An extra-parliamentary party espousing radical views has announced the start of a process “to incorporate Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia as a province,” one of its leader said on Monday.
Varuzhan Avetisian, a founding member of Sasna Tsrer, a party formed on the basis of an armed group that carried out an attack on a police compound in Yerevan in 2016, said at a press conference that this process starts now “because there was a need to have a political and organizational unit in Artsakh [ed: Nagorno-Karabakh] first.”
“Now there is such a unit in the form of the Sasna Tsrer of Artsakh party that was recently registered in Artsakh and its main task is to ensure this process,” said Avetisian.
To the question of RFE/RL’s Armenian Service as to whether people in Nagorno-Karabakh that once voted for an independent status would want their incorporation into Armenia as a province, Zhirayr Sefilian, a leading member of the party, said: “We are convinced that an absolute majority shares this idea, and I am convinced that this process that we start is to everyone’s liking. There are numerous legal ways in the process. It can be through referendums, it can also be done through the National Assembly’s ratification or through national elections,” said Sefilian, citing ‘dangers of geopolitical developments’ and possible Russian influence over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Avetisian was one of 31 members of an armed group that stormed a police compound in Yerevan in July 2016, demanding that then President Serzh Sarkisian free Sefilian, who was arrested a month before the deadly attack. The Sasna Tsrer group also demanded Sarkisian’s resignation and a tougher stance in negotiations over the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.
Together with other members of the group Avetisian surrendered after a 15-day standoff with security forces and spent over two years in prison.
Most of the Sasna Tsrer members, including Avetisian, were released from prison pending investigation after last year’s change of government.
Sasna Tsrer’s latest initiative comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity around the Nagorno-Karabakh issue ahead of a possible first-ever formal meeting between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev mediated through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group.
Since a 1994 ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh that put an end to large-scale Armenian-Azerbaijani hostilities official Yerevan has publicly opposed the idea of formal recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh or its incorporation into Armenia and the status of the disputed territory has been a matter of internationally mediated negotiations.
Azerbaijan has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the talks if Armenia either recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence or recognizes it as its part.
Last week, Pashinian co-chaired a joint session of the Security Councils of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in Stepanakert during which he reiterated that Armenia will seek Nagorno-Karabakh’s becoming a full party to the talks currently conducted between Yerevan and Baku. Leaders in Azerbaijan have rejected the idea of changing the format of negotiations.