This may sound like breaking news that Armenian government wants to listen to public opinion and go forward with Karabakh settlement only after getting approval from the public via 'nationwide referendum'.
Sadly, this only sounds like that. In reality, this is useless and perhaps even dangerous populist exercise.
Imagine if Karabakh settlement agreement is put to a nationwide vote. Will it be the whole document or some separate clauses or, even worse, ‘principles’ which then anyone could interpret the way they want?
Then, let’s consider that understandably Azerbaijan also follows the suite and conducts its own referendum. Now hypothetical outcomes.
What if Armenia rejects it, and Azerbaijan accepts it? Does this mean war?
What if Armenia accepts it and Azerbaijan rejects it? Does this mean that Armenia would be forced to more compromises to satisfy Azerbaijan?
What if both Azerbaijan and Armenia accept it? Where does this leave Karabakh? Where is their voice? One would assume that the very people who will be directly affected by any decision signed are Karabakh citizens. It would be unimaginable that they should be left out of this ‘democratic exercise’. Till now, it was impossible for parties to agree on the terms of Karabakh referendum for its future status as reportedly a final step of the proposed settlement. There is no way that with current Azeri official position there will be any agreement to take into account the results of Karabakh’s own referendum on the settlement principles.
But forget even what I said above.
Do we trust voting, referendum, polling, you name it, initiated by Armenian authorities? The answer is simple: No. The whole history of national voting/referendum since 1995 proves that the answer is simple: No.
Unless there are fundamental changes in Armenian society and political system in terms of democratisation and representative governance, Armenian public will not accept any result of any poll initiated by Armenian authorities. This will only lead to intensifying of internal divisions and political crisis. Armenian ruling administration had almost a year to initiate real reforms, to increase faith of the public in democratic institutions. They failed so far, spectacularly.
And, finally, one somewhat minor point. If this poll, or ‘referendum’, initiated by Armenian government, is expected to be non-binding, why not conduct a proper opinion poll instead to reveal public views, even if for internal use only? The alternative in form of a proposed ‘nationwide referendum’ is populist, useless and dangerous exercise.
P.S. A1plus blog has also made a relevant entry on this subject matter (in Armenian)