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Armenia Shows Support for Karabakh

Parliamentarians and ministers from Armenia flood to Karabakh to offer their backing.
By Ashot Beglarian
On May 9, Nagorny Karabakh celebrated as usual not only victory in the Great Patriotic War over Germany but its own Victory Day in the Karabakh conflict of 1991-1994.



The presence of two senior guests from the Armenian government at Victory Day ceremonies was the latest show of support from Yerevan towards Karabakh following a series of high-level visits in April.



In his speech Prime Minister Andranik Markarian emphasised the solidarity of other Armenians for the Armenians of Artsakh (the old Armenian name for Karabakh).



“I want to express my gratitude to the people of Artsakh,” said Markarian. “Through you we have been able to demonstrate to the whole world that there is an Armenian spirit and, despite all our troubles, we have achieved our aims.”



Armenian defence minister Serzh Sarkisian, who is himself a Karabakh native, said, “I do not agree with the assertion that our victory in the war that was forced on us by Azerbaijan is only half-achieved. Victory is victory. I believe that Nagorny Karabakh won.”



This was the second visit by Sarkisian to his homeland in less than a month. In April, alongside chief of the Armenian general staff Mikhail Harutyunian, he observed more than ten days of exercises being held by what the Karabakh government officially calls the “defence army” of the territory.



The exercises were strongly condemned in Azerbaijan, but Sarkisian called them a “normal process signifying that army life is continuing”.



“Regardless of the fact that the Armenian side was and remains a consistent supporter of the peaceful resolution of the problem, the army must be continuously kept at a high level,” he said.



Since the failure of the latest round of peace talks in France in February, the two sides in the Nagorny Karabakh dispute have engaged in mutual recriminations and accusations and there has been a high number of reports of ceasefire violations on the front line.



Karabakh’s president Arkady Gukasian said that the exercises were designed to show his army’s battle-readiness to counter any threat from Azerbaijan.



Asked by journalists if Armenia should be doing more to support Nagorny Karabakh,

Gukasian said, “From outside it always looks as though it could do more. However, that is a subjective position. We have no grounds for mistrust and we think that the leadership of Armenia is trying to do everything it can.”



In the peace talks, the Karabakh Armenians are formally represented by the Yerevan government because Azerbaijan refuses to accept them as a “party to the conflict”, something that is a constant cause of discontent in Karabakh itself.



Nagorny Karabakh declared its independence in 1991 after a referendum - in which the Armenian but not the Azerbaijani population voted - but it has not been recognised as an independent state by any other state, including Armenia.



In another important joint event in April, hearings were held in the Karabakh parliament on the topic “The Karabakh problem: prospects for a settlement”, attended by a large delegation of parliamentarians from Armenia, as well as political scientists and non-governmental experts.



Greeting his guests, parliamentary speaker Ashot Gulian said, “For the people and authorities of Nagorny Karabakh the starting point for the solution of the problem are the results of the referendum of 1991, according to which the Armenians of Artsakh unequivocally said ‘yes’ to the idea of independence, taking as a strategy the building of an independent state.”



“Nagorny Karabakh is not an object but a subject of negotiations,” said deputy Armen Sarkisian, leader of the Dashnaktsutiun-Movement-88 parliamentary group. Armenia should act as a guarantor of the rights of Nagorny Karabakh and help it to receive international recognition.”



All the speakers agreed that Karabakh should be given a place at the negotiating table, although there were differences of opinion as to who was to blame for it not being there.



Gegam Bagdasarian, Armen Sarkisian’s deputy, said, “The current negotiating format - Armenia-Azerbaijan - has distorted the essence of the conflict,” blaming both Baku and Yerevan for this state of affairs. “But the Karabakh side is no less to blame.”



There was hostility towards some of the proposals currently under discussion. Karabakh’s Communist Party leader Grant Melkumian said his party was “against the return of territories taken during the war forced on us by Azerbaijan and the conducting of a referendum in several years’ time and also the return of refugees before the settlement of the conflict”.



Karabakhis have welcomed the series of visits from Armenia as a show of support for them at a time when feelings are running high about the Karabakh issue in Azerbaijan.



Karabakhi political analyst David Karabekian said, “The military and political leadership of both Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh has directly or indirectly demonstrated that they do not intend to give in to the blackmail and threats of Azerbaijan and are ready to respond to its militaristic posturings through joint efforts.”



Perhaps the most important visit to Karabakh at the end of April was by Armenian foreign minister Vardan Oskanian, who came to brief the leadership there on the progress of peace negotiations. He also spoke to students in Karabakh’s main university, explaining Yerevan’s strategy in the talks and answering questions as to why Armenia did not recognise Karabakh’s independence and why it was not involved in the talks.



“I cannot say now what political status Nagorny Karabakh will have but I can definitely say that what status it will not have,” said Oskanian. “Subordination to Azerbaijan is absolutely out of the question. Nagorny Karabakh was never part of independent Azerbaijan.”



“When an agreement is reached on the principles of setting the conflict then Nagorny Karabakh will unfailingly take part in the negotiating process, as it is its fate that is being decided,” he reassured his listeners.



The foreign minister also warned Azerbaijan that if it started military action, Armenia would recognise Karabakh’s independence.



“Although the chance of a resumption of military action is small, we need to be constantly read for it,” said Oskanian. “We are trying to reach a peaceful solution to the problem but if Azerbaijan wants to resolve it by force than, as President Robert Kocharian said, Armenia will recognise the Nagorny Karabakh Republic.”



Ashot Beglarian is a freelance journalist and IWPR contributor in Nagorny Karabakh.

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