Progress on Nagorno-Karabakh

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Apr 19 20:08:18 UTC 2005


Eurasia Insight:
Emil Danielyan: 4/18/05

French, Russian and US diplomats, acting under the aegis of the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europes Minsk Group, are
guardedly optimistic about the latest push to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict. Their optimism is reinforced by the Armenian government's
apparent efforts in recent weeks to prepare public opinion for major
concessions to Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and his Armenian
counterpart Vardan Oskanian held proximity talks with Minsk Group
officials in London on April 15. The discussions sought to finalize
details of a summit meeting between the Azerbaijani and Armenian
presidents sometime in May. International mediators believe those talks
could prove crucial in breaking the existing stalemate in the Karabakh
peace process. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

In a rare joint statement timed to coincide with London talks, the
mediators declared that the protracted peace process has entered a
"sensitive juncture, where a first step towards an agreement mediated by
the [Minsk Group] Co-Chairs could be at hand in the framework of the
discussions between the parties." At the same time, the Minsk Group
co-chairs expressed concern about increased ceasefire violations along the
Armenian-Azerbaijani frontline east of Karabakh, warning that renewed
fighting would be "disastrous" for both South Caucasus neighbors. [For
background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Participants have remained tight-lipped, declining to speak about the
substance of the discussions. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said only that
they focused on preparations for the meeting between Presidents Robert
Kocharian of Armenia and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan. It is expected to
take place in mid-May. Mammadyarov told Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty
(RFE/RL) that the talks were productive, adding that more discussions were
needed to bring the positions of the two countries closer together.
Armenian and Azerbaijani diplomats are expected to hold another round of
discussions in Frankfurt on April 27.

Yuri Merzlyakov, the Russian co-chair of the Minsk Group, said earlier
that the two foreign ministers would be presented with new peace proposals
drawn up by the mediating troika. He indicated that Aliyev and Kocharian
should personally discuss and pass judgment on those proposals. The
co-chairs believe that there needs to be a political decision at the
highest level, Merzlyakov told RFE/RL.

This might explain why the Minsk Group statement urged the conflicting
parties to prepare their populations for a balanced negotiated agreement
that will require compromise on both sides. Official Yerevan appears to be
doing just that, with Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian, Kocharian's most
powerful lieutenant, taking center stage in the effort.

The conflict's resolution will indeed be painful for both the Armenian and
Azerbaijani peoples because mutual compromise means giving up some of what
you have, he told parliamentary hearings on Karabakh on March 30. Speaking
to journalists a few days later, Sarkisian, who commanded Karabakh
Armenian forces during their victorious war with Azerbaijan, derided
hard-line nationalist groups opposed to any compromise with Azerbaijan. Do
we want another war? he asked. Did we lose few of our boys, our comrades
[during the first war]?

Kocharian likewise publicly stated on April 13 that Armenian concessions
on Karabakh are inevitable. One of those concessions is his
administration's obvious retreat from its demands for a so-called package
peace accord that would settle all contentious issues at once. During the
Karabakh conflicts hot phase  from 1992-94  Armenian forces occupied broad
swaths of Azerbaijani territory that surround the enclave. Yerevan, along
with Karabakh Armenian leaders, have for years insisted that the return of
the Armenian-occupied land is impossible without a determination of
Karabakhs status -- the main bone of contention. [For background see the
Eurasia Insight archive].

Azerbaijan, meanwhile, wants a step-by-step solution to the territorial
dispute, in which a determination on Karabakhs status would be
indefinitely postponed until after the return of occupied Azerbaijani
lands, the restoration of economic ties between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as
well as other confidence-building measures.

Armenian leaders indicate that they are now ready to accept the
step-by-step formula so long as they get other international guarantees of
continued Armenian control over Karabakh. Sarkisian noted in his
parliamentary testimony that this could include a formal pledge by the
international community to hold a referendum of independence in Karabakh.
It also could include an international guarantee that Azerbaijan would
refrain from undertaking offensive military operations.

Speaking in Yerevan on April 6, Russia's former chief Karabakh negotiator
and a staunch advocate of the gradual settlement, Vladimir Kazimirov,
said: Whereas in the past the Armenians were saying, Package, package and
nothing other than package, it looks as though they are now considering a
phased options as well.

The new peace proposals are thus widely thought to be based on the phased
strategy of conflict resolution which was embraced by Armenia's former
president, Levon Ter-Petrosian. He was forced to resign in February 1998
after publicly advocating a step-by-step Minsk Group plan rejected by key
members of his government, including then Prime Minister Kocharian.

Ter-Petrosian allies now say time has proved the ex-president right. They
(the current Armenian leadership) have already abandoned their victorious
policies and  reverted to our concept of conflict resolution without
shying away from repeating our arguments," one of them, former parliament
speaker Babken Ararktsian, told the Yerevan daily "Haykakan Zhamanak" on
April 12.

Negotiators have come close to striking a deal on Karabakh on several past
occasions, most recently during the Key West peace conference in April
2001. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. But last-minute
disagreements and other snags always scuttled the signing of a formal
treaty. Observers therefore caution that, despite the building optimism,
the discussions could collapse yet again.

Oskanian, the Armenian Foreign Minister, guarded against excessive
expectations from the latest push for Karabakh peace as he met reporters
ahead of the London talks. The conflicting parties, he said, have reached
general understandings about the course of the peace process. But when we
go into details, we see that our positions are still very far apart, he

Editors Note: Emil Danielyan is a Yerevan-based journalist and political

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