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Armenia: Prime Minister Sticks To Tough Line On Karabakh

Washington, 6 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Armenia says it wants to make clear that it is ready to negotiate a settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute with Azerbaijan, but not on anyone else's terms.

Prime Minister Armen Darbinyan said Monday that a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh dispute is a high priority for his government. Darbinyan became prime minister last April, following the election of Robert Kocharian as president. They have moved to forestall any notion that Armenia might agree to some Azerbaijani demands on the issue of the Karabakh talks.

At a briefing in Washington Monday that was sponsored by Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, Darbinyan said of Karabakh:

"This is possibly the most important regional problem facing us. Without a resolution of this matter we will not be able to reach lasting peace and stability in this region. On this matter Armenia has a new position and it has already been presented to the international community. That position is the following: Armenia is serious today in its approaches and its desire to reach a peaceful solution. That is why we are being blunt and honest. We do not accept any pre-conditions to restarting negotiations. Armenia will not accept a step-by-step approach."

Karabakh is the overwhelmingly ethnic Armenian enclave located inside Azerbaijan. It is controlled by ethnic Armenians who demand independence from Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has said it would agree to more autonomy for the enclave but will never agree to independence.

France, Russia, and the United States -- through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- have been trying to mediate a settlement but there has been little progress of late. Azerbaijan wants the return of all territories seized by the ethnic Armenians, who have gone so far as to proclaim an independent Karabakh republic.

Darbinyan said Armenia believes that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh have the right to freely decide their future, but he also says the enclave cannot be a part of Azerbaijan.

Despite the less-than hopeful prospects for an immediate settlement, Darbinyan said he is convinced that the issue will be resolved. He said the stability of the Caucasus region is necessary for its economic success, and he said recognition of this need will lead to solutions.

The prime minister also said Armenia wants Turkey to be, as he put it, more positively engaged in regional issues. He said Armenia wants good relations with Turkey, but he also said the Turkish government must acknowledge that its imperial ancestors were guilty of genocide against Armenians seven decades ago. Darbinyan said Armenia insists on the recognition of genocide.

Armenia contends that more than a million Armenians who were subjects of the Ottoman Turkish Empire were deliberately murdered during World War I and its immediate aftermath. Modern Turkish governments have conceded that hundreds of thousands of Armenians perished, but not because of any planned extermination campaign.

On another matter, Darbinyan said his country is weathering the economic crisis in Russia well. He said Armenia has built a very strong financial sector and central banking system.