By Emil Danielyan
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s conciliatory discourse on Nagorno-Karabakh prompted on Thursday unlikely support from a jailed nationalist activist and government critic opposed to Armenian territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.
Zhirayr Sefilian, a prominent veteran of the war in Karabakh, condemned as “slander” government allegations that Ter-Petrosian is ready to place the Armenian-populated territory back under Azerbaijani rule. In a statement released from his prison, Sefilian said although he has “serious disagreements” with Ter-Petrosian on the issue, he believes that the latter “would not rush to resolve the conflict” in the event of his victory in the February 19 presidential election.
“I am categorically against the notion that Levon is a president who would surrender Artsakh (Karabakh),” he said. “True, we have serious disagreements with him on the Artsakh issue, the most important of them being our refusal to see any document envisaging territorial concessions on the negotiation table.”
“At the same time I am convinced that deep down, as Armenian people, Levon Ter-Petrosian and his allies are also against conceding territories, but because they are more pragmatic than us, they believe that the conflict can not be resolved without concessions,” he added.
Ending his nearly decade-long silence with a series of recent speeches, Ter-Petrosian has said he continues to believe that Armenia’s sustainable development is impossible without a compromise peace deal with Azerbaijan and accused the current Armenian leaders of dragging out the conflict’s resolution. He has said at the same time that they are now ready to accept the kind of a peace plan which he advocated before his resignation in 1998 and which they rejected as “defeatist.”
President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and their allies have responded to these statements with renewed allegations that the ex-president wants to “surrender” Karabakh to Azerbaijan.
Sefilian, who is regarded as a political prisoner by his supporters and many other opposition figures, denied such claims, pointing to Ter-Petrosian’s September 21 remark that the situation is now so unfavorable for the Armenian side that he does not know what should be done about it. “That is, Levon Ter-Petrosian hinted that he would not rush to solve the problem,” claimed the Lebanese citizen of Armenian descent.
The main aim of Ter-Petrosian’s bid to return to power, continued Sefilian, is to “restore our statehood and constitutional order,” rather than make peace with Azerbaijan. “Therefore, supporting his return to power does not mean being in favor of ceding the liberated territories,” he said.
Sefilian and another war veteran, Vartan Malkhasian, were arrested in December last year just days after founding a new pressure group opposed to Armenian troop withdrawal from any of the occupied Azerbaijani territories around Karabakh. They both were charged with plotting a violent overthrow of the government. Only Malkhasian was convicted of the coup charge by a Yerevan district court last July. He was sentenced to two years in prison.
Sefilian was handed a 18-month jail term under another article of the Criminal Code that deals with illegal arms possession.
(Photolur photo: Zhirayr Sefilian.)