stand no chance of returning to power if he decides to contest next year’s presidential election.
“The public wants to see a person with a strong will hold the post of president,” Nikoyan told a news briefing. “Woe to the country whose president can be forced by his ministers to step down.”
Ter-Petrosian was forced to resign in early 1998 under pressure from his key administration members, including then Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, for advocating an international peace plan on Karabakh which they rejected as “defeatist.” The plan put forward by the OSCE Minsk Group called for the liberation of most of the Armenian-occupied Azerbaijani districts around Karabakh and would indefinitely delay agreement on the disputed region’s status.
Kocharian and his allies stood for a “package” peace accord that would recognize and legitimize Karabakh’s secession from Soviet Azerbaijan. But that did not prevent the Kocharian administration from largely accepting the Minsk Group’s existing peace proposals that also envisage a gradual settlement of the dispute
Oskanian and other Armenian officials have argued that unlike the 1997 peace deal advocated by Ter-Petrosian, those proposals stipulate that Karabakh’s status will be determined in a referendum to be eventually held in the Armenian-populated territory. Ter-Petrosian allies counter that they set no time frame for the holding of such a referendum and do not specify its practical modalities.
Oskanian also confirmed on Thursday that he and Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov will hold separate talks with the Minsk Group’s U.S., French and Russian co-chairs on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next week. He said the talks will be a “continuation of what the co-chairs presented to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh during their last visit” to the conflict zone. “Particularly interesting will be Azerbaijan’s response to that,” he added without elaborating.
The mediators toured the conflict zone last week without announcing an agreement on a fresh meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. They hope that the two leaders will make another attempt to cut a framework peace deal before the presidential elections due in both Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2008.
While in New York, Oskanian will also meet with Turkey’s new Foreign Minister Ali Babacan. “The main question for us will be whether there will be changes in Turkish policy towards Armenia after the re-appointment of the [Turkish] government with a new mandate,” he told journalists. “Armenia’s position remains the same: to normalize [Turkish-Armenian] relations without preconditions.”