By Anna Saghabalian
Hundreds of students demonstrated outside the U.S. embassy in Yerevan on Wednesday to condemn a high-ranking State Department official for reportedly alleging that the ethnic Armenian leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh is “criminal.”
The embassy, meanwhile, effectively confirmed the veracity of quotes from Elizabeth Jones, the outgoing assistant U.S. secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, that appeared in Russian media last week.
During a video conference with Russian journalists on January 13, Jones reportedly urged Moscow to play a more constructive role in helping to resolve the ethnic disputes in Nagorno-Karabakh and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. “It is in Russia’s interest for these areas — whether it is Transdnestr, Abkhazia, South Ossetia or Nagorno-Karabakh — to be stable, for corruption to end there, for criminal secessionists who rule there to be removed,” she said, according to “The Moscow Times” daily.
“Assistant Secretary Jones’s comment quoted in the Moscow Times was directed at the need for the U.S. and Russia to work together to resolve the conflicts and advance transparency and rule of law in the conflict areas,” the U.S. mission said in a statement. “We recognize that the circumstances of each conflict are unique.”
“The United States does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent country, and its leadership is not recognized internationally or by the United States,” the statement added, reaffirming U.S. support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. But it did not specify if Washington agrees with Jones’s description of the Karabakh Armenian leaders.
The U.S. has regularly negotiated with the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) over the past decade within the framework of the OSCE’s Minsk Group which it co-chairs together with France and Russia. The mediators, among them a senior American diplomat, made stopovers in Stepanakert during their virtually every visit to the conflict zone.
The Armenian government has not officially reacted to Jones’s remark. But the U.S. official was harshly criticized by pro-government politicians and media.
“Her statements allow us to at least conclude that she has never understood the essence of the Karabakh conflict,” said Vahan Hovannisian of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), according to the yerkir.am news service. Hovannisian said he believes that Jones’s remark does not reflect Washington’s official position on the Karabakh dispute.
The student protests, sanctioned by the authorities, were organized by several youth organizations, notably the youth wings of Dashnaktsutyun and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party. The Republican youth leader, Armen Ashotian, said: “Nobody has the right to cast shadow on the achievements of the national-liberation struggled waged by our people.”
The demonstrators carried Armenian flags and slogans condemning Jones as they marched toward the U.S. embassy building from the city’s Freedom Square. “The Karabakh conflict can not be compared to the conflicts in Chechnya or Transdnester,” one of them said.
But other participants could not explain why they took to the streets, suggesting a government hand in the action. “They says this demonstration is about Karabakh,” said one student.
“I don’t know. I’m from Agricultural Institute,” said another. “They have just stopped classes and brought us here, saying there is something about Karabakh.”
Another young man said he is protesting against “Elizabeth Johnson.” “She made some statements,” he said. “But I don’t know exactly who she is.”