In a warning seemingly addressed to the Armenian authorities, Armenia’s first president said that the status quo in the conflict carries the growing risk of renewed war with Azerbaijan. He also accused them of underestimating Russia’s role in the region and moving dangerously close to the West.
The remarks sharply contrasted with Ter-Petrosian’s earlier persistent allegations that President Serzh Sarkisian is ready to accept and accelerate a Karabakh settlement favoring Azerbaijan.
“Without settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Turkish-Armenian relations Armenia has no prospect of security, economic development and an improved demographic situation, regardless of who will be in power,” Ter-Petrosian declared in a speech at Saturday’s congress of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), a former ruling party and key member of his Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance.
He warned that “blindly seeking to preserve the status quo” only increases the likelihood of another Armenian-Azerbaijani war. “This situation can not last endlessly,” he said. “In case of the failure of diplomacy or the dragging out of the settlement process, it could get out of control, leading to new bloodshed.”
Ter-Petrosian added that Karabakh peace is also a necessary condition for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations, dismissing as “nonsense” official Yerevan’s insistence that the two issues can not be interconnected. “Accordingly, if Armenia’s authorities are really interested in the success of the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement initiated by themselves, they must solve the Karabakh issue first,” he said.
The authorities say they have been doing their best to make peace with both Azerbaijan and Turkey, and Ter-Petrosian has harshly criticized their efforts for the past two years. The HAK leader, who ruled Armenia from 1990-1998, charged in August last year that Sarkisian has already agreed to “sell out” Karabakh for the sake of clinging to power.
Speaking at an HAK rally in Yerevan the following month, Ter-Petrosian rejected as pro-Azerbaijani an international plan to end the Karabakh conflict and urged Armenia’s leading political forces to thwart its realization by helping him topple Sarkisian. “Serzh Sarkisian … is opting for a solution which … is not favorable to the Armenian side and, speaking more strictly, jeopardizes the existence of Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said at the time.
Ter-Petrosian similarly blamed Sarkisian for “the prospect of a disgraceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” when he addressed thousands of supporters in the capital in March. At the next HAK rally held in April, he predicted Sarkisian’s impending downfall.
The Armenian president, he said, is now faced with a “fateful” dilemma: to accept the international mediators’ current peace proposals and face domestic backlash or reject them and put himself at odds with the international community. “In both cases, Serzh Sarkisian will undoubtedly lose power,” the ex-president claimed at the time.
Ter-Petrosian said nothing on Saturday about his take on the basic principles of Karabakh peace proposed by the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. He asserted instead that unlike the United States and other Western powers, Russia has “vital interests” not only in the Karabakh conflict zone but the entire South Caucasus.
“This means that Russia holds the key to the settlement of the Karabakh conflict and even Turkish-Armenian relations,” he said. “Therefore, regardless of its preferences, any Armenian government must look for solutions to these vital issues in this geopolitical context.”
“My impression is that Armenia’s authorities are not conscious of that yet, whereas Turkey and Azerbaijan are assessing the reality more correctly, as evidenced by their recent active contacts with Russia,” he added.
Ter-Petrosian had likewise strongly advocated a compromise deal with Azerbaijan and described it as vital for Armenia’s future during the final months of his presidency. He resigned under pressure from the key members of his government, including then Interior Minister Serzh Sarkisian, in February 1998.
Ter-Petrosian’s latest statements were criticized on Monday both by Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) and major opposition parties not aligned in the HAK. “We don’t think it right to link everything with Karabakh,” Galust Sahakian, a deputy chairman of the HHK, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Stepan Safarian of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) denounced the HAK leader’s views as “unacceptable and dangerous.” “Unfortunately, there was such an open message [in his speech,]” Safarian told RFE/RL. “The prerequisite for our development is the establishment of fair rules of the game for all us.”
“This is an absolutely defeatist position vis-à-vis not only the Turks and the Azerbaijanis but also the Armenian authorities,” scoffed Vahan Hovannisian, a leader of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation. “And this is the leader of the radical opposition who was supposed to sweep to power and win over the people with his radicalism.”
Hovannisian, whose partly had also been in opposition to the Ter-Petrosian government, further rejected the ex-president’s pro-Russian comments. “This runs counter to our national interests and prospects for our national development,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.