‘I should be blamed not for handing over the lands, but for not doing it’, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has told the Armenian parliament, during a speech in which he admitted to misleading the public about the status of peace negotiations prior to the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.
In an address to parliament which the opposition refused to attend on Wednesday, Pashinyan spoke about Armenia’s current position on a possible resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and said that, according to him, the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, is not a ‘territorial claim’, but rather a matter of ‘rights’.
The Prime Minister added that he is to be blamed for not ‘directly’ communicating with the Armenian public and telling them that before the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, the negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh primarily concerned the return to Azerbaijan of seven surrounding districts that had been taken by Armenian forces in the First Nagorno-Karabakh War.
Pashinyan’s predecessor, Armenia’s third President Serzh Sargsyan stated on several occasions, both during and after his tenure, that Armenia was ready to hand over the seven regions ‘several times’, but Azerbaijan had demanded further concessions that were ‘unacceptable’ for Armenia.
Control of the seven districts was handed over to Azerbaijan as part of the trilateral agreement that ended the second war.
Pashinyan also said that when the opposition accuses him of ‘handing over’ the districts to Azerbaijan, they have it backwards — as his intransigence on returning them to Azerbaijani control was, in part, the trigger for the war.
‘If I handed over the lands, I would have probably saved thousands of lives. By not handing them over, I, in fact, became the author of decisions that resulted in thousands of victims’, Pashinyan said.
He said that at the time, he had hesitated to give up territories, ‘the fruits of victory’ of the First Nagorno-Karabakh war to Azerbaijan, without receiving anything in return.
Pashinyan said that he struggled to overcome widespread perceptions of the essence of the conflict, both in society and within himself — perceptions he said were now expressed by Armenia’s opposition. He said these are perceptions in which the seven regions were considered a part of the ‘Artsakh Republic’, and that the suffering of the Armenian people in the conflict and the hardships of the past 30 years were for the ‘freedom of Artsakh’.
‘Today, the international community is telling us to lower the bar on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh’, Pashinyan also said, appearing to refer to the demand for recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence.
By hewing to the line of international opinion, Pashinyan continued, they could ‘ensure great international consolidation around Armenia and Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh]’. Otherwise, Armenia cannot rely on international partners, not ‘because [they] do not want to help [us], but because [they] cannot help [us]’.
Pashinyan also noted that he did not rule out the possibility that Azerbaijan could still scupper the present peace process and the plans to demarcate borders between the two countries, using the breakdown as ‘an occasion for new aggressive actions against Armenia and Artsakh’.