Nagorno Karabakh Armenians claim sovereignty
by Vladimir Rozanskij

Authorities of the separatist enclave in Azerbaijani territory criticize the negotiating position of Armenian Premier Nikol Pašinyan. Artsakh wants independence from Azerbaijan and invokes Russia's help.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The National Assembly of the (unrecognized) republic of Nagorno-Karabakh has approved a motion declaring its opposition to the positions of the Prime Minister of Yerevan, Nikol Pašinyan, regarding the consequences of the conflict with Azerbaijan last year. Added to this is the very harsh statement of Araik Arutjunyan, president of Karabakh, which sounds like a distancing of the separatist republic from Armenia.

The small republic, called "Artsakh" in Armenian language, has about 150 thousand inhabitants and a territory of about 3000 km2. As a matter of fact it is an enclave in the territory of Azerbaijan, at least partially controlled by local Armenians; it can communicate with the homeland through the narrow mountain corridor of Laҫin, three kilometers long and nine meters wide, protected by the peace forces of the Russian Federation.

Pašinyan's participation in the summit of leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States in St. Petersburg on December 28 provoked a reaction from Karabakh Armenians. The day before, during a press conference, the Armenian premier had blamed his predecessors for the defeat in the separatist territory. Pašinyan's position has also been criticized in Yerevan by the opposition, especially by former president Robert Kočaryan, who on December 29 openly accused the prime minister of betrayal of national interests.

Another former president, Serž Sargsyan, has also announced a public meeting in January on the issue, which will most likely be equally merciless towards Pašinyan. In all of this, Arutjunyan wanted to reiterate that "only Artsakh authorities have the right to speak on behalf of the local population."

Arutjunyan stressed that their main goal is the international recognition of Artsakh's independence, and that no form of autonomy within Azerbaijan will be acceptable, such as those to which the Armenian premier seems to be leaving room for negotiation.

The Armenians of Karabakh maintain that there is no possibility of peaceful coexistence with the Azeris, and their territory must be returned to the borders of 1991, when the conflict with Baku over the mountainous area began. For Arutjunyan, Russian troops deployed in the area should facilitate the establishment of a local Artsakh army, staying as long as necessary, and this should be Pašinyan's goal in negotiations with Putin.

The Parliament of Stepanakert - the capital of the separatist republic - has reiterated its president's positions, declaring inadmissible the pronouncements of any politician or party that casts doubt on the Armenian future of Artsakh, especially lashing out at Pašinyan's statements, deeming them too ambiguous and dangerous. The premier had assured that the status of Nagorno Karabakh would remain on the negotiating table, and that "the legal and political bases of Armenian independence in the area are not in contradiction with the positions of the mediators and international structures dealing with the matter".

Karabakh Armenians fear being victims of diplomatic games, and do not want to give up their sovereignty even at the cost of going against Yerevan. The speaker of Stepanakert's parliament, Ašot Gulyan, compared Pašinyan's words to the "style of 1937," when Stalin first annexed Karabakh to Azerbaijan, starting the mountain feud of the two Caucasian peoples, who have always been divided by language, culture and religion.