In an interview with Armenian Public Television aired late on Wednesday, Khachaturian insisted that Pashinian’s government is right to avoid publicly stating that Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be placed back under Azerbaijani rule.
“If you say that, you will lose room for maneuver,” he said. “We must be able to tell policy and diplomacy from populism and public discourse.”
“The people who are in charge of the negotiating process and our country must not be stripped of that possibility. The prime minister had the courage to openly talk about that. What’s wrong with it?” added the largely ceremonial head of state who was elected by Armenia’s parliament in February.
Addressing the parliament controlled by his party on April 13, Pashinian said the international community is pressing Yerevan to “lower the bar” on the status of Karabakh acceptable to the Armenian side. He signaled his readiness to make such concessions to Azerbaijan.
The country’s leading opposition groups condemned the speech as further proof of Pashinian’s readiness to recognize Azerbaijani sovereignty over the disputed territory. They launched on May 1 daily protests in Yerevan aimed at forcing the prime minister to resign.
During the six-week protests, the opposition tried unsuccessfully to push through the parliament a resolution rejecting any peace deal with Baku that would restore Azerbaijani control over Karabakh.
Khachaturian deplored the opposition leaders’ tough anti-government statements made during the protests. He also denied the existence of political prisoners in Armenia and other authoritarian practices alleged by Pashinian’s detractors.
“If there was dictatorship nobody would demonstrate in the streets,” reasoned the president.
Lilit Galstian, a parliament deputy from the main opposition Hayastan alliance, hit back at Khachaturian on Thursday. Galstian said he proved that he is a partisan figure who ignores constitutional provisions requiring the president of the republic not to side with any political faction.
“He probably suffers from political blindness,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Khachaturian, 62, is an economist who had served as mayor of Yerevan from 1992-1996 during former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s rule. He was a staunch political ally of Ter-Petrosian until agreeing to join Pashinian’s government last August.
Galstian charged that just like Pashinian, Khachaturian is not committed to defending the Karabakh Armenians’ right to self-determination.
Pashinian and other Armenian officials say that a peace deal with Baku must address the issue of Karabakh’s future status. But they have not publicly clarified what they believe that status should be.