The international mediators have been pushing for a resolution of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh that would enable its predominantly Armenian population to determine the disputed territory’s status in a popular vote, a senior U.S. official confirmed on Friday.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev, meanwhile, described as “hopeless” the U.S.-led efforts to broker a compromise solution to dispute and ruled out any peace deal that would not place Karabakh back under Azerbaijani control.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, the new U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, disclosed the main principles of a framework peace accord which is being discussed by the conflicting parties. He said the proposed vote would take place “at some point” in the future after the liberation of Armenian-occupied lands in Azerbaijan, the deployment of an international peace-keeping force in the conflict zone and the restoration of political and economic ties between the two South Caucasus foes.
The disclosed details essentially confirm the veracity of Karabakh-related information leaked by officials in Baku and Yerevan over the past year. With the mediators sounding unusually optimistic about peace prospects, Armenia and Azerbaijan reportedly agreed to this formula in principle and their presidents were widely expected to seal the deal early this year. However, two rounds of face-to-face negotiations held by Presidents Aliev and Robert Kocharian in February and early June ended in failure, all but dashing hopes for a near-term solution to the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute.
Bryza refused to reveal the stumbling blocks that are precluding a long-awaited Karabakh settlement and expressed hope instead that Aliev and Kocharian will overcome their differences. “We would very much encourage the presidents to accept this framework, which requires a lot of political courage,” Bryza said, speaking from Vienna where he attended a session of the OSCE’s decision-making Permanent Council that confirmed him as the new Minsk Group co-chair.
Most Armenian and Azerbaijani observers believe the proposed referendum would almost certainly formalize Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan and de facto reunification with Armenia, even if it is held at least a decade after the start of Armenian troop withdrawal.
Aliev and other Azerbaijani leaders have repeatedly stated in recent months that they will never accept a loss of Karabakh. “We can never let Nagorno-Karabakh be separated from Azerbaijan and this cannot be a subject of negotiations,” Aliev declared on Friday during a graduating ceremony held at Azerbaijan’s top military academy.
“Azerbaijan's territorial integrity is recognized by the whole world and the UN,” he said in remarks broadcast by Azad Azarbaycan television. “The whole world recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh as an inseparable part of Azerbaijan. This is true from the historical, legal, political and other viewpoints.”
International efforts to mediate the conflict are "hopeless," and Azerbaijan is willing only to negotiate the restoration of its full control over Karabakh, Aliev said, according to AFP news agency. Aliev also repeated his view that Armenia can no longer compete with his oil-rich nation “neither economically, nor politically and militarily.”
“Let Armenia think where Azerbaijan will be in one year's time, in three years' time, in five years' time, and where Armenia will be,” Aliev said. Oil will bring Azerbaijan $140 billion over the next two decades, and "there is no doubt we will use this money to strengthen the army so that it can return our lands at any moment," he added.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, for his part, said last week that Baku is only ready to give Karabakh broad autonomy comparable to the status of the Russian republic of Tatarstan. Mammadyarov’s Armenian counterpart, Vartan Oskanian, dismissed the offer on Wednesday as a “retreat from the letter and spirit” of the ongoing Karabakh talks.
“Offering autonomy to a people who have for nearly two decades been in control of their lives on their own historic lands is at the very least self-deception,” Oskanian said in a speech at the opening session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
(Photolur photo: Matthew Bryza.)