Azerbaijan ‘Against Referendum in Karabakh’

BAKU (RFE/RL)–A senior Azeri official said on Monday that Azerbaijan has never accepted a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that would culminate in a referendum in Karabakh proper–despite Armenian claims to the contrary.

Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov was quoted by the Turan news agency as saying that Baku believes such a vote should instead take place on Azerbaijan’s entire internationally recognized territory. "That is reflected in the [Azeri] constitution and the country’s leadership does not intend to revise its opinion," he said.

In a statement last week–Armenia’s Foreign Ministry said at the heart of a peaceful settlement proposed by the American–French and Russian mediators is the idea of enabling Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population to determine its status in a referendum after the liberation of most Armenian-occupied lands in Azerbaijan proper.

The ministry asserted that Presidents Ilham Aliyev and Robert Kocharian agreed on this formula during their recent face-to-face negotiations. "The area of disagreement between the presidents has to do with the sequence in which the consequences of the military conflict are removed," it said.

A separate statement by the mediators made public two days later likewise said that Karabakh’s status would be decided in a "referendum or population vote." But it did not specify where that vote would take place and who would be eligible to participate in it. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian insisted on Thursday that the framework peace accord put forward by the mediators makes it clear that the decision on the status is to be made by the "population of Nagorno-Karabakh."

Azimov was reported to have denied this–accusing Yerevan of "distorting the content of the talks" and interpreting the referendum idea "in a manner advantageous to them." He also indicated Baku’s discontent with the mediators’ statement–saying that the French–Russian and US co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group disclosed and "took out of context" only some key points of the proposed peace deal.

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