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By Anush Martirosian
Several leading members of Armenia’s main opposition on Friday stood by their decisions not to attend a rare discussion on Karabakh held by President Serzh Sarkisian and leaders of several dozen political parties the previous day.

Nearly all political parties making up the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) had refused to authorize their leaders to participate in the extended political ‘consultations’ focusing on the current stage and prospects in the settlement of a long-running dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over an ethnic Armenian enclave that broke free of Baku’s control following a 1991-1994 war and has stayed de-facto independent since.

The Thursday consultations were held behind closed doors, with the president imposing a condition that participants use the information received at the meeting in their later public and political discourse without making direct references to the event speakers.

The HAK’s leader Levon Ter-Petrosian had not been invited to the event as formally he isn’t a political party leader.

The major HAK-member parties had been free to make separate decisions on participation but eventually refused to attend the gathering citing the continuing imprisonment of scores of their members and supporters in ‘politically motivated cases.’

Among major HAK allies attending the discussion was Zharangutyun (Heritage), the only opposition party currently represented in the Armenian parliament that backed Ter-Petrosian’s election bid in last February’s presidential poll.

Stepan Demirchian, a senior HAK representative and leader of the People’s Party of Armenia, defended his decision by saying that many opposition members and activists, among them prominent Karabakh war veterans, continue to be imprisoned for their alleged roles in the post-election clashes.

Demirchian, however, welcomed the principles of a Karabakh settlement that President Sarkisian had reportedly invoked during the closed discussions. Yet, the opposition member called for more clarity as far as details of such a settlement are concerned.

“An overland link with Armenia, strong security guarantees and the exercise of the right to self-determination – this is naturally a set of principles that one can expect to receive a positive response. But as far as I know, no discussion focused on the details of the ongoing negotiations, namely the so-called Madrid principles,” Demirchian told RFE/RL.

The current negotiations for a settlement in the protracted dispute are believed to focus on proposals drafted by international mediators and presented to the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan at the OSCE summit in Madrid last November.

In a joint declaration signed with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow on November 2, Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliev agreed to consider the so-called Madrid principles of a Karabakh settlement – a proposed framework agreement that calls for a phased solution to the conflict eventually to end in a referendum of self-determination in Nagorno-Karabakh – as a possible basis for continued negotiations. While no details of the Minsk Group proposals have been published yet, it is assumed that they aim at reconciling the two seemingly conflicting principles of international law, namely territorial integrity and self-determination.

Lyudmila Sarkisian, of the Social-Democratic Hunchak Party, criticized Sarkisian for ‘making a splash’ by calling such a discussion.

“We have once again made sure that Sarkisian is trying to lie. It is clear that he has nothing to say to the people today and through this sort of consolidation of political forces he is simply trying to show to the outside world that he takes into account the opinion of the whole Armenian society,” she told RFE/RL.

“It is clear that Armenian forces will withdraw from at least five districts,” she further charged. “As for the Lachin corridor, I wish he at least managed to preserve Armenian influence there. Because if either Russian or NATO peacekeepers are deployed there, we will lose both Lachin and the whole of Karabakh.”

Zharangutyun’s Anahit Bakhshian, however, sounded optimistic after attending the president-hosted meeting based on Sarkisian’s assurances about a Karabakh solution that will “satisfy all strata of society.”

“There will be a document that will satisfy the Armenian people,” she quoted Sarkisian as saying at the meeting on Thursday.


(PHOTOLUR photo, Stepan Demirchian)
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