To Recognize or Not To Recognize: Armenia using Karabakh bill as deterrence against Azerbaijan

Photo: Photolure

In a move that made headlines in international media the Armenian government on May 5 markedly did not turn down a bill drafted by two opposition lawmakers that would oblige Armenia to formally recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Cabinet of Hovik Abrahamyan endorsed the conclusion of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the draft to be further sent to parliament for debate.

Earlier, all similar bills would get an unfavorable opinion from the executive and their progress on the parliament floor would therefore be blocked through the majority party’s efforts.

Therefore, yesterday’s decision by the Armenian government was widely taken as Armenia’s readiness to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh.

After the Armenian-Azerbaijani clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh in early April, some politicians and experts have repeatedly been calling on Armenia to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh in order to reject what they regard as “defeatist” Madrid principles proposed by international mediators and to begin negotiations in a new format – already with the participation of Stepanakert.

The possibility of a formal recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh was also raised by Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who held a meeting with ambassadors of OSCE member countries still during the days of the hostilities. However, Armenia later limited itself to the launch of efforts to draft an agreement on mutual assistance, including military assistance, with Nagorno-Karabakh.

As experts say, it is the actions of Azerbaijan that have made Armenia go back to the bill on Nagorno-Karabakh’s recognition. Azerbaijan has reportedly been amassing troops at the line of contact with Nagorno-Karabakh and not hiding its intentions of attempting to resolve the conflict militarily. A move to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh is, therefore, intended by Armenia as an instrument of deterrence against Azerbaijan, which has been trying to quit the OSCE Minsk Group process.

In Azerbaijan they state that Armenia’s recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh would amount to rejecting negotiations and the Madrid principles. Azerbaijan’s authorities have expressed their great concern in connection with Armenia’s intentions to this effect. Warnings against the step have also come from Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at the same time, downplayed the prospect of the bill, saying that he had got assurances from Yerevan that Nagorno-Karabakh’s status would not be determined unilaterally.

Other world centers did not express their opinions on Armenia’s step, which was taken as a positive signal in Yerevan. However, Armenia is likely to use the bill only as a deterrent tool against Azerbaijan at this stage. Perhaps the bill will even be passed by parliament and will reach the presidential administration, and then the president will decide the advisability of this step.

Following the Thursday meeting of the executive body of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), the party’s spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov said that if Azerbaijan attempts to solve the Karabakh problem militarily and unleashes a new war, Armenia will implement the steps outlined by the president, up to the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence. “The goal of Armenia is to achieve international recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. And it will do everything for Artsakh [ed: Nagorno-Karabakh] to became an entity of international law, and for its people to live in a safe country,” Sharmazanov stated.

Meanwhile, through a spokesperson, the Armenian government later on Thursday clarified that its endorsement was only for the conclusion regarding the bill rather than the bill itself.

At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made the following statement. “The conclusion of the Government does not imply an endorsement of that initiative. On numerous occasions Armenia has clearly declared in which case it will recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. In case of making such an important decision, as a credible and reliable partner, the President of the Republic of Armenia, would inform beforehand his partners and, first of all, the heads of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries.”

It is interesting that earlier this week Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian was in Prague where he participated in a meeting of the EU Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Four (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) Foreign Ministers. Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov was also in the Czech capital for the meeting. And there Nalbandian raised the issue of Azerbaijan’s intention to denounce the 1994-1995 ceasefire agreements.

“Mammadyarov told the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group that the Azerbaijani ambassadors to the UN and the OSCE had acted on their own initiative [when they stated about the denunciation of the agreements],” Nalbandian explained.

When visiting Yerevan on April 22, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov also called on the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to fully respect the truce brokered by Moscow in the mid-1990s.