By Tigran Avetisian
A group of prominent opposition figures and intellectuals announced on Thursday the launch of a new movement that will campaign against Armenian territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.
The leaders of the Miatsum (Unification) National Initiative voiced their strong opposition against the return of any of the seven Azerbaijani districts around Nagorno-Karabakh that were fully or partly occupied by Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war.
Armenian withdrawal from virtually all of those districts is a key element of the current and past peace proposals made by international mediators. Like its predecessors, the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian seems ready to trade them for international recognition of Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan.
In a statement, Miatsum condemned this stance, saying that the “liberated” lands are vital for Armenia’s and Karabakh’s security. “Any government of Armenia must unequivocally abandon the unfeasible intention to retain power levers and illegal economic monopolist privileges at the expense of the integrity of Armenia’s liberated territory and the country’s defense system,” it said.
Among the signatories to the statement is Zhirayr Sefilian, a prominent veteran of the Karabakh war and government critic who has long campaigned for a firm Armenian stand in the conflict. Speaking at a news conference in Yerevan, he and other organizers of the movement, among them an opposition parliamentarian, would not say just how they will try to thwart a compromise deal with Azerbaijan
Sefilian’s previous attempt to mount such a campaign landed him prison in late 2006. The Lebanese citizen of Armenian descent was arrested just days after setting up a new pressure group opposed to any territorial concessions to Azerbaijan. He was charged with publicly calling for a violent overthrow of the government.
A Yerevan court subsequently court cleared him of the charge but still jailed him for 18 months for illegally possessing a pistol which he had received as a gift from a former commander of the Karabakh Armenian army. Sefilian was released from prison in June.
Sefilian’s views on Karabakh did not keep him from supporting former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, a vocal advocate of a compromise settlement with Azerbaijan, in the February presidential election. His Association of Armenian Volunteers (HKH) joined a new opposition alliance formed by Ter-Petrosian this summer.
Sefilian has publicly disagreed with Ter-Petrosian’s recent decision to suspend anti-government rallies in Yerevan which the ex-president linked with the renewed international push for Karabakh peace. But it is not clear if the HKH leader to hold his own rallies in the coming weeks.