Armen Sargsian, the sole member of the Karabakh parliament affiliated with Dashnaktsutyun, made a corresponding appeal to the unrecognized republic’s law-enforcement bodies last week.
“All those citizens who call into question our territorial integrity under the guise of mutual concessions or other variants [of settlement with Azerbaijan] must be subjected to criminal liability because that is not a manifestation of democracy or pluralism but an unconstitutional step,” he said during a parliament session in Stepanakert. “And any unconstitutional step must be punishable by criminal law.”
The demand is understood to reflect the view of Dashnaktsutyun’s Karabakh branch. Significantly, it has been welcomed by the pan-Armenian nationalist party’s organization in Armenia. One of its leaders, Hrayr Karapetian, said on Monday that it stems from constitutional provisions of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) relating to seven districts in Azerbaijan proper that were fully or partly occupied by Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war.
The NKR constitution is rather ambiguous on the status of those lands, however. It stipulates that “territories under de facto jurisdiction of the NKR” shall remain under Karabakh Armenian control at least until a future “clarification of borders.”
Gagik Petrosian, another Karabakh parliamentarian representing Prime Minister Ara Harutiunian’s Azat Hayrenik (Free Fatherland) party, cited this provision when he spoke out against criminalizing any talk of territorial compromise with Azerbaijan on Tuesday. “If our constitution stated that the territory of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic encompasses the entire territory that is under our control at the moment … I would agree with Mr. Sargsian,” he told RFE/RL. “So I don’t think that people speaking of mutual concessions now violate the NKR constitution.”
Petrosian, whose party boasts the largest faction in the NKR legislature, also argued that Karabakh peace is impossible without Armenian concessions. “There will be no final settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem settlement without mutual concessions,” he said.
Rudolf Martirosian, a parliament deputy from another pro-government faction, Artsakhatun, dismissed the Dashnaktsutyun demand as “absurd.” The Karabakh government’s official position on the matter is not yet clear.
Unlike its sister organization in Armenia, Karabakh’s Dashnaktsutyun is not an opposition force. Despite holding only one seat in the 33-member local parliament, it is represented in the Stepanakert government by at least three senior officials, including Foreign Minister Georgi Petrosian.
The return of virtually all Armenian-occupied territories surrounding the disputed enclave is a key element of international mediators’ existing plan to resolve the Karabakh dispute. In return, the Karabakh Armenians would apparently have a chance to legitimize their secession from Azerbaijan in a future referendum of self-determination.
Armenia and its Karabakh-born President Serzh Sarkisian have signaled their overall acceptance of this formula. The NKR leadership, on the other hand, makes no secret of its dislike of the proposed compromise.