The Armenian government paved the way on Thursday for parliamentary debates on an opposition bill that would obligate it to formally recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent republic.
The government again made clear, however, that the National Assembly dominated by its supporters could approve the bill only if Azerbaijan unleashes a “new aggression” against Karabakh.
Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian’s cabinet passed judgment on the measure proposed by two opposition parliamentarians. In a written recommendation that will be sent to the parliament, it said that Yerevan should recognize the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) only “as a result of negotiations between Armenia and Artsakh (Karabakh) that would take into account further developments, including external factors.”
“Our position is clear: if Azerbaijan tries to wriggle out of the ceasefire regime and launches a new aggression, the [recognition] issue will definitely be on the agenda,” Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian told journalists after a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan.
Some Armenian opposition forces, notably the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, have for years pressed for an official Armenian recognition of the NKR. Successive governments in Yerevan have avoided doing that, citing the need not to undermine peace talks with Azerbaijan mediated by the United States, Russia and France.
President Serzh Sarkisian threatened to recognize Karabakh following the April 2 outbreak of heavy fighting along the Karabakh “line of contact” which left at least 170 soldiers from both sides dead. Azerbaijan’s government warned Yerevan this week against taking such a “provocative” step.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed hope on Thursday that Yerevan will not press ahead with the recognition. “We are very closely monitoring decisions taken in this context,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow. “We certainly continue to expect the parties will avoid any steps that could undermine the shaky ceasefire and lead to an escalation of tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, for his part, downplayed the corresponding Armenian bill on Wednesday, saying that it was put forward by opposition members, rather than the Armenian government. “By law, Armenia’s government … has to come up with an evaluation of that bill,” Lavrov told the RIA Novosti news agency. “So I wouldn’t sound the alarm or panic now.”
Moscow helped to stop the Karabakh fighting on April 5. It has since repeatedly urged the conflicting parties to bolster the ceasefire regime.