Playing Partisan Politics with Artsakh Damages Armenian Interests

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By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Nov. 21, 2013

Since every Armenian around the world passionately upholds the interests of Artsakh (Karabagh), many wonder why the Government of Armenia has not officially recognized its independence from Azerbaijan.

Armenia’s leaders are concerned that recognizing Artsakh’s independence prematurely would undermine the peace process with Azerbaijan and possibly subject Armenia to international pressure and sanctions. Moreover, Pres. Serzh Sargsyan has announced that Armenia would recognize Artsakh in case Azerbaijan resorts to war.

Opposition political figures assert that Artsakh’s recognition is long overdue and blame Armenian officials for not formally recognizing its independence. They also wonder how Armenians can expect other countries to recognize the Republic of Artsakh without Armenia taking the lead. Based on these arguments, opposition Heritage party members periodically bring up a resolution to the Armenian Parliament for the recognition of the Republic of Artsakh. Undoubtedly, such proposals are prompted out of a sincere conviction that Armenia has an obligation to recognize this liberated territory. However, there are those are convinced that the opposition’s true intent is to embarrass the government’s majority by daring its members to cast a vote against Artsakh’s independence.

Such resolutions create awkward situations not only for pro-government parliamentarians, but also other opposition members who are compelled to support the resolution in order not to give the false impression that they oppose Artsakh’s independence.

On Nov. 13, when Zaruhi Postanjian, leader of the Heritage Parliamentary block, proposed such a resolution, the final vote was 10 in favor and 0 against. The resolution was not adopted even though no one voted against it, as the overwhelming majority of the 131 parliamentarians decided to boycott the session rather than vote against Artsakh’s recognition.

Surprisingly, officials of Armenia, Artsakh and Azerbaijan have had a similar reaction to the resolution. Vahram Atanessian, Chairman of Artsakh’s Foreign Relations Committee, expressed his agreement with the position of the Armenia’s parliamentary majority: “At this moment, recognition of the Artsakh Republic does not serve a useful purpose, as it would cause a number of significant problems.” Shavarsh Kocharyan, Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia, concurred: “Recognizing Artsakh at this time would be contrary to Armenia’s interests, because it would make it the only country to do so, thus creating an unfavorable situation for Armenia at the present time.”

Elman Abdullayev, spokesman for Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, agreed with Armenian officials: “The discussion of the bill on the recognition of Nagorno Karabagh as an independent state by the Armenian Parliament would negatively affect the peaceful settlement of the conflict and aims at undermining this process.” Azeri political scientist Fikrat Sadikhov reacted with harsher words: “Such recognition would be a blunt challenge to Azerbaijan, which, of course, would not remain unanswered. Yerevan is very well aware that such a move by Armenia would be crossing the red line, which still detains Azerbaijan from more forceful and radical steps in respect of the release of its lands.” Sadikhov further stated: “The Armenian leadership understands that by recognizing the independence of the separatist regime, it will radicalize and exacerbate the situation, and enrage international organizations and regional powers.”

Despite the potentially complicating consequences of Artsakh’s recognition, Armenians worldwide enthusiastically support the independence of the Republic of Artsakh. However, it would be preferable that such resolutions be brought to the parliament’s consideration only after securing the approval of all factions. Otherwise, when a handful of opposition parliamentarians place this issue on the agenda against the majority’s wishes, it appears that their whole purpose is partisan political gain, and sends the wrong signal to Azerbaijan and countries around the world that Armenia is against Artsakh’s independence. Furthermore, the opponents of such resolutions are typically accused of siding with Azerbaijan on this critical issue, thereby undermining Armenian efforts to secure international recognition for the Republic of Artsakh.

A more preferable strategy for supporting Artsakh’s independence would be to strengthen the Republic of Armenia politically, economically, and militarily so that its leaders would not have to be too concerned about international condemnation and sanctions, whenever they decide it is the opportune time to recognize the Republic of Artsakh.