Opposition leader and former President Levon Ter-Petrosian travelled to Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday to discuss with its leaders the recent escalation of the conflict with Azerbaijan.
A spokesman for Ter-Petrosian said in the afternoon that the top leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) has already started talks with Karabakh Armenian leaders. He was due to meet with Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president, late in the evening.
Ter-Petrosian unexpectedly met with President Serzh Sarkisian for the same purpose on April 9, one week after Azerbaijan attacked Armenian positions along the Karabakh “line of contact,” sparking the worst fighting in the conflict zone since 1994. He went on to urge the Armenian opposition to put aside its difference with the government and strive for a “national consolidation.”
“Now is not the time to accuse the authorities and try to hold them accountable for mistakes and failings,” Ter-Petrosian said on April 13. He also announced plans to visit Karabakh.
According to Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s deputy chairman, Ter-Petrosian’s trip to Karabakh is part of his efforts to promote national unity in the face of the increased military threat from Azerbaijan.
“Our soldiers in the trenches, our army and our people must be aware that our nation is united in its determination to confront the external threat,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Asked whether Ter-Petrosian will also make any policy recommendations to the authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert, Zurabian said: “It’s possible that he may come up with some advice, but only if he is asked to.” The 71-year-old ex-president will not seek to “foist anything upon the authorities,” he stressed.
Ter-Petrosian served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998, presiding over the Armenian military victory over Azerbaijan in the first Karabakh war. He was forced to resign after advocating a controversial peace deal with Azerbaijan that was opposed by key members of his cabinet, notably then Interior Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Prime Minister Robert Kocharian.
That plan put forward by the United States, Russia and France called for Armenian withdrawal from virtually all seven districts around Karabakh. The three mediating powers’ current peace proposals also envisage such territorial concessions to Azerbaijan. But they also provide for a future referendum in which Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population would be free to determine the territory’s status.
Zurabian said Ter-Petrosian and his associates cannot pass judgment on the existing Karabakh plan because they have not seen its full text that has not yet been publicized by the mediators of the conflicting parties. He was also careful not to endorse or criticize Sarkisian’s preconditions for resuming peace talks with Baku, which were set after the April 2 escalation.
“One can certainly understand that when hostilities go on nonstop they cannot create a favorable backdrop to negotiations,” said Zurabian. “But it’s up to the authorities … to decide whether it’s more important to demand stabilization on the frontlines before starting negotiations or to start negotiating with the aim of ensuring that stabilization.”