Oskanian Doesn’t Rule Out Uniting Karabakh with Armenia

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan–RFE/RL)–Armenia’s Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told a press conference Wednesday that if the deadlock over a compromise on the Karabakh conflict continues–Armenia could re-unite with Karabakh–an issue which has not been discussed since 1991.

"If within two–three–four or five years Azerbaijan does not change its current position over the Karabakh conflict–then Armenia will be forced to decide the question through new methods on of which may by reuniting with Nagorno-Karabakh," said Oskanian at a news conference.

[Incidentally–in reporting the news–Reuters news agency called Oskanian’s statemen’s for a union between Armenia and Karabakh annexation–a word never used by Oskanian per several sources reporting the same news from Armenia.]

Oskanian said Armenia was compromising by not now insisting on full recognition of Karabakh’s independence or on reunion–but voiced concern Azerbaijan could rebuild its army with petrodollars from its new-found Caspian Sea oil wealth.

"Armenia cannot wait for concessions from Azerbaijan for a decade–knowing that Azerbaijan has great possibilities to strengthen its army with petrodollars and opt for a military solution," he said.

"We have made big concessions in the expectation that Azerbaijan will also make concessions and forget the idea of autonomy," he said.

Oskanian said by renouncing the pursuit of Karabakh’s outright independence–Armenia has made major concessions and it is now Baku’s turn to reciprocate.

"Azerbaijan should renounce any hope about Karabakh becoming its autonomous province," he said. Karabakh Armenia’s say they are ready to engage in a "horizontal relationship" with Baku–excluding any "subordination" of the one to the other. But Azerbaijan rejects that demand–saying it is ready to grant the Armenian-populated enclave the "highest degree of autonomy."

Oskanian said that Armenia will have to strengthen its political and military commitment to the security of its Karabakh brethren unless Baku softens its position over the next few years. Among other things–he said–Yerevan would consider recognizing Karabakh’s independence and providing other security guarantees.

Oskanian also said that Azerbaijan’s "extreme and intransigent" position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict thwarts the OSCE Minsk Group’s efforts to mediate a just solution–leaving the peace process in deadlock. Unlike Azerbaijan– Armenia and the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic consistently reject the Minsk Group’s "phased" peace plan whereby Karabakh Armenian forces are to withdraw from the occupied territories in Azerbaijan proper ahead of an agreement on the disputed region’s status. The Armenia’s call for a new "package" plan–resolving all sticking points by a single framework accord.

Oskanian added that international mediators from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are ready to make changes in their peace plan on Nagorno-Karabakh but meet strong resistance from Azerbaijan.

Also–commenting on his visit to Washington last week–Oskanian said he repeated Yerevan’s opposition to efforts to repeal the Congressional ban on direct US aid to Azerbaijan. The Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act was passed by Congress in 1992–largely as a result of the lobbying activities of the influential Armenian-American community.

One of the recent initiatives aimed at repealing the ban and currently discussed by the US Senate–the so-called "Silk Road Act," envisages active US efforts in promoting trade routes from Central Asia to the West across the Caucasus.

Oskanian said lifting US sanctions against Azerbaijan would encourage the latter to toughen its stance on Nagorno-Karabakh and continue its economic blockade of Armenia. He argued that the initiative–which is intended to encompass all regional countries–cannot be workable as long as Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey remain closed.

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