Nazarbayev Statement Fallout: Sargsyan criticized for delayed reaction to Kazakh leader’s remarks

It took Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan two days to react to the controversial statement made by President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev at a Eurasian Union summit in Astana last week.

On May 29, Nazarbayev, the host of the meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, read out a letter from Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, in which the latter demanded that Armenia be admitted into the Eurasian Union only within its borders recognized by the United Nations, i.e. without Nagorno-Karabakh, which is known to be part of Armenian economic space.

Despite the fact that Nazarbayev made that statement as a favor to Aliyev (ed: “for one of our comrades in Azerbaijan not to be worried,” he said) it was a clear message to Yerevan that no open border is possible between Armenia and Karabakh in the event of Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Union. Earlier, Armenian officials, including Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan, said that Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic are a single economic zone and that there can be no customs or other borders between them.

“As for what was voiced by Nazarbayev, first, from the outset it is wrong to talk about borders. What borders are we talking about? The Karabakh problem is not being solved in the Customs Union,” said the Armenian president. “And who said that we are joining the Customs Union together with Karabakh? There has been no such thing and could not be, because at least under our laws and in accordance with our ideas, Karabakh today is not part of Armenia. And the fact that membership in the Customs Union will contribute to the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem is unequivocal. Of course, what Nazarbayev said was unpleasant, but it cannot harm us in any way.”

Sargsyan’s statement caused no less stormy reaction in Armenia. The president was accused of his readiness to “give up” Karabakh, of showing a sign of weakness and even willingness to take offense. Film director Vahram Martirosyan, for example, thinks that Sargsyan should have said immediately in Astana that in that case all countries must enter the Eurasian Union within their borders recognized by the United Nations. For example, Russia, which recently annexed the Crimea and that move was condemned by the UN General Assembly.

However, the more urgent question is what will change during these two weeks or a month that was given to Armenia for solving all issues connected with its accession to the Eurasian Union. The media and social networks suggest various options up until the recognition of the independence of Karabakh with its further reunification with Armenia.

The Karabakh Central Committee of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) issued a statement proposing a strategic agreement between Armenia and the NKR under which Armenia becomes the guarantor of the security and welfare of the Nagorno-Karabakh people.

There is also an option of Nagorno-Karabakh’s making a bid to join the Eurasian Union. It looks particularly realistic against the backdrop of events taking place in another unrecognized post-Soviet autonomous republic – Abkhazia. A change of power took place in this Russia-backed breakaway republic in Georgia. The first statement of the opposition that came to power in Sukhumi was about the need to join the Eurasian Union.

Remarkably, no major political party in Armenia has called on the Armenian leadership to give up the idea or at least suspend the process of joining the Eurasian Union.