Armenians see little hope of peace: President Levon Ter Petrosian tells Annika Savill that neither side in the bloody war in Nagorny Karabakh is ready to compromise

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Levon Ter Petrosian concedes that neither side in the six-year war over Nagorny Karabakh - the bloodiest conflict in the former Soviet Union - is prepared to compromise at all to achieve a settlement. But, the Armenian leader added yesterday on a visit to London, the only scenario which could lead to an all-out war between Armenia and Azerbaijan would be if the people of the enclave faced the threat of genocide.

Mr Ter Petrosian was told by John Major during his official visit that Britain wanted to help end the war, in which more than 15,000 people have died and more than a million have become refugees. The enclave of 100,000 Christian Armenians inside mainly Muslim Azerbaijan initially wanted to join neighbouring Armenia, but it is now fighting for independence.

'The ideal would be a solution to satisfy the population of Nagorny Karabakh,' Mr Ter Petrosian said. 'Under this ideal lies the principle of self-determination.'

'In terms of reality, the only real solution could be one based on compromise,' he added. 'If we are basing things on today's psychology, neither the Armenians nor the Azeris are prepared to give anything away. That is today's psychology and both parties are not ready.'

He said 'any talk of the status of Nagorny Karabakh only makes it more difficult'. The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, he noted, had accepted 'this methodology' in its mediation efforts. 'The CSCE does not refer at all to the status of Nagorny Karabakh,' he said, only to the 'first aim of a ceasefire and a withdrawal of occupying forces'.

The President has enjoyed a statesman's treatment during his four-day visit. He has been received in audience by the Queen, held more than two hours of talks with the Prime Minister and laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Mr Ter Petrosian was content with assurances from the the Foreign Office that it had no knowledge of a reported scheme by British businessmen to try to send mercenaries to Azerbaijan via northern Cyprus. 'We are satisfied with the answer, so satisfied I did not raise it in my meeting with John Major,' he said.

A mixture of erudition and rugged charisma, Mr Ter Petrosian chainsmokes red Rothmans for breakfast. Born in Aleppo, Syria, 49 years ago, he has a PhD in Armenian-Assyrian literature of the 4th and 5th centuries. He understands but does not speak English, except to say 'May I smoke?' A founding member of the Armenian Karabakh Committe in 1988 - which saw the start of the war - he has been president since Armenia's independence in 1991.

(Photograph omitted)