By Ruben Meloyan and Ruzanna Stepanian
Artur Baghdasarian, the secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council, on Monday made a case for a compromise settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and confirmed President Serzh Sarkisian’s reported pledge to put a possible peace deal with Azerbaijan to a referendum.
“Our government’s approach is clear,” Baghdasarian told RFE/RL in an interview. “If, God willing, we achieve a solution stemming from our national interests it will naturally be put to a national referendum.”
“The people must have a collective say. And that means the highest degree of the legitimacy of the conflict’s resolution,” he said.
Sarkisian reportedly pledged to hold such a vote during a November 20 meeting with leaders of about 50 Armenian political parties during which he briefed them on the current state of the Karabakh peace process. The meeting came amid a growing uproar from anti-government nationalist groups strongly opposed to any territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.
International mediators have always regarded the liberation of at least six of the seven Armenian-controlled Azerbaijani districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh as a necessary condition for the conflict’s peaceful settlement. Armenian withdrawal from those lands is a key element of their existing peace plan largely acceptable to official Yerevan. The plan is rejected not only by hard-line opposition groups but also some elements in Armenia’s governing coalition, notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
Baghdasarian, whose Orinats Yerkir party is also represented in Sarkisian’s coalition government, dismissed the hardliners’ arguments, saying that Karabakh peace is important for Armenia’s security and development and that it requires mutual compromise. “Obviously, we must move down the path of audacious and beneficial solutions,” he said. “A resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict gives Armenia new opportunities for economic and political progress.”
“Mutually acceptable compromise is more important that a meaningless confrontation,” he added.
The remarks came at a time of renewed international hopes for the signing of an Armenian-Azerbaijani framework peace accord in the coming months and even weeks. Sarkisian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev pledged to “intensify” their efforts to bridge the conflicting parties’ remaining disagreements in a joint declaration which they signed with their Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev outside Moscow last month.
The U.S., French and Russian diplomats co-chairing the OSCE’s Minsk Group indicated that a breakthrough in the peace process is still not on the cards as they wrapped up another round of regional shuttle diplomacy later in November. “We would like it to be the case that we are just on the very edge of the agreement being finalized, but we are not,” U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza told reporters in Yerevan.
Still, Armenia’s main opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian insisted on Monday that Baku and Yerevan will likely cut a framework peace deal soon. “I think that there will be another step forward in the coming months,” Ter-Petrosian’s spokesman, Arman Musinian, told a news conference.
Musinian said this is the reason why Ter-Petrosian and his Armenian National Congress (HAK) are sticking to their moratorium on anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan. He said the opposition alliance will discuss and map out its further steps at a conference scheduled for December 12.
Ter-Petrosian called a halt to his year-long campaign of street protests on October 17, saying that the opposition must not weaken Sarkisian during what he described as the final stage of Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks. He claimed that the Armenian president is ready to make additional concessions to Azerbaijan in order to ensure continued Western support for his rule.
Ter-Petrosian earned acclaim in the West for his conciliatory views on Karabakh peace that cost him the presidency in 1998. Some of the opposition forces aligned in the HAK favor a much harder line.