Arguing over Karabakh: Heritage calls for recognition, Republicans say move mistimed

An opposition party in parliament has embarked on its second attempt in as many years to get the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh by Armenia on the agenda of lawmakers in Yerevan.

The parliament’s minority faction of ex-foreign minister Raffi Hovannisian’s Heritage party has submitted to the National Assembly a draft law “On the Recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” which, the party’s parliamentary leader says, is aimed at preventing “upcoming undesirable developments.”

Stepan Safaryan describes the protocols on normalizing relations signed last week by Armenia and Turkey as a prelude to conciliatory steps in the resolution of the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Heritage today has two top objectives – to prevent the ratification of the notorious [Armenia-Turkey] protocols and, by this proposed legislation, stop Armenian authorities from signing any document that would go against the interests of the Karabakh Republic,” Safaryan tells ArmeniaNow.

According to the opposition parliamentarian, the signing of the Armenian-Turkish protocols in Zurich, Switzerland, on October 10 will be followed by certain “not pro-Armenian” actions in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. “The recognition of Karabakh by parliament will make it possible to prevent this process,” argues Safaryan.

Heritage leader Raffi Hovannisian initiated a similar draft law in 2007. But in April 2008, the parliament voted 64 to 15 to prevent that bill from being put on the agenda of discussions.

Heritage lawmakers today hope the parliamentary majority “has learned some lessons” since last year and that they won’t block the bill from making it to the floor this time around.

“If it is being said that Karabakh will have no relation to the course of the development of Armenian-Turkish relations, then the best way to dispel these suspicions is to pass a law and recognize Karabakh’s independence,” Heritage MP Larisa Alaverdyan tells ArmeniaNow.

The main argument of critics of such a piece of legislation is that this step will harm the ongoing internationally mediated negotiations with Azerbaijan.

Secretary of the ruling Republican Party’s faction in parliament Eduard Sharmazanov says that negotiations are in progress and “any other interference may harm the Minsk Group process.”

“We have always said that recognition is the last bullet that will be used, failing all other means,” Sharmazanov tells ArmeniaNow.

After the failure of the bill to reach the parliament floor last year, President Serzh Sargsyan also said that Armenia does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence because it is in a process of negotiations.

“Do you remember that in the case with Kosovo and other cases it was said that recognition is the last resort? If there is no other means, then Armenia will recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence,” the president said on September 20, 2008 during a meeting with foreign media.

Meanwhile, in March 2008, President Robert Kocharyan also spoke about the need for Armenia to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh.

The ex-president made that statement after the UN General Assembly adopted, on March 14, a resolution dealing with “the state of occupied territories of Azerbaijan” and internationally reaffirmed Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.

Kocharyan then said in Karabakh that in the event of such developments Armenia could recognize the independence of Karabakh or sign a military agreement with Stepanakert on ensuring the latter’s security.

That statement drew a stormy reaction from Baku and an opinion from Zeyno Baran, former U.S. top Karabakh negotiator Matthew Bryza’s Turkish-American wife who heads Hudson Institute’s Center for Eurasian Policy.

In one interview given to an Azerbaijani website,, Baran then said:

“Even if Armenia makes that decision, no one will recognize Nagorno-Karabakh, no one will second this decision, including the Minsk Group and its member Russia, which is an ally of Armenia in many issues. That’s why I don’t treat seriously statements like these made by the Armenian leadership.”

And Baku reacts to every mention by Armenia of a possible recognition of Karabakh with threats to renew hostilities.

“If Armenia recognizes Karabakh’s independence, it could lead to the resumption of military operations,” Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev said in April 2008.

One expert from a Yerevan-based think-tank, however, downplays the impact of such a move by Armenia on the negotiating process.

“Azerbaijan’s threats show that in reality the Azerbaijani side is not ready for concessions and issues these war threats only to prevent developments that would be unfavorable for it,” says Mitk analytical center expert Edgar Helhelyan.

The analyst finds it essential to restore Karabakh’s right to be present at the negotiating table as a full party.

“And the start of this process will be Armenia’s recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,” he concludes.