Melkoumian Discusses Karabakh Settlement in Washington

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–Voice of America reported that in Washington–Foreign Minister of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Naira Melkoumian restated Nagorno-Karabakh’s support of the OSCE peace process and reaffirmed its dedication to a negotiated settlement. According to her–the people and the government of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic are committed to peace and have been ready all along to engage in direct negotiations with the Republic of Azerbaijan to resolve the current conflict.

"The compromises we are being asked to make by the international community must–however–take place within the context of a people’s right to self-determination and within an equitable negotiation framework that requires balanced concessions by both parties. Unfortunately–this has not been the case so far. Instead–it has become clear that–through the recent OSCE Minsk Group process–our Republic has come under pressure to accept a settlement based on concessions on our part–which have yet to be negotiated by the parties to the conflict," she stressed.

Melkoumian said that security–legal status–territorial issues–and refugee resettlement are all legitimate topics for discussion. However–the Nagorno-Karabakh government believes that none of these issues should be predetermined by the mediating group as a precondition for formal negotiations.

"The best illustration of this unfortunate mentality was the statement issued by the Chairman-in-Office during the 1996 OSCE Lisbon summit which–although non-binding–essentially endorsed Azerbaijan’s position–thus creating the current impasse. Effectively demanding unilateral concessions on the part of Nagorno-Karabakh–the Lisbon formula essentially prevented any progress toward peace for more than a year," Melkoumian said.

Melkoumian said that Karabakh is working toward peace–and firmly believes that a compromise solution is possible–consistent with its self-determination goals and security concerns.

"The depopulation of Armenia’s from Nakhichevan–formerly an integral part of the Republic of Armenia–by the Soviet Azeri administration serves as a disturbing precedent of what may be in store for Karabakh if it were stripped of its independence and–once again–forced under Azeri control," Melkoumian said.

Melkoumian was asked how Azerbaijan may lift the blockade of Karabakh and Armenia–if its territories are still controlled by Stepanakert–and how the deported Azebaijanis may return to their villages in Karabakh–if a couple of days ago Azerbaijan marked "the day of destruction of Khojalou village." She was asked whether she was sure that Azeri refugees will not experience such tragedies in Karabakh.

Melkoumian answered–"The government of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has never said that it would not return the occupied Azeri territories: these territories were occupied to prevent shelling of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory from the Azeri side. The reason for which those territories were seized was that we want to turn them into buffer zones.

"Azerbaijan imposed the blockade on Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh three years ago even before the war broke out–and this cannot be justified.

"As to the tragic events in Khojalou–this is a very sad case–which–however–took place during the military operations–whereas the pogroms of the Armenian civilians in Sumgait and then in Baku were not connected with the military operations and were in no way justified. So–Armenia’s were also subjected to what had happened in Khojalou."

Regarding Robert Kocharian’s alleged statement that that he would obstruct the installation of the oil pipe-line if it does not traverse Nagorno-Karabakh–Melkoumian said she had not heard that statement. She said that is slanderous and vowed to specify the source of misinformation upon her return to Karabakh.

Melkoumian also said that direct talks between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan would not secure Azerbaijan’s recognition of Karabakh’s independence. Georgia and Abkhazia–and Russia and Chechnya were also engaged in direct talks–however–neither Russia nor Georgia recognized the independence of Chechnya and Abkhazia–Melkoumian pointed out.

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