BAKU (Combined Sources)–Azerbaijan on Monday disclosed what it said were the details of an updated version of a basic peace proposal by international mediators working to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammedyarov laid out the details of the new Madrid Principles document during a joint press conference in the Azeri capital with his Slovak counterpart Miroslav Lajcak.
The original Madrid Principles were presented by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in November 2007; they were updated last year at the urging of the presidents of France, Russia and the United States, the three countries that jointly co-chair the Minsk Group. They have still not made public any changes made in the document that was formally submitted to Armenia and Azerbaijan in Madrid late 2007.
According to Mammadyarov, the most recent draft of the Madrid Principles envisages a phased, rather than a package solution to the conflict. The various steps, according to Mammadyarov, are as follows:
- Karabakh Defense forces withdraw from the liberated districts of Agdam, Fizuli, Djebrail, Zangelan, and Gubadli and from 13 villages in the Kashatagh (Lachin) district that lies between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.
- Communications are restored and a donors’ conference convened to raise funds for post-conflict rehabilitation. “Peace-keeping observers” are deployed to ensure the security of Azerbaijani displaced persons returning to their abandoned homes.
- The second stage entails the withdrawal of the remaining Armenian forces from Kashatagh and Kelbajar, followed by the return to Nagorno-Karabakh of the former Azerbaijani population. A decision is then taken on the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic within the Azerbaijan Republic, meaning that status should not violate Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.
In that context, Mammadyarov proposed what he termed “a high level of autonomy” such as that enjoyed by Tatarstan and Bashkortostan within the Russian Federation.
It is not clear whether Mammadyarov touched on the twin points, mentioned in the joint statement released in July by the French, Russian, and U.S. presidents, of granting “interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance,” with the region’s “final legal status” to be determined “through a legally binding expression of will.”
He did say that the question of Karabakh’s final status will be determined only when all internationally displaced persons from Azerbaijan have been relocated to the liberated territories linking Armenia and Azerbaijan and once those territories have completely been transferred to Azeri control under the supervision of international security forces.
“As for self-determination, this issue is also part of international law. But this does not mean that territorial integrity can be violated,” he added. “Karabakh is Azerbaijani land and it’s not right for any territory to be beyond its administrative control.”
“If the Armenian side withdraws from the land, it will open up great opportunities for regional development, both in economic terms, and in terms of improving people’s living conditions,” Mammadyarov said. “As foreign minister, I believe that this is the best way to solve the conflict, because in this case there will be no war rhetoric.”
Azerbaijan late last month stepped up its threats to launch a new war against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and warned of a growing likelihood of “a great war” with Armenia if the Karabakh conflict is not settled immediately.
Mammedyarov last week said his administration had already accepted the Minsk Group’s modified peace proposals “with some exceptions.” He met with the Minsk Group co-chairs in Paris on March 5 to reiterate Baku’s position that the peace proposals be based on the restoration of “the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.”
The Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents are understood to have discussed this framework document at their January 25 talks in Russia hosted by President Dmitry Medvedev.
RFE/RL’s Armenian Service reported in late January, from an unidentified sources close to the negotiating process, that the remaining disagreements between the conflicting parties center on practical modalities of the referendum; the time frame for the Armenian troop withdrawal from Kelbajar and Lachin; and the status of a land corridor across Lachin that would connect the two Armenian entities.
Armenia, which has submitted proposed changes to the updated peace plan, insists that the Madrid document does not include a mechanism for transferring Karabakh to Azeri control. Official Yerevan says one of the basic principles upholds the Karabakh Armenians’ right to formalize the region’s independence from Azerbaijan in a future referendum.
In an address last month to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian said that the principle of territorial integrity “should not be emphatically underlined” when seeking a solution to the Karabakh conflict. He said Nagorno-Karabakh has never been part of an independent Azerbaijani state, and that the region seceded from the USSR in full accordance with the legislation in force in that country at the time. He went on to ask rhetorically why those who now argue that Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity must be preserved at all cots did not advance the same argument when the USSR and Yugoslavia disintegrated.
“Our belief is that the settlement of the Karabakh conflict should be based on human rights and the will of the Karabakh people as an expression of their collective identity,” Sarkisian went on. “It is the only way to achieve a lasting, feasible, and peaceful settlement.” The alternative — forcing the Karabakh population against their will to live as citizens of the Azerbaijan Republic would, Sarkisian predicted, inevitably lead to attempts by Azerbaijan to ethnically cleanse Karabakh of its Armenian population.