Possible agreement on NKR issue sparks debate

Politically active circles in Yerevan are full of speculation concerning the upcoming meeting between Armenian and Azeri presidents in St. Petersburg on June 10th. It is widely believed that an agreement will be signed handing over control of five or seven Armenian-controlled regions adjacent to Nagorno Karabakh (the so called buffer zone) either to Azerbaijan or to a peacekeeping force. The speculation apparently took off after reports in Azeri press that one of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs visiting Baku stated that Armenia has agreed to sign off seven occupied regions (this excluding the Lachin corridor which connects Armenia and the NKR). There has been little word about the issue from Armenian officials. Several organizations, mostly administrations of Armenian internet resources, signed a petition against what they call “acts of treason”. The issue is slowly gaining media coverage.

Negotiations between the two sides are conducted behind closed doors, however public opinion generally agrees over the rough details of an agreement, if one is to be reached. It is believed that Armenia will hand over the territories in exchange for an agreement to pass a referendum in the NKR ten years from now. Criticism of such a deal ranges from concerns of the uncertainty of a referendum as far as ten years from now, to outright denunciation of any territorial concessions whatsoever.

There has been similar speculation in the past, however due to several factors it is especially strong this time. There is mounting pressure from the international community, anxious to reach an agreement before Robert Kocharyan leaves office in early 2008. Letting the status quo pass on to the new president might well mean the peace process starts from scratch. The international community’s mild reactions to the 2005 constitutional referendum (which apart from other things grants the president lifelong immunity) and the recent parliamentary elections are seen as leading up to such a move.

On the other hand the possible deal is of major political significance at home. Speculation of Mr. Kocharyan’s future role in Armenian politics has been going on for several months before the recent elections. After Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia), a party which was seen by many as the President’s counterweight to Prime Minister Serge Sargsyan’s Republican Party, took significantly fewer parliament seats than expected, Mr. Kоcharyan’s positions appear to have suffered. Securing an agreement now would greatly benefit Armenia’s next president, relieving him of the Karabakh burden both at home and on the international stage. And with hopes of the opposition’s capacity to mount a successful bid for presidency in 2008 Serge Sargsyan is most likely to take control of the president’s office. In that case an agreement today could be a guarantee for Mr. Kocharyan’s political or business future after he leaves office.

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