Official Yerevan and Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leadership hope that South Sudan’s independence will set another precedent for a resolution of the Karabakh conflict sought by them.
Preliminary official results of the referendum showed 99 percent of voters in the war-torn region voting for secession. Their announcement on Sunday sparked mass celebrations in the southern capital Juba.
The vote was held in early January in accordance with a 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest secessionist conflict, which killed an estimated 2 million people. It was widely praised for meeting democratic standards.
“Armenia is welcoming the referendum held in South Sudan,” Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said in written comments to the official Armenpress news agency released by his press office. “The published preliminary results of the referendum … confirmed one more time, that the self-determination is an inseparable right of every nation.”
“We hope that by choosing the way of determining its own destiny, through expression of its will, South Sudan will succeed in the establishment and the accomplishment of an independent statehood,” he said, signaling Yerevan’s intention to promptly recognize what will likely become the world’s newest country.
The 2005 accord enables South Sudan to formally declare independence in July. Its leaders have yet to agree with the Sudanese government in Khartoum on their shared border and settle other outstanding disputes.
Nalbandian described the referendum outcome as “the freshest example of the victory march of the right of self-determination and a right way to solve the existing problems” Bako Sahakian, president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), echoed that assessment through his press secretary, Davit Babayan.
Sudan -- A worker waves as another adjusts a banner showing the countdown to the referendum on southern independence in Juba, 07Jan2011
The principle of self-determination has long been championed by the Armenian side in its negotiations with Azerbaijan. The United States, Russia and France -- which have been jointly mediating those talks -- recognize it along with the territorial integrity of states. A combination of the two principles is at the heart of the “basic principles” of a Karabakh settlement put forward by them.
A key element of the proposed settlement is a future referendum on Karabakh’s final status. Armenian leaders maintain that the disputed territory’s predominantly Armenian population would be able to vote for independence or reunification with Armenia. Azerbaijani officials say, however, that the would-be vote could only determine the extent of Karabakh’s autonomy within Azerbaijan.
In an interview with the Moscow-based TV station Russia Today last week, Nalbandian confirmed that Yerevan thinks South Sudan’s independence will strengthen the Armenian case for international recognition of Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan.
“Can it become a precedent for Nagorno-Karabakh? Well, of course it can,” he told the English-language broadcaster. “But there are lots of such examples. They are not few in number.”
The Armenian and NKR leaderships similarly hailed a United Nations court ruling that upheld the legality of Kosovo’s secession from Serbia. President Serzh Sarkisian insisted in October that the non-binding ruling, handed down by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in July 2010, should serve as a blueprint for settling the Karabakh dispute.
Nalbandian made a point of meeting with Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni in New York in September. Still, he left no indication that Armenia could soon recognize Kosovo’s independence and risk putting itself at odds with Russia, its closest ally.
“The ongoing processes in South Sudan have turned the Kosovo precedent into a pattern,” Babayan, the Karabakh Armenian official, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. He said there are many important similarities between the conflicts in Sudan and Karabakh.
Azerbaijani officials have insisted that the ICJ judgment is only applicable to Kosovo and can not have any bearing on the Karabakh peace process. Baku has not yet reacted to the referendum in South Sudan.