A day after being chosen Armenia’s new prime minister, Nikol Pashinian has called for the de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region in Azerbaijan under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, to become a party in the internationally mediated talks to resolve the long-standing conflict between Yerevan and Baku.
Pashinian, who was elected prime minister by the Armenian parliament on May 8 after leading street protests for weeks, made the call on May 9 in Nagorno-Karabakh's capital, Stepanakert.
Armenian leaders traditionally visit the region on May 9, the date on which many ex-Soviet countries mark the defeat of Nazi Germany. It also coincides with the day Armenia-backed forces took control of a key town in 1992 during a war for control of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The region, populated mainly by ethnic Armenians, declared independence from Azerbaijan during a 1988-94 conflict that claimed an estimated 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Three decades of internationally mediated negotiations with the involvement of the OSCE's so-called Minsk Group have failed to result in a resolution. The Minsk Group is co-chaired by France, Russia, and the United States.
In Stepanakert, the regional capital, Pashinian and Nagorno-Karabakh's de facto leader, Bako Sahakian, laid a wreath at the memorial to soldiers who perished during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and World War II.
"I am ready -- and in general Armenia is ready -- to negotiate [with Azerbaijan] on behalf of the Republic of Armenia, and it is the leadership of Artsakh [Karabakh] represented by its president that should negotiate on behalf of Artsakh," Pashinian told a news conference shortly after his meeting with Sahakian.
Pashinian and Sahakian also visited Shusha, whose capture by ethnic Armenian forces in 1992 proved a turning point in the war, leaving ethnic Armenians in control of the whole of Nagorno-Karabakh.
In an address to the nation on Victory and Peace Day released by his press office earlier on May 9, Pashinian said that the "nonviolent, velvet revolution that took place in Armenia and the people's consolidation are further indisputable proof that we have a clear vision about what freedom, democracy and peace are."
The protests focused on former President Serzh Sarkisian, who tried to hold onto power by switching from president to prime minister.
Pashinian, in a speech to parliament before his election on May 8, said his revolution will lead to the "recognition of realizing the rights of Karabakh to self-determination."
He later said he was prepared for talks, but only if the separatists were involved.
Baku reacted angrily to Pashinian's plan to visit Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Hikmat Haciyev issued a statement on May 8 insisting "the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is currently occupied, has always been an integral part of Azerbaijan."
No country has recognized Nagorno-Karabakh's independence.
Separately, Pashinian on May 9 confirmed he would attend a summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) that will be hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on May 14..
The EEU consists of five ex-Soviet states -- Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.