Sarkisian publicized on Wednesday the purported audio of Pashinian’s comments on the conflict amid a continuing war of words between the two men running in the June 20 general elections. He did not say who and when secretly recorded them.
Pashinian can be heard talking about his first conversation with the presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan which took place just days after he became prime minister in May 2018. He said they urged him to accept a Karabakh peace plan drafted by Russia and approved by the United States and France, the two other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.
The plan represented the latest version of the so-called Madrid Principles of the conflict’s resolution first drafted by the three mediating powers in 2007. It called, among other things, for the gradual liberation of virtually all seven districts occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces in the early 1990s.
Pashinian says in the audio that he rejected the plan because it would not immediately formalize Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan and determine the territory’s internationally recognized status. He says he was unconvinced by the Russian, Kazakh and Belarusian presidents’ arguments that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s realizes that that Baku will never regain control of Karabakh but cannot formally renounce Azerbaijani sovereignty over the territory lest he be branded a “traitor” at home.
Pashinian says he felt at that point that he must avoid such a settlement and, if necessary, “play the fool or look a bit insane” for that purpose.
“Here is my conclusion: this guy is not crazy, this guy plays the fool, fools around,” Sarkisian said during a campaign trip to Gegharkunik province. “This is inadmissible for a country’s leader.”
The ex-president, who lost power in April 2018 during the Pashinian-led “velvet revolution,” also charged that the prime minister’s intransigent stance left Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks in deadlock and led to the autumn war won by Azerbaijan.
Pashinian dismissed Sarkisian’s claims and said the audio did not reveal anything new or damage his reelection chances as he campaigned in Lori province the following day. He said he has repeatedly stated that the peace proposals made by the U.S., Russian and French mediators favored Azerbaijan.
“The international community, on which we pinned our hopes for many years, pressed us to return the territories in return for nothing,” he told supporters rallying in the town of Spitak.
Pashinian made similar statements in the immediate aftermath of the six-week war stopped by a Russian-brokered agreement in November. He denied critics’ assertions that he could have prevented the disastrous war, which left at least 3,700 Armenian soldiers dead, by accepting the mediators’ peace proposals.
In January, Igor Popov, the Russian co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, accused Pashinian of misrepresenting those proposals. Popov specifically denied his claims that the mediators offered the Armenians nothing in return for their withdrawal from the districts around Karabakh.
The envoy argued that under the Minsk Group plan Karabakh’s population would be able to determine the disputed territory’s status in a future legally binding referendum. He also stressed that the plan tied Armenian withdrawal from two of the seven districts, Lachin and Kelbajar, to a deal on the status.