Karabakh Issue: Can resolution by smallest state indicate changing Western attitude to Armenia?

The parliament of the U.S. state of Rhode Island last week adopted a resolution urging President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress to recognize the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The resolution also calls upon Nagorno-Karabakh to “continue efforts to develop as a free and independent nation” and praises Artsakh’s “constructive involvement with the international community and its efforts to reach a lasting solution to the existing regional problems.”

Since 1998 the United States has been the only country that has allocated, at the level of the Congress, direct annual humanitarian aid to Karabakh, however no calls for recognizing the NKR have been made there before.

“It is more important than ever that the United States maintain a principled stand for peace in this region, show that democracy can be born from conflict, and support Nagorno Karabakh,” said Congressman James Langevin (D-R.I.). “It is my sincerest hope that Nagorno Karabakh’s right to self-determination can be affirmed without further loss of life.”

This decision has been praised in Karabakh. Chairman of the NKR Public Council for Foreign Policy and Security Masis Mayilyan reminded that still in April 2010, the Public Council appealed to the Armenian Diaspora organizations to initiate a process on the international recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Mayilyan believes that, along with negotiations on the Karabakh conflict, work should be carried out on the international recognition of Karabakh.

Remarkably, the Rhode Island House resolution has not won as much praise in Armenia, where the political establishment seems to be more preoccupied with post-election processes. [And, too, the resolution comes from the tiniest of U.S. states, with a population of just over one million.] But Azerbaijan has duly assessed the potential risks.

“The U.S. government at various levels has repeatedly stated that it supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Attempts to achieve recognition by the legislature of Rhode Island are only attempts by Armenians themselves, who thus try to deceive the U.S. public,” Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Elman Abdullayev told media.

Nevertheless, the resolution of the state may become an indicator of changing attitudes of the international community towards the Karabakh settlement.

Some experts regard the resolution as part of U.S. policy after the parliamentary elections in Armenia. Armenia’s foreign policy orientation has become more specific. In particular, while on a recent visit to Moscow, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan stopped short of declaring support for the idea of the Eurasian Union proposed by Russian leader Vladimir Putin, while Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan at the same time had an article published in the Russian Vedomosti newspaper in which he clearly stated that Armenia looks to Europe and does not consider joining the emerging Eurasian Union appropriate.

Such an attitude must have been appreciated in the West. The European Commission gave a high evaluation of the democratic development of Armenia, which means that the European Union will build up its financial assistance to Armenia.

The United States has also sent signals about its support to Armenia. The US Congress’s House Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs of the House Appropriations Committee proposed raising humanitarian aid to Karabakh from $2 million to $5 million in fiscal year 2013. The Subcommittee also suggested providing financial aid to Armenia in the amount of no less than $40 million, thereby rejecting the proposal of the Obama administration to reduce the amount of aid to $32.5 million in FY 2013.

The Rhode Island House resolution, insignificant in size, could nonetheless be an indicator of supporting Armenia not only economically but also politically.