Armenian FM Says No Azeri Rule for Karabakh

YEREVAN (Reuters)–Armenia rejects the idea of Azeri rule in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh but does not rule out the mountainous territory remaining nominally within Azerbaijan–Armenia’s Foreign Minister said on Thursday. "We will not accept any subjugation to Azerbaijan for Nagorno-Karabakh–any vertical relationship with Azerbaijan," Vartan Oskanian said in an interview. "But anything on the level of horizontal ties will be seriously considered by the Armenian side," he said.

The United States has recently ratcheted up efforts to find a solution to the 13-year conflict between the two former Soviet republics. Earlier this month Secretary of State Colin Powell hosted peace talks in the Florida resort of Key West. Mediators are preparing a new peace proposal which will be presented to leaders of both sides in Geneva in June.

In the past–Armenia has called for full independence for Nagorno-Karabakh–whose mainly ethnic Armenian population tried to break away from Azeri rule in 1988–triggering six years of fighting in which around 35,000 people died. A cease-fire was called in 1994 after the Azeri army suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Armenian forces–and some 800,000 people fled their homes. "We do know there has to be compromise," said Oskanian. "You can’t have your cake and eat it too."

Three previous peace proposals have already been rejected by either Azerbaijan or Armenia–and another failure by U.S.–French and Russian mediators could be disastrous–Oskanian said. "They will be extremely careful not to put something on paper that will be rejected outright by one or the other side because that will be a major setback,” he said. “The whole process would be undermined and questioned by everybody.” vOskanian said a deal is unlikely to be signed in Geneva as each side will want to discuss the proposals at home where they both face bellicose opposition. “Both countries have their extremists and radicals. Those views have to be taken into consideration,” he said. “We will come home and have a public discussion of the document." If necessary–Armenia would hold a referendum on the issue and would include the population of Nagorno-Karabakh in the vote–Oskanian said.

“Karabakh would have to be involved–the Karabakh leadership would have to be involved,” he said. “They have to have their say and they would have to be a signatory to this peace agreement.” So far Azerbaijan has refused to recognize or negotiate with the Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Last week Azeri Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev said he was not optimistic that the mediators–working under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe–would come up with an acceptable deal. Azerbaijan has offered Nagorno-Karabakh a “high degree of autonomy” but it is not clear whether this goes far enough for Armenia.

“The messages we’re getting from Baku are pretty contradictory,” Oskanian said. “But (the mediators) think there’s enough convergence of views to go further… We think we have a pretty good chance to make the Geneva talks a success.”

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