Underscoring his ongoing rapprochement with President Serzh Sarkisian, opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian praised Armenia’s government on Friday for not yet acting on its threats to formally recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state.
Sarkisian threatened to do so following the April 2 outbreak of fighting around Karabakh which marked the worst escalation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in over two decades. His administration on Thursday gave the green light to a parliamentary debate on an opposition bill mandating Karabakh’s recognition by Armenia.
Government officials stressed, however, that Yerevan could press ahead with the recognition only if Azerbaijan again launches a large-scale military offensive along the Karabakh “line of contact.” This cautious stance has been denounced by some Armenian politicians, commentators and media figures.
Ter-Petrosian rejected the criticism in an article posted on Ilur.am. He argued that “unilateral” action by Yerevan would be counterproductive because peace proposals made by the United States, Russia and France provide for an eventual international recognition of Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan. He pointed to a provision envisaging a referendum on the Armenian-populated territory’s status.
“Therefore, instead of deviating from the overall logic of the [proposed] settlement, Armenia should fully engage in the Minsk Group’s negotiation process and seek to achieve its goals in a constructive manner,” wrote the top leader of the Armenian National Congress (HAK).
“In this regard, I appreciate the fact that Armenia’s authorities have reasonably avoided, with the Karabakh leadership’s consent, a temptation to succumb to some opposition parliamentarians’ imprudent initiative,” he said. “Unless it is backed by international organizations or one or two superpowers, a unilateral recognition would be fraught with unpredictable and disastrous consequences.”
Ter-Petrosian’s praise of the Basic Principles of a Karabakh settlement is quite remarkable given his past criticisms of the framework peace accord drafted by the U.S., Russian and French mediators. He has also been a bitter critic of the Sarkisian administration’s domestic and foreign policies.
The HAK leader, who served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998, unexpectedly met with Sarkisian one week after April 2 flare-up of violence. He went on to urge the Armenian opposition to put aside its difference with the government and strive for a “national consolidation” in the face of the Azerbaijani military threat.
Ter-Petrosian commended Armenia’s and Nagorno-Karabakh’s leaderships for their response to the escalation of the conflict when he visited Stepanakert early this week.
Ter-Petrosian was forced to resign in 1998 after advocating a compromise 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, also put forward by the U.S., Russia and France, called for Armenian withdrawal from virtually all seven districts around Karabakh. The three mediating powers’ current peace proposals likewise envisage such territorial concessions to Azerbaijan. Yet significantly, they also call for a future referendum in which Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population would be free to determine the territory’s status.
“There is no doubt that the international community will sooner or later recognize Karabakh’s independence,” the 71-year-old ex-president wrote on Friday.