YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Following a visit to inspect frontline positions of the Nagorno Karabakh Defense Forces over the weekend, President Serzh Sarkisian pledged to initiate an “active” public debate on how to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh, outlining three preconditions necessary for a resolution to the longstanding conflict.
“A resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is possible if Azerbaijan recognizes the Nagorno-Karabakh people’s right to self-determination, if Nagorno-Karabakh has a land border with Armenia, and if international organizations and leading nations guarantee the security of the Nagorno-Karabakh people,” stated the Armenian president.
Sarkisian traveled to Karabakh to attend military exercises conducted by the Karabakh defense forces. He then visited sections of the heavily militarized Armenian-Azerbaijani line of contact east of the territory.
Speaking to Armenian Public Television afterwards, a uniform-clad Sarkisian said the Karabakh Defense Forces are capable of rebuffing any attacks on the security and independence of the two Armenian states.
He aslo acknowledged that internationally sponsored efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict have entered an “active phase.” “I strongly believe that we will enter a period of much more active public discussions,” he said. “Discussions are always useful but they must center only on the interests of the Armenian people. We have invested too much effort into the settlement of the Karabakh conflict to turn a blind eye on or to ignore instances of exploitation [of the issue.]”
“We are achieving an important historical objective, and if someone is trying to pursue other interests, then that is not moral,” he added, accusing his opponents of exploiting the issue.
It was an apparent reference to opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian’s October 17 speech in which he accused Sarkisian of being willing to “put up Karabakh for sale” in return for earning the West’s support for his continued rule. Ter-Petrosian claimed that Sarkisian is even ready to agree to Russia’s replacement by Turkey at the OSCE Minsk Group helm. Newspapers supporting Ter-Petrosian have also seized on Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s reported claims that Sarkisian himself asked Ankara to mediate in Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations.
Sarkisian denied the claims attributed to Gul, insisting that he believes Turkey can only “assist” in the Karabakh peace process. “Yes, I am convinced that Turkey can assist and, I think, is now assisting in the process of the Karabakh conflict resolution,” he said. “President Gul’s [September 6] visit to Yerevan, the continuation of Turkish-Armenian negotiations is a very good example of solving very difficult problems.” Turkish contribution to Karabakh peace will be even greater if Ankara opens the Turkish-Armenian border and establishes diplomatic relations with Yerevan, he added.
Sarkisian also reiterated his administration’s policy toward the OSCE Minsk Group, describing the international format as the only mediator for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “I will repeat that the Minsk Group Co-chairs are the only mediators, but we are open to assistance,” he said.
Sarkisian further described as “very legitimate” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s efforts to host the next, potentially decisive, meeting of his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts. But he would not say when that meeting could take place and what its chances of success are.
Sarkisian’s newly reelected Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Alyiev, repeated on Friday that Baku will never recognize Karabakh’s independence from Azerbaijan.
The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group were due to visit the conflict zone this week in line with their pledges to step up the search for Karabakh peace after the October 15 presidential election in Azerbaijan. But the group’s French co-chair, Bernard Fassier, said late last week that the trip has been postponed.
Analysts in Yerevan on Monday were divided over possible reasons for the delay. Manvel Sargsian, a Karabakh expert at the Armenian Center for National International Studies, attributed it to Medvedev’s initiative. “It looks as though a new situation has arisen after that statement and the parties are chewing over their next steps,” he said.
But Gagik Harutiunian, director of the Noravank Foundation, believes that the United States and France have no problem with Russia’s unilateral push for a Karabakh settlement. “The situation is such that they may have chosen not to meddle in the ongoing process to avoid disrupting it,” he said.
Richard Giragosian, a Yerevan-based U.S. analyst, likewise saw no U.S.-Armenian disagreemen’s on Karabakh. “Moscow and Washington have actually moved even closer to each other in the Minsk Group,” he told RFE/RL.