Stepanakert reacts to Pashinyan’s proposed peace deal with Azerbaijan

Stepanakert, Artsakh

By Mark Dovich

While Nagorno-Karabakh’s current and past officials have strongly rebuked Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for indicating his readiness to recognize Azerbaijan’s claims to the region, CivilNet’s team in Nagorno-Karabakh says the remarks did not come as a shock.

“People in Artsakh expect the worst from the Armenian authorities. Such words were not a surprise for many,” Siranush Adamyan, a Stepanakert-based reporter for CivilNet, said.

“It is not news for anyone that Artsakh’s Armenians do not trust the current Armenian authorities,” agreed CivilNet photojournalist Ani Balayan.

On Monday, Pashinyan set off a political firestorm when he told reporters at a press conference in Yerevan he is prepared to recognize Azerbaijan’s claims to Nagorno-Karabakh, provided that guarantees are made for the rights and security of the region’s Armenians.

Pashinyan has suggested for some time now he is willing to recognize that Azerbaijan’s territory includes Nagorno-Karabakh, but his remarks — using the most unambiguous language to date — have still prompted outrage in both Stepanakert and Yerevan.

Nagorno-Karabakh leader slams Pashinyan

On Tuesday, Nagorno-Karabakh President Arayik Harutyunyan condemned Pashinyan and called him “to refrain from any actions or statements recognizing Artsakh as a part of Azerbaijan.”

“There are clear principles and red lines, violations of which we consider unacceptable and impermissible,” Harutyunyan said in a televised address. “And recognizing Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan is one of those red lines.”

In addition, Harutyunyan was quick to dismiss the prospect that normalizing Armenia’s relations with Azerbaijan could “take place separately from the Azerbaijan-Karabakh conflict and at the expense of the inalienable rights and interests of the people of Artsakh.”

Church, opposition wade into controversy

As fallout from Pashinyan’s remarks continues, the influential Armenian Apostolic Church also weighed in Tuesday, decrying Pashinyan’s “dangerous and unacceptable positions” and warning of a “new genocide” if Azerbaijan takes control of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Meanwhile, the leaders of Armenia’s two main opposition blocs indicated they may restart protests calling for Pashinyan’s resignation in response. Ishkhan Saghatelyan, from the Armenia Alliance, urged Armenians to “launch a popular resistance” to “get rid of the authorities and save the country.”

Hayk Mamijanyan, a senior lawmaker in the I Have Honor Alliance, echoed those calls and signaled his support for “large-scale street protests” against Pashinyan to resume.

The opposition organized near-daily protests and acts of civil disobedience across Yerevan for more than a month last year after Pashinyan said Armenia should “lower the bar” on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh’s final status, which sits at the heart of the decades-long conflict.

What’s the context?

Despite the pushback, Pashinyan has characterized ongoing peace talks with Azerbaijan as “intensive,” saying Monday that “we hope to reach an agreement on the text as soon as possible and sign it,” without giving any concrete timeline.

Pashinyan is set to meet with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday for their latest round of negotiations.

That comes after Washington and Brussels each hosted high-level talks earlier this month, though those meetings ended without any discernible progress.

Pashinyan and Aliyev are also planning to meet next week in the Moldovan capital of Chișinău with the leaders of the European Union, France, Germany. It will mark the first time the heads of Europe’s two most influential countries will join the peace talks together.

Decades of internationally mediated talks spearheaded by the Minsk Group, a body co-chaired by France, Russia, and the United States, have failed to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Minsk Group’s work has largely been frozen since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine early last year, prompting the European Union to take on a more active mediating role, alongside Russia and the United States.

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