Oskanian Says Karabakh Independence Key Bargaining Chip

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian side’s insistence on the existence of "firm legal grounds" for Nagorno-Karabakh’s full independence or its re-unification with Armenia is an important bargaining chip in the internationally sponsored peace talks with Azerbaijan–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian revealed on Friday.

"In terms of strengthening of our negotiating position–is extremely important for us to substantiate the extreme. Namely–the legal grounds for Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence or re-unification with Armenia," Oskanian told RFE/RL in a telephone interview from New York.

He argued that in order to reach a mutually acceptable compromise agreement with Azerbaijan–the Armenia’s should "show that we are giving up something because Karabakh deserves to have a status which is higher than the one proposed by the international community."

Oskanian claimed that the case for Karabakh becoming an internationally recognized part of Armenia is "much stronger" than Azerbaijan’s insistence on the preservation of its territorial integrity.

He said the Armenian argument that the disputed enclave has never been part of independent Azerbaijan and that the Soviet Azeri leadership denied the Karabakh people the right to live according to their own rules and values carries weight with the international community.

Oskanian reiterated that argument in a speech at the UN General Assembly on Thursday.

His Azeri counterpart–Vilayat Guliev–argued in his address to the UN body that "the right of self determination cannot be regarded as a right for forcible separation of a part of a territory of a state."

Asked whether Karabakh’s full secession from Azerbaijan is currently discussed by the conflicting parties and international mediators–Oskanian replied: "When you are in talks you should not rule out any option?The final variant [of the peace accord] will be decided during the negotiations."

Commenting on the impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks on US policy on the South Caucasus–Oskanian admitted that Armenia’s arch-rival neighbors–Turkey and Azerbaijan–have now greater significance for Washington as "moderate Muslim countries."

He said Armenia "should come to terms with that fact" and try to "minimize its possible negative effects."

He at the same time stressed that the latest rapprochement between the US and Russia has positive implications for Armenia and the entire region.

During his speech at the United Nations– Oskanian asserted the right of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian population to live–in his words–free of foreign occupation and said that Azerbaijan is at fault for the continuing dispute over the enclave.

"Azerbaijan’s insistence on inventing numbers–redefining terms–creating history and obfuscating discussion are part of the problem and not a search for a solution," Oskanian said–adding that Karabakh has never been a part of independent Azerbaijan and its residents have earned the right to live according to their own rules and values.

He said for 10 years Armenian representatives have affirmed at the UN general debate the right of Karabakh’s residents to live according to their basic beliefs.

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