BY DAVID ARAKELYAN
NEWPORT BEACH—Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (Artsakh) President Bako Sahakian said Friday the Kosovo precedent was important for the resolution of the Karabakh conflict and rebuffed Azeri attempts to poison his appearance at a gathering hosted by Orange County World Affairs Council at the Pacific Club, where Sahakian was the keynote speaker.
Sahakian spoke to an audience of about 250 guests, mainly members of the Armenian community and the WAC, but peppered with members of the Azeri community, who asked biased questions during the Q & A session at the end of president’s speech. Another group of 15 to 20 Azeris was protesting outside of the venue.
In his opening remarks, President Sahakian talked about some of the domestic and foreign policy objectives of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and the progress that has been made in those areas over the past few years.
In reference to the parallels between Karabakh and Kosovo, which was brought up in one of the questions, the President said that “Kosovo is an important precedent of the implementation of international law, where the principle of self-determination prevailed” and stated that the International Court of Justice confirmed Kosovo’s independence. Just like in Kosovo, the people in Karabakh made their choice to live independently, and that decision is “not subject to speculation and interpretation.”
Sahakian said that Karabakh must return to negotiation table because “no settlement of the conflict is going to be possible without the agreement of Stepanakert.” The President said the government of Azerbaijan was unwilling to take any real steps to resolve the conflict peacefully and pointed to the continued military rhetoric and the constant ceasefire violations initiated by the Azeris.
He called upon the international community to condemn the “destructive position” of Azerbaijan, stating that “the international community can have an influential role in curbing Baku’s militaristic rhetoric and stopping the Azeri government from continuous increase in military expenditures.”
In response to a question about the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Sahakian stressed that the “recognition of Arstakh is just a matter of time” and expressed confidence that “most Western countries are interested in the establishment of a new, free, and democratic state” in the Caucasus.
On the domestic front, Sahakian reported that the gross domestic product of the country has increased fivefold from 2003, when it was only $427 per capita, to 2009, when it reached the $2,000 mark. Even in 2008, the year when the most recent economic crisis began, Artsakh’s economy grew by more than 70 percent compared to 2007 levels. The budget of the republic currently stands at 55 billion drams (or roughly $150 million), and the main sectors of the economy are construction, agriculture, industry, and energy.
The President expressed confidence that soon, Karabakh is poised to become an energy-exporting country and reforms in the agricultural sector will enhance the productivity of Karabakh farmers.
The protesters outside were holding anti-Armenian signs with references to the “500,000 refugees from Karabakh,” “the occupation of Azeri territories,” and the so-called “Khojaly massacre.” A few Armenian Youth Federation members challenged the protesters’ falsified claims and gave historical evidence to point out to the inaccuracies contained in the posters held by the Azeris, but that did not seem to change the mind of the Azeri activists.
While addressing statements made about the “Khojaly Massacre” in his response to an Azeri member of the audience, Sahakian stated that the “Khojaly issue was a tactical move [adopted by the Azeris] to divert attention from the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”
He stated that the Armenian forces never engaged in any actions against the civilian population of Azerbaijan, and only fought back in war which was imposed upon the Armed Forces and the population of Artsakh.