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By Ruzanna Stepanian
President Serzh Sarkisian on Thursday held an extended discussion focusing on the Karabakh issue with leaders of Armenia’s political parties that had responded to his invitation to attend the meeting.

None of the leaders of key political parties making up the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance attended the gathering, though.

The Armenian president straightaway imposed a condition that no direct references to the speakers at the event be made in further public exchanges of views or political statements.

In his opening remarks, Sarkisian, in particular, said that the discussions would be in a ‘closed format’ and ‘without references’.

“Without references means that after this meeting, in our public activities we can refer to the thoughts voiced here. But we must agree that we don’t make direct references to speakers expressing particular thoughts. This format will make it possible for all participants to feel free to express any position during this discussion,” the president explained.

The meeting then proceeded behind closed doors.

Among the major opposition parties attending the discussion was Zharangutyun (Heritage), the only opposition party currently represented in the Armenian parliament that backed the HAK’s current leader and ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian in last February’s presidential election.

Ter-Petrosian himself had not been invited as formally he is not a political party leader.

In motivating their refusal to attend the gathering, the major opposition parties cited the continuing imprisonment of scores of their members and supporters in what they described as ‘politically motivated cases.’

All members of the governing coalition, except the leader of Prosperous Armenia Gagik Tsarukian, who was said to be outside Armenia, had their leaders attending the meeting hosted by President Sarkisian, himself the leader of the majority Republican Party.

In particular, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) was represented by Party Supreme Body representative and head of the parliamentary foreign relations committee Armen Rustamian and Orinats Yerkir was represented by National Security Council Secretary Artur Baghdasarian.

Among the key opposition politicians not supporting the Ter-Petrosian alliance who were present at the meeting were Vazgen Manukian from the National-Democratic Union, Artashes Geghamian from the National Accord party, Paruyr Hayrikian from the National Self-Determination Union and others.

After the meeting that lasted for nearly five hours, Zharangutyun’s Anahit Bakhshian singled out Sarkisian’s assurances about a Karabakh problem solution that will “satisfy all strata of society.”

“The president said there will be a document that will satisfy the Armenian people,” she summarized to the media. “What is important to me is that he [Sarkisian] said there is no normal Armenian who would recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s self-determination within Azerbaijan. I very much want to believe him no matter on what side of the political fence I am now.”

Armen Rustamian told the media that he had forwarded to Sarkisian a set of principles that Dashnaktsutyun deems paramount in approaching a Karabakh settlement.

“The basic one is that the negotiations must be based on the already expressed will of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Rustamian said.

Dashnaktsutyun, according to its representative, also holds that solutions to all issues connected with the settlement must be clear from beginning to end. Otherwise, the party believes, it will resemble an interim solution.

In the issue of withdrawing from territories and ensuring the return of refugees, the nationalist party upholds the demand for the lands of Nagorno-Karabakh proper that are currently controlled by Azerbaijan.

“These are the lost territories of Nagorno-Karabakh that total more than a thousand square kilometers,” Rustamian said. “The demand must be laid on the negotiating table as our territorial claims, because these are the territories of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.”

Rustamian also said that Dashnaktsutyun is for a clear separation of the roles of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia in the negotiating process.

“It should be clearly fixed that the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is an independent party to the conflict and Armenia must not supplant Nagorno-Karabakh, but should act as a party involved in the conflict. The circumstance of Armenia’s being the guarantor of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence and security should also be considered in these issues,” he concluded.
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