Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Jan 19 13:43:54 UTC 2005

Haroutiun Khachatrian: 1/10/05

As they look back at 2004, both Armenia and Azerbaijan are claiming that
fresh hope now exists for a permanent peace agreement on the status of the
breakaway enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Yet for all the official optimism,
few concrete results exist to point to anything but more of the same
impasse. Progress has been achieved in the settlement of the hardest
problem of our country and the region. [The] Armenia-Azerbaijan,
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told viewers
in his New Years television address, the state news agency AzerTag
reported. It is no secret that 2004 marked the turning point in this

In Armenia, government officials were no less optimistic. "We were able to
eliminate the obstacles that appeared recently on the way to resumption of
the negotiations around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," Foreign Minister
Vartan Oskanian declared at a December 14 news conference. But in the end,
the past year was more about small steps than significant strides. Signs
of a possible minor breakthrough began in August, when Oskanian and his
Azerbaijanni counterpart, Elmar Mamedyarov held four meetings in Prague.
Diplomatic sources state that having the two sides foreign ministers meet,
rather than Aliyev and Kocharian, resulted in some degree of progress. The
meetings of the presidents are more difficult to organize, whereas the
ministers are more free in their schedules and can meet more frequently, a
high-ranking Armenian diplomat told EurasiaNet, speaking on condition of

Details from these talks remain a secret, yet Armenian officials have
stated that the principles discussed for a potential permanent agreement
mirrored those forged by Kocharian and Heidar Aliyev, father of the
current Azerbaijan president, in Paris and Key West, Florida in 2001. [For
background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The so-called Key West
principles reportedly provided for the accession of Nagorno-Karabakh to
Armenia in exchange for Azerbaijan gaining unfettered access to the
Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan, separated from Azerbaijan by Armenia.
No further progress has been made on this deal, although Armenian
officials state that both sides are close to a modified version of these

There have been no principal changes in Armenia's position on the issue of
the peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict, Foreign Minister
Oskanian told a news conference in Yerevan on December 22. "We must choose
an all-embracing solution of the Karabakh problem. The self-determination
of the Nagorno Karabkh people must be recognized, and we will not sign any
document without the recognition of this fact.

While the meetings in Prague had little immediate effect, they did pave
the way for Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev to hold detailed discussions
at the September 15-16 Commonwealth of Independent States summit in
Astana, Kazakhstan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The
five-hour meeting, attended in part by the co-chairmen of the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europes Minsk Group and Russian President
Vladimir Putin, led to expressions of cautious optimism by both Kocharian
and Aliyev. Reliable diplomatic sources, however, go further, stating that
the two leaders had in fact reached a consensus on some principal points,
but had required additional time to lobby at home for the agreement.

If so, little sign of that tentative agreement has occurred. On November
23, 2004, Azerbaijan introduced a draft resolution about Nagorno-Karabakh
and the seven occupied Azerbaijani territories to the United Nations
General Assembly. The resolution criticized Yerevan for allegedly settling
these areas with ethnic Armenians. Under pressure from the Minsk Group,
Baku eventually withdrew its resolution, in return for the formation of a
special OSCE fact-finding mission that will examine conditions in these
territories. The mission, which includes the Minsk Group co-chairmen and
representatives from Finland, Germany, Italy and Sweden, will travel to
Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven territories by late January or early
February 2005, AzerNews reported.

In a December 25 interview with the Baku-based newspaper Echo, Yurii
Merzlaikov, the Russian co-chaiman of the Minsk Group, the body charged
with overseeing the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiation process, commented that
the time spent on the resolution had only further delayed discussion of
the principles both sides hold in agreement. Nonetheless, hope within the
international community still persists. During a December 7-8 meeting of
the OSCE Ministerial Council in Sofia, Bulgaria, members of the 55-country
organization reached a consensus on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, urging
Presidents Aliyev and Kocharian to take the framework reached in Astana
into account and to go forward based on it. (Read the ducument in PDF
format) But in Yerevan, some officials involved with the process say they
see no sign of an immediate breakthrough. The frameworks of the agreements
elaborated in Astana are very vague, and there is still a lot of work to
do, the Armenian diplomat told EurasiaNet. The Armenian and Azerbaijani
foreign ministers have already met twice after the standoff over
Azerbaijans UN initiative, and another meeting is planned for the near

Even if the two reach an agreement on the final outline for a settlement
deal, however, Kocharian and Aliyev will then face the task of persuading
their countries to agree to the plan. Given problems with political
stability that face both leaders, the task is unlikely to be readily

Editors Note: Haroutiun Khachatrian is a Yerevan-based writer specializing
in economic and political affairs.

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