The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have accepted the idea of enabling the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to decide their status in a referendum but disagree on other, less significant issues, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said late Monday.
The ministry also for the first time openly blamed Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev for the collapse of his last peace talks with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian held in Bucharest on June 4-5. It warned that Yerevan could pull out of the negotiating process if Baku refuses to sign up to a framework peace accord proposed by the American, French and Russian mediators.
Key principles of that accord were revealed to RFE/RL by the new U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, Matthew Bryza, late last week. Bryza confirmed that it calls for the holding of a referendum in Karabakh after the liberation of Armenian-occupied territories in Azerbaijan surrounding the disputed enclave.
Yerevan’s reaction to the move was negative, with President Robert Kocharian saying through a spokesman that Bryza disclosed only a part of the proposed peace deal and threatening to publicize it in full.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry appears to have done just that, indicating in a written statement that the mediators also believe Karabakh should retain an overland link with Armenia and remain under Armenian control before the referendum. Still, the ministry was clearly more positive about the U.S. official’s remarks. “The co-chairs have, for the first time, affirmed that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh shall determine their own future status through a referendum,” read its statement.
“Those items over which the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to disagree do not include a referendum; that concept has been agreed to by the presidents,” it said. “The area of disagreement between the presidents has to do with the sequence in which the consequences of the military conflict are removed.”
Aliev and Kocharian reportedly disagreed, among other things, on a time frame for Armenian withdrawal from Kelbajar, one of the seven occupied Azerbaijani districts sandwiched between Karabakh and Armenia, during their previous meeting held at the Rambouillet castle outside Paris in February.
“In an attempt to resolve this remaining area of disagreement, a proposal was made by the co-chairs after Rambouillet. This proposal was accepted by Armenia in Bucharest. Azerbaijan rejected it,” the Foreign Ministry said without elaborating.
Aliev’s apparent acceptance of the referendum option, which sparked unusually upbeat statements by the mediators late last year and early this, is at odds with his repeated public statements ruling out any possibility of Karabakh’s de jure secession from Azerbaijan. While confirming the veracity of the peace deal outlined by Bryza, Azerbaijani officials say they are only ready to grant Karabakh a status of autonomy within Azerbaijan.
Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov reiterated this on Tuesday. “This could be an autonomy like [the Azerbaijani exclave of] Nakhichevan, [the Russian autonomous republics of] Tatarstan and Bashkiria and other entities,” he said, according to Day.az.
The Foreign Ministry in Yerevan made it clear, however, that Karabakh’s return under Azerbaijani control is non-negotiable for the Armenian side and said Baku must instead go along with the Minsk Group plan. “Armenia finds that the basic principles, overall, on the table today remain a serious basis for continuing negotiations,” it said. “Armenia is prepared to continue on that basis to negotiate with Azerbaijan; Armenia believes that Azerbaijan’s wavering on these principles is a serious obstacle to progress in the negotiations. If this policy continues, Armenia will insist that Azerbaijan conduct direct negotiations with Nagorno-Karabakh.”
(Photolur photo: Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.)