In an interview with the Armnews TV channel aired late on Monday, Sarkisian also accused Armenia’s current leadership of badly mishandling the Karabakh peace process and making the autumn war with Azerbaijan inevitable. He said it refused further talks on the so-called Madrid Principles of the conflict’s resolution which were first put forward by the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in 2007.
Details of the proposed framework peace accord have been repeatedly modified by the mediators. One of its versions was presented to the conflicting sides in 2016 by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on behalf of the three co-chair nations.
“I was not just ready to sign it,” said Sarkisian. “I agreed to remain [in power as] Armenia’s prime minister in order to implement that variant.
“And I was not going to sign it secretly … I’m not saying that we would have put it on a referendum. But we would have made it the subject of a big and heated public debate. I was not sure that the majority of the public will support it.”
The Madrid Principles called for a phased settlement that would start with a gradual liberation of virtually all seven districts around Karabakh occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces in the early 1990s. In return, Karabakh would receive an internationally recognized interim status. The disputed territory’s final status would be determined in a future referendum.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has repeatedly criticized this peace plan, saying that it was hardly a more attractive alternative to the war that broke out in late September and left at least 3,500 Armenian soldiers dead. He has said that the mediators offered the Armenian side very little in exchange for territorial concessions to Azerbaijan.
A senior lawmaker representing Pashinian’s My Step bloc reaffirmed that critical assessment of the Minsk Group’s peace proposals when he reacted to Sarkisian’s televised remarks on Tuesday. Ruben Rubinian said the country’s former leadership cannot accuse the current government of “surrendering lands” to Azerbaijan because it itself favored a “lands-for-peace” formula.
During the six-week war Baku recaptured three of the seven districts as well as Karabakh’s southern Hadrut district and the strategic town of Shushi (Shusha). It also regained control of the four other districts after the hostilities were stopped by a Russian-mediated ceasefire on November 10.
Virtually all Armenian opposition groups have blamed Pashinian for the Armenian side’s defeat and demanded that he resign and hand over power to an interim government that would hold fresh parliamentary elections. Pashinian has rejected the opposition demands backed by President Armen Sarkissian.
Serzh Sarkisian tried to hold on to power after engineering Armenia’s transition to a parliamentary system of government at the end of his second and final presidential term. He became prime minister in April 2018 only to step down several days later amid mass protests led by Pashinian.
Sarkisian made his first extensive public comments on those dramatic events in the interview with Armnews. He said he did not order security forces to break up the nationwide protests because he wanted to avoid bloodshed and unfavorable developments in the Karabakh conflict.
The 66-year-old ex-president also admitted that he did not expect his bid to extend his rule to cause such a popular backlash. “Nobody could predict that that [protest] movement will follow such a course,” he said.
Sarkisian remains the chairman of the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). The HHK is part of a recently formed opposition alliance trying to force Pashinian to resign. The alliance, called the Homeland Salvation Movement, is scheduled to resume anti-government rallies in Yerevan on February 20.