Stepanakert rebukes Pashinyan for floating possibility of Azerbaijani control

Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh)

By Mark Dovich

Nagorno-Karabakh’s current and past officials have strongly rebuked Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s comments referring to his readiness to recognize that Azerbaijan’s territory includes the region.

“For us, any statement by Nikol Pashinyan ignoring Artsakh’s (Nagorno-Karabakh’s) sovereignty (or) our people’s right to self-determination…is null and void,” Nagorno-Karabakh’s parliament said after an emergency session Monday evening.

Earlier on Monday, Pashinyan indicated he is willing to recognize Azerbaijan’s claims to Nagorno-Karabakh as part of a peace deal, provided that guarantees are made for the “rights and security” of the region’s Armenians.

To that end, he reiterated his call for direct talks between Stepanakert and Baku, supported by “international guarantees.” He did not say what that might look like in practice.

Read more: Pashinyan says Armenia ready to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan

“What rights, security and guarantees can we talk about when Azerbaijan has illegally been keeping Artsakh under a complete blockade for 162 days?” Artur Tovmasyan, the speaker of Nagorno-Karabakh’s legislature, hit back.

Since last December, when self-styled Azerbaijani environmental activists set up a roadblock on the sole overland route linking Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, the region has in effect been isolated from the outside world. The blockade has led to severe shortages of energy, food, medicine, and other essentials in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh President Arayik Harutyunyan’s office confirmed Tuesday he would give a speech “on internal and external issues” later in the day, without specifying a time.

Meanwhile, billionaire businessman and philanthropist Ruben Vardanyan, who was dismissed as Nagorno-Karabakh’s state minister earlier this year after less than five months on the job, called for Yerevan and Stepanakert each to hold a referendum “to reaffirm that the people of Armenia and Artsakh do not agree with (Pashinyan’s) proposals.”

“Pashinyan does not have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the people of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh,” Vardanyan added.

Pashinyan’s remarks have also prompted ex-leaders in both Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia to wade into the controversy.

Arkady Ghukasyan and Bako Sahakyan, two of Nagorno-Karabakh’s former presidents, slammed Pashinyan in a joint statement for “shaking the foundations of Armenian statehood,” adding that “Artsakh has not accepted and will not accept the approaches that were presented today by the Armenian prime minister.”

Back in Yerevan, ex-Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who was himself born and raised in Nagorno-Karabakh, castigated Pashinyan for taking “simply incomprehensible” and “destructive steps” in ongoing peace talks with Azerbaijan.

Robert Kocharyan, who previously served as president of both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, put out a statement that did not explicitly condemn Pashinyan’s remarks, but instead called out Stepanakert’s reaction.

“Through your obedience and your desire to please the Armenian authorities, you allowed Artsakh’s fate to be decided without your participation,” he said, addressing Nagorno-Karabakh’s parliament.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Levon Ter-Petrosyan is the only former leader of either Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh not to respond publicly to Pashinyan’s comments.