Armenia’s government on Monday reacted evasively to the weekend referendum in Crimea that was followed by a declaration of its independence from Ukraine welcomed by Russia but condemned as illegal by the West.
Most of the leading Armenian political groups were likewise careful not to welcome or reject the results of a vote that led to a further escalation of Russia’s most serious confrontation with the United States since the end of the Cold War.
“We are for the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis through dialogue, in peaceful and negotiated manner based on the UN Charter and international law,” Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said in written remarks to Armenian state television. He would not say whether Yerevan recognizes the outcome of the referendum in which mostly ethnic Russian voters supported becoming part of Russia.
Nalbandian also seemed to suggest that the despite their deepening rift over Ukraine, the U.S., Russia and France will continue to jointly mediate in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process as co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. “Together with the three Co-Chairs we will continue our joint efforts at an exclusively peaceful settlement of the Karabakh issue,” he said.
Artak Zakarian, the pro-government chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on foreign relations, was evasive on the development. “The issue needs to be looked at in negotiations between all interested parties,” Zakarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He said he is confident that those parties will eventually find a mutually acceptable solution to the crisis.
Zakarian, who is a senior member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), also saw no similarities between the Crimean vote and Nagorno-Karabakh’s 1991 secession from Azerbaijan. “All conflicts have their specificities and drawing parallels between them would be inappropriate because as a rule, they have their own social, political, economic, ethnic-cultural and historical causes,” he said.
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest parliamentary force, also reacted vaguely to the vote. BHK spokesman Tigran Urikhanian said the world must respect the views of Crimea’s population but added, “The will of the people of Ukraine must take precedence. Unfortunately a collective position of all people of Ukraine has not been expressed so far.”
Vladimir Karapetian, the foreign policy spokesman for the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), said, “Such actions are as much effective as they conform to international norms. It is in this regard that we should look at the extent to which the event that took place yesterday in Crimea conforms to accepted rules.”
“We are receiving and looking into information from different sources and are very closely monitoring ongoing developments,” added Karapetian.
The opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party was the only parliamentary force that condemned Crimea’s secession engineered by the Kremlin. Its deputy chairman, Armen Martirosian, said the referendum was part of the region’s “annexation” by Russia and had nothing to do with people’s self-determination.
“Russian troops wrested Crimea from Ukraine even before the referendum, and this vote was only meant to formalize facts on the ground,” Martirosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The fact is that a free expression of popular will did not happen there.”
The Armenian government was extremely reticent about the Ukraine crisis and Russia’s military intervention in Crimea in particular even before Sunday’s referendum. Its first official reaction was voiced by President Serzh Sarkisian on March 6. Speaking in Dublin, Sarkisian expressed concern at the crisis and called on the conflicting parties to find “reasonable solutions by means of a dialogue.”
Yerevan is clearly anxious to avoid both angering Moscow, its closest ally, and alienating Western powers already disappointed with Sarkisian’s unexpected decision last year to make Armenia part of the Russian-led Customs Union. Whether it will come under Russian pressure to recognize Crimea’s widely anticipated incorporation into Russia remains to be seen.