Strategic Planning: Heritage Party bill forces debate on NKR question

Armenia’s internal political life was considerably enriched on August 28 as the ex-Foreign Minister and currently leader of the opposition Heritage Party Raffi Hovannisian introduced a bill on a formal recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR).

It became obvious that the Hovannisian-led party would sooner or later spearhead such an initiative still in early 2007 when Yerevan State University professor Alexander Manasyan, who is one of the best known experts in the Karabakh problem, joined the Heritage party. Manasyan has for more than a decade and a half studied consistently the political and legal aspects of the conflict settlement and his appearance in one company or another may be interpreted in the context of discussions of this subject from the very outset.

Thus, Manasyan’s membership in the Heritage party presumably revealed Raffi Hovannisian’s readiness to raise the Karabakh subject onto the level of public and parliamentary debates on the threshold of the 2008 presidential election. It is beyond doubt that the strategist of the legislative initiative is the leader of Heritage himself, and the ideologist is the well-known expert who got a chance to use a higher tribune to declare the need for Armenia to recognize NKR’s independence. It is no wonder that the very first legislative initiative of the Heritage party was related to Nagorno Karabakh.

The document submitted to the parliament is very concise (consisting of only eight short paragraphs). It substantiates the party’s stance on three fundamental aspects:

1. Nagorno Karabakh was a full entity of the USSR and gained independence in accordance with the same basic norms and principles that were applied to former Union republics;

2. The Republic of Armenia has so far refrained from recognizing the independence of NKR proceeding from the fact that the ongoing negotiating process within the framework of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should consider the interests of all parties involved in the conflict, and first of all those of the people of Nagrorno Karabakh;

3. The mediators have so far failed to develop an acceptable document and against this background official Baku has remarked about the inadmissibility of settling the conflict outside the borders of the Azerbaijani SSR, placing emphasis on a possible military solution to the problem.

Despite the terse nature of the document it is objectively geared to the future. If the issue reaches the stage of debate in parliament the Heritage faction members, and first of all Manasyan himself, are certain to expand on their position. It is beyond doubt that the program document has already been prepared.

Heritage’s legislative initiative is the first step in this issue. It is for this very reason that such essential elements as, in particular, the geography of the recognition (the territory of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region or the modern NKR) did not find their reflection in the document. With a certain concurrence of circumstances such discussions are capable of exploding the internal political situation in Armenia just months ahead of next February’s election. At least, Manasyan is known to be critical of the well-known statements by Armenia’s former Defense Minister, now Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan about the need for territorial concessions.

Interestingly, some members of the ruling Republican Party have already spoken against this legislative initiative, underscoring that it is unacceptable to disturb the current negotiating conjuncture and act as opponents to the activities of the OSCE Minsk Group.

Remarkably, the initiative failed to drive a wedge between the pro-government and opposition factions, on the contrary it had an opposite effect as the opposition Orinats Yerkir party expressed its solidarity with the Republicans on the matter.

The party’s vice-chairman Mher Shahgeldyan said the negotiating process on the Karabakh conflict should proceed in its current format: “If it were national liberation movements, then it would be a correct decision, but since we have embarked on the way of democracy, it is premature to adopt such a law.”

Further developments may bring very interesting consequences in their wake as politicians in and outside the parliament will finally have to clarify their positions on how the Karabakh conflict should be settled. Lawmakers practically took no part in the open parliamentary hearings on this major issue in March 2005.