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By Emil Danielyan
In a move contrasting with official Yerevan’s silence, the ethnic Armenian leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh has welcomed Russia’s controversial decision to recognize Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s de facto independence from Georgia.

Bako Sahakian, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), sent on Thursday congratulatory messages to his Abkhaz and South Ossetian counterparts.

“It is with sincere joy that the people of Artsakh (Karabakh) received this news long awaited by your people,” Sahakian wrote to Abkhazia’s President Sergei Bagapsh. “Abkhazia has achieved something which it has sought for many years, having deservedly overcome numerous obstacles.”

The Karabakh leader extended similar congratulations to “the brotherly people of South Ossetia” and their leader, Eduard Kokoyty. “May peace take a permanent hold in your country,” read Sahakian’s letter to Kokoyty made public by his press office.

Russia recognized the two breakaway regions following its crushing victory in a brief war with Georgia that was triggered by Tbilisi’s attempt to regain control over South Ossetia. The Kremlin says the extraordinary move was necessary to prevent a repeat of what it calls an attempted “genocide” of South Ossetia’s non-Georgian population.

Georgia and much of the international community have strongly condemned the Russian recognition, saying that it runs counter to the universally accepted principle of territorial integrity. The Georgian government has said it amounts to an “unconcealed annexation” of a part of its internationally recognized territory.

Echoing statements by Russian, Abkhaz and South Ossetian leaders, the NKR Foreign Ministry pointed on Wednesday to another international principle upholding peoples’ right to self-determination. The Karabakh Armenians, backed by Armenia proper, have long said that self-determination should take precedence over territorial integrity in the resolution of the conflict with Azerbaijan.

The NKR ministry also implicitly blamed Georgia for the outbreak of the war that killed hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands of others. “We have repeatedly warned that threats to use force, disproportionate military build-ups and a penchant for solving problems by force are fraught with humanitarian disasters,” it said in a statement.

Unlike the NKR leadership, Armenia’s government has so fair declined to explicitly comment on the Russian support for Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s secession from Georgia. The Armenian Foreign Ministry issued a short statement Wednesday reaffirming Yerevan’s stated support for a peaceful settlement of the regional ethnic disputes.

But in what could be construed as an indirect endorsement of the Russian recognition, the statement said the conflicts in Karabakh and elsewhere in the South Caucasus should be resolved “on the basis of a free expression of peoples’ will.” President Serzh Sarkisian likewise said last week that “the military way of conflict resolution is futile.”

Despite its close ties with Russia, Armenia is extremely unlikely to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, mindful of negative international reaction and Georgia’s vital importance for its transport communication with the outside world.

A leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), one of the four parties represented in Armenia’s government, said in a newspaper interview published on Thursday that the Sarkisian administration should not rush to follow Moscow’s example because “having normal relations with Georgia stems from our country’s vital interests.”

“Armenia has not even recognized Karabakh’s independence because it believes the international community has not exhausted its capacity to solve the problem peacefully,” Armen Rustamian told the “Hayastani Hanrapetutyun” daily. “We think that the possibilities of a peaceful settlement of the Russia-Georgia conflict have not been exhausted either.”

(Photolur photo: Bako Sahakian.)
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