YEREVAN -- The office of the former Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has declined to expound on a leaked audio recording of a conversation the former president had four years ago with Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka about a deal with Azerbaijan concerning seven districts around the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.
In a statement issued on December 8, Sarkisian's office said that the conversation in question, during which Sarkisian and Lukashenka talked about a possible deal with Azerbaijan regarding the seven districts around Nagorno-Karabakh that at the time were under the control of Armenian armed forces, took place in Yerevan on October 16, 2016, at a closed gathering during a session of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
It added that it was "unclear" how the recording appeared on the Internet on December 7. The recording sparked a controversy in Armenia, as Lukashenka can be heard calling on Sarkisian to turn the districts back over to Azerbaijan, saying that the CSTO should place its joint peacekeepers in the breakaway region to secure the safety of ethnic Armenians there.
"I do not understand why those territories should be given away just like that," Sarkisian can be heard saying in the two-minute audio clip, to which Lukashenka responds: "Just like that...he will pay, he [Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev] offered you $5 billion in the first round."
Sarkisian then counters that he is ready to offer $6 billion to Aliyev to give up Azerbaijan's claims to the districts in question.
"The office of the third president of the Republic of Armenia considers the appearance of the audio recording in public as a fact and refrains from any comment, as all talks held in a closed format at the session cannot be commented on, just as they have not been commented on before," the statement said.
Sarkisian also said during the conversation that Armenia cannot give up the seven districts "for which 5,000 Armenian soldiers paid with their lives."
Azerbaijani officials have not commented on the audio clip.
The audio was posted on the Internet amid an ongoing political crisis in Armenia in the wake of a Moscow-brokered deal struck on November 10, ending a 44-day war between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces that left thousands dead on both sides.
Under the deal, Azerbaijan took back control over parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding districts where the Azerbaijani population had been pushed out by Armenian forces almost three decades earlier.
The Moscow-brokered deal was a blow to Armenia and Yerevan-backed ethnic Armenian forces who controlled the territories since 1994.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the region's population reject Azerbaijani rule.