YEREVAN — Authorities in Yerevan believe that any solution to the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh must first of all be acceptable to local Armenians, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in an interview with Armenia’s Public Television on Friday.
“We are not against that the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh be solved. We are saying that this solution must first of all be seen, felt and accepted by people who live there,” said Pashinyan, countering Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s repeated statements that the Karabakh conflict has been resolved.
“If the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh is resolved, then why don’t the Armenian people of Karabakh feel it? Why are Azerbaijani troops deployed all around Nagorno-Karabakh and shoot at it? This is a very important question that the international community should get an answer to,” the Armenian leader said.
Pashinyan cited the example of ethnic Armenians who lived in Hadrut, one of the districts of Nagorno-Karabakh, before the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijani war and had to flee their homes because of the hostilities. He said that if this is Azerbaijan’s vision for a solution, “then one should consider fair my statement that all this looks like or is preparations for a genocide.”
Pashinyan accused Azerbaijan of blocking progress on talks about extending the mandate of the Russian peacekeepers stationed in Karabakh, which is currently set to expire in 2025. Pashinyan appeared keen to assuage fears of future conflict in the region should Russian peacekeepers leave, saying that other peacekeepers could take their place.
“If Russia withdraws, international peacekeeping forces will come,” he speculated.
Yerevan is in constant contact with the authorities in Stepanakert about the state of Armenia’s talks with Azerbaijan, Pashinyan stressed, adding that Karabakh should be a direct party to negotiations.
“That is the best way to protect the rights of our compatriots in Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said.
Pashinyan also reiterated his administration’s willingness to move forward with an apparent Russian peace framework that, it is believed, would freeze or postpone talks on Karabakh’s status.
“During the meeting with the Russian president in Sochi (last month), I said that we fully support the Russian version, and we hope that Russia will support its own proposal,” he said.
In the interview Pashinyan again insisted that by the 2020 ceasefire agreement Armenia has no obligation to provide Azerbaijan with an extraterritorial land corridor to its western exclave of Nakhichevan, something that he said Baku insists upon.
He reiterated that Armenia is interested in the unblocking of all transport links in the region, but insists on maintaining sovereignty over routes passing through its territory.
As for Azerbaijan’s concerns that its citizens do not want to have direct contacts with Armenian border guards or customs officials, Pashinyan said that Armenia was not against outsourcing the function to third countries. He said that, for instance, Armenia could invite a Russian border service on its side of the border and Azerbaijan could invite a Turkish border service on its side.
“But if we are to advance the agenda of establishing peace in the region, then it is wrong to say that Armenians and Azerbaijanis should not communicate and have contacts. These contacts should be somehow organized,” Pashinyan said.
“If it is really a matter of transport links for Azerbaijan and not a reason for escalation, then in practical terms this issue has been solved. We simply need to fix these agreements and move on,” the Armenian leader underscored.
Pashinyan also touched on Armenia’s ongoing negotiations with Turkey, noting that “we all know Azerbaijan is present in all our discussions with Turkey” but also expressing confidence that Yerevan and Ankara could still make significant progress on normalization “if there is consistent work and the political will and desire” to do so.