Following meetings with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev on Saturday told the Russian state-run television that while he understood the importance of a land link between Armenia and Nagrono-Karabakh, he envisioned the Lachin corridor to become a crossing path for both Armenians and Azeris alike following the final resolution of the conflict.
Meanwhile in Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that without a resolution to the Karabakh conflict there would be no deal on the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border, effectively telling his constituency to not hold their breath for an immediate solution.
Lachin, or Kashatagh as it is known in Armenian, is a vital and strategic area and serves as a main link between Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. In fact, one of the first projects that the Armenia Fund undertook and successfully completed was the construction of Lachin corridor–a highway connecting Armenia to Stepanakert via Lachin.
Aliyev also demanded that all liberated territories be “returned” to Azerbaijan and outlined that Lachin would serve as transport route for the eventual return of Azeris formerly living in Karabakh-proper.
“Azerbaijan’s position on Nagorno-Karabakh reflects both the security of the people who live there now and will live there in the future, as well as issues of Nagorno-Karabakh’s local administration and restoration of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity,” Aliyev said in the interview, hinting that the any decision on the status of the Karabakh could be postponed indefinitely, until the so-called withdrawal of “Armenian forces” from the liberated territories.
Through various announcements, statements and leaks, it has become evident that Aliyev’s announcements this weekend are a reiteration of the so-called Madrid Principles on which the OSCE Minsk Group is leading the conflict-resolution process, and pressure is mounting on Armenia to quickly adhere to these principles and move forward to ensure that a blueprint for regional stability that will make Armenia more vulnerable is adopted.
There are various problems to this harried effort to reach a deal, not the least of which is the conflict between the principles of territorial integrity and the right to self-determination of peoples. While Aliyev clearly is pushing for a return of the administrative borders of the former Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous oblast as defined by the Soviets, the population of Karabakh has made it clear, through a popular referendum, that Karabakh’s borders include the liberated territories. Furthermore, the Soviet borders also include the Shahumian region, which was the scene of brutal Azeri attacks and mass deportation of Armenians.
The new vigor that, once again, has placed Karabakh center-stage of the region and the sense of urgency with which the two issues–Turkish-Armenia border and Karabakh–are being forced down everyone’s throat, leave room for irreparable damage and mistakes.
Armenian officials have reiterated their position of no preconditions for the Turkey talks and, on numerous occasions, have advocated the right to self-determination of the people of Karabakh, but it is time for them to veer away from rhetorical statements and present a comprehensive plan that would clearly delineate what we, as Armenians, will gain in the event of a deal on both fronts.
With Azerbaijan’s vocal and often confrontational approach to the Karabakh issue, it is also time for a more urgent push to bring Karabakh to the negotiating table, as this critical void in the peace process could become the key for lasting peace in the region.