Ghoukasian Sounds Alarm on “Step by Step” Approach

STEPANAKERT (Noyan Tapan)–Karabakh stands to loose its status as a side to the conflict–if the "step-by-step" approach to conflict resolution–proposed by the international mediators–is approved–warned Nagorno-Karabakh Republic president Arkady Ghoukassian during an address to his country’s legislature Wednesday.

Ghoukassian explained the issue creating a rift between Karabakh and Armenia was the peace proposal presented by the Minsk Group of the Organizations for Security and Cooperation in Europe

The "step-by-step" proposal–as put forth by the OSCE Minsk Group–stipulates that forces withdraw from the so-called "occupied territories–Azeri firing posts neutralized by Karabakh Self-Defense Forces–following which a discussion on further concessions and the status of Karabakh would take place.

This approach was the center piece of a major policy speech presented by Levon Ter-Petrosyan during a Sept. 26 press conference–as a result of which a severe schism was created not only between Armenia and Karabakh–which calls for a consolidated approach to conflict resolution–but also within Armenia’s ruling elite.

As a February 4 deadline for a response to the OSCE proposal looms–tensions have flared in Yerevan with the prime minister and his cabinet pitted against Ter-Petrosyan and his close circle which include the notorious mayor of Yerevan Vano Siradeghian.

In his remarks–Ghoukassian unequivocally rejected rumors and innuendo suggesting that Karabakh had rejected all approaches to conflict resolution–including the long-advocated position for a consolidated approach–which envisions a discussion of all matters related to the conflict at once with the issue of Karabakh’s status determined prior to any other discussion.

"We have not rejected a consolidated approach," said Ghoukassian–adding "we have rejected the proposal which is based on results from [the OSCE] Lisbon [summit]–which stipulated–from the onset–that Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan."

Ghoukassian stressed that Karabakh could not accept that approach–because it would mean a resignation from independence and "accepting that Karabakh is a lie and its authorities illegitimate."

The president explained that by adhering to the first step of the so-called "step-by-step" proposal–Karabakh would loose its status of a side to the conflict and that Azerbaijan would forcibly incorporate Karabakh as an Azeri community.

At that juncture–the international community could rationalize that the Karabakh issue was an internal Azeri issue–based on which the Karabakh side could be viewed as Azeri citizens during the continuation of the talks–Ghoukassian explained.

In discussing the withdrawal of forces from the so-called "occupied territories," Ghoukassian explained that at such a juncture the threat of military escalation would be far greater–since the neutralized territories serve as a secure zone–based on which the cease-fire has been maintained.

"When–today–we are being asked to withdraw from those territories–without getting anything in return–we find that to be extremely dangerous–especially since there are no guarantees which satisfy the people of Karabakh," said Ghoukassian who questioned Azerbaijan’s intentions of providing Karabakh with "absolute autonomy."

Ghoukassian explained that Azerbaijan was not a federation of states–thus it would not tolerate a state with separate policies under its control. "If today–Azerbaijan is not motivated to hold talks with Karabakh–tomorrow that generally would not occur," explained the Karabakh leader.

Ghoukassian called official Armenia’s approach to the conflict resolution unrealistic–stating that following the completion of the first step of the OSCE proposal–Azerbaijan would always have the upper hand. He questioned Azerbaijan’s willingness to lift the blockade–and stressed that Azerbaijan would–in fact–refuse to open roadways to Armenia.

The Karabakh leader also addressed the issue of foreign investment in Armenia–stressing that the Karabakh conflict was not the deterrent in investment–and blamed Armenia’s internal situation as the main factor.

He explained that currently foreign investors did not trust the current Armenian leadership–and are apprehensive about investing capital in the country.

"We must think hard about this matter and not simply tie everything to the Karabakh conflict," Ghoukassian stated–adding that Ter-Petrosyan was worried about an outbreak of war since there was no resolution. He explained that Ter-Petrosyan fears that by maintaining the status-quo there would be war.

By–once again–reiterating his agreement to certain mutual concessions–Ghoukassian said that he did not see the same sentimen’s from Azerbaijan.

"I do not see concession on the part of Azerbaijan. I would like to see from which aspect would the Azeris concede," stated Ghoukassian who urged the branching of the same debate in Azerbaijan and within Azeri political circles if that country’s commitment to peace were genuine.

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