YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Official Yerevan welcomed on Sunday the United States’, Russia’s and France’s latest calls for Armenia and Azerbaijan to finalize a framework peace accord on Nagorno-Karabakh proposed by them.
Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said the settlement favored by the three mediating powers upholds the Karabakh Armenians’ right to gain international recognition of the disputed region’s secession from Azerbaijan.
A diplomatic source in Yerevan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Monday that Nalbandian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov, will meet in Almaty, Kazakhstan next month in another attempt to push the faltering peace process further forward.
The talks, also confirmed by official Azerbaijani sources, will take place on the sidelines of an informal ministerial meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe scheduled for July 16-17. The American, French and Russian diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group are due to visit the conflict zone earlier in July.
The U.S., Russian and French presidents indirectly announced the Almaty talks in a joint statement on Karabakh issued during the weekend Group of Eight meeting in Canada. They said they are instructing their foreign ministers to “work intensively to assist the two sides to overcome their differences” ahead of the Almaty gathering.
Presidents Barack Obama, Dmitry Medvedev and Nicolas Sarkozy also urged their Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts to “complete the work on the Basic Principles” of Karabakh peace that were formally put forward by the Minsk Group co-chairs in Madrid in late 2007. They stressed that the peace framework must also be based on the OSCE’s “Helsinki Principles,” which include territorial integrity of states, peoples’ right to self-determination and non-use of force.
“We commend the desire and consistent efforts of the leaders of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries — Russia, the USA and France, in supporting the sides to bring their positions closer and move forward with the peaceful settlement of the conflict,” Nalbandian said in a written statement.
Nalbandian said Obama, Medvedev and Sarkozy “re-endorsed” principles which Armenia regards as “a basis for negotiations.” He singled out their remark that Karabakh’s final status must be determined by “a legally-binding expression of will.” He construed this as “a recognition to realize the right to self-determination by the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.”
An official Russian translation of the U.S.-Russian-French statement released by the Kremlin seems to explicitly confirm that, referring to “a legally-binding expression of the will of [Nagorno-Karabakh’s] population.”
According Armenian officials, that would be done through a future referendum in which Karabakh’s population would be able to vote for independence, reunification with Armenia or return under Azerbaijani rule.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and other top officials have repeatedly made clear that Baku will never come to terms with Karabakh’s loss. Some of them have said that the Karabakh Armenians would only determine the extent of their autonomy within Azerbaijan. Mammadyarov, for his part, stated in March that all Azerbaijanis must vote in the would-be referendum on Karabakh’s status.
Aliyev’s top military aide similarly claimed on Saturday that Karabakh’s population is not entitled to self-determination. “There can be no such concept as the ‘people of Karabakh,’” Lieutenant General Vahid Aliyev told the Trend news agency. “Just as there can be no concept of ‘the people of Kyurdamir’ or any other [Azerbaijani] district. Only a population — and not only Armenian — resided in Karabakh.”
Just how the conflicting parties can reconcile these diametrically opposite approaches expressed in public remains unclear. According to Medvedev’s office, Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian narrowed their differences on the proposed settlement when they last met in Saint Petersburg on June 17 for talks hosted by the Russian leader.
The reported progress was called into serious question the next day by the worst Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire violation in Karabakh reported in over two years. Four Armenian soldiers were killed in what was a deliberate Azerbaijani attack on a Karabakh defense outpost. Both Sarkisian and Nalbandian linked the incident with the Saint Petersburg talks.
Gagik Melikian, a senior lawmaker from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), told journalists on Saturday that Medvedev submitted to Aliyev and Sarkisian new peace “proposals” which he described as “favorable” for the Armenian side. Melikian claimed that Aliyev did not like them and cut short his trip to the Russian city as a result.
Nalbandian noted, however, that the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents took a “significant step” towards peace and “agreed to continue the negotiations on this basis.” “The upcoming days will show whether Azerbaijan is ready to move by that route or whether it would continue its bellicose stance attempting to fail the negotiation process through new provocations and unconstructive steps,” he said.
Azerbaijan has so far refrained from clearly assessing the Saint Petersburg talks. An Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman said only on June 19 that the Armenians should “realize the necessity of turning the quantity of meetings on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement into quality.”