Armenian Parliament to Consider Recognizing Breakaway Region

  • Government backs debate on bill to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh
  • Azerbaijan says recognition will end peace talks amid tensions

The Armenian government on Thursday backed discussion of a bill to recognize the independence of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, paving the way for a vote in parliament that could trigger fresh conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan.

The bill, drafted by two opposition lawmakers including a former prime minister, won’t be considered at a meeting of parliament on Tuesday and the next possible session is on June 6, Arsen Babayan, a spokesman for the legislature, said by phone. Azerbaijan warned this week that Armenian recognition of the breakaway region would end peace talks to resolve a conflict that flared into a four-day war in April, killing more than 140 people.

Armenia may be seeking to create “diplomatic leverage” against Azerbaijan by threatening to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh and the bill “most likely will not come to a vote,” Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center in Yerevan, said by phone Thursday.

Low-level clashes have continued despite a Russian-brokered truce that halted last month’s fighting, the bloodiest since a war that claimed 30,000 lives and created 1 million refugees in the early 1990s. Russia negotiated a cease-fire to the war in 1994 after Armenians took over Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan following the collapse of the Soviet Union. International mediators have failed since then to resolve a conflict that threatens to destabilize a region bordered by Turkey, Russia and Iran, as well as disrupt a new energy corridor between central Asia and Europe.

‘Escalate Tensions’

The government’s decision concerning the bill “does not imply an endorsement of that initiative,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a website statement. President Serzh Sargsyan would inform the leaders of Russia, the U.S. and France, whose countries are leading the mediation effort, before any move to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh, it said.

Russia is “very closely watching” the Armenian government’s action, which wasn’t discussed with the authorities in Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call Thursday. “We continue to expect that the parties to the conflict will avoid any steps that could disrupt the rather fragile truce and escalate tensions in Karabakh.”

Recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh would be an “Armenian provocation” that ends the 22-year peace process conducted by the mediators under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Azeri Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday.

Azerbaijan, the former Soviet Union’s third largest oil producer, has attracted more than $50 billion from BP Plc and its partners in recent years. BP’s oil pipeline which carried 720,000 barrels per day from Baku to the Mediterranean last year runs fewer than 30 miles from the conflict zone at one point.

Sargsyan, a former Karabakh military commander, said in an April 23 interview that it’s “unreasonable” to return to negotiations for now and that war can resume “at any moment” following April’s clashes.

Azerbaijan says any settlement must be based on respect for its territorial integrity including Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia says the enclave’s Christian Armenians, who declared independence from largely-Muslim Azerbaijan in 1991, have the right to self-determination.

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