By Harry Tamrazian in Prague and Hrant Alexanian in Sepanakert
Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheshlav Trubnikov and French Co-Chairman Phillippe Suremain
The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen, representing The United States, Russia and France broke a lull in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process by a visit to the region, which started on Saturday in Baku. The three diplomats were accompanied by the First Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Vyacheslav Trubnikov who has been an active participant in the mediation process, during repeated meetings between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan this year.
On Sunday, the four diplomats met President Heydar Aliev of Azerbaijan in a meeting lasting four hours, during which they apparently presented fresh proposals aimed at solving the thirteen-year old conflict. The nature of those proposals remain unclear as all sides keep the details of the negotiations secret. However, following negotiations this year in Paris and Key West, Fl. between presidents Robert Kocharian and Aliev, it was understood that the Minsk Group co-chairmen would submit new proposals to satisfy demands from both sides. Armenia insists that Nagorno-Karabakh should maintain its governing independence from Baku and be linked to Armenia via the Lachin corridor. Azerbaijan opposes de facto independence for the Armenian inhabited enclave and tries to get as many concessions as it can to uphold its sovereignty on the break-away region.
It is possible that the OSCE mediators who arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh from Baku on Monday and will travel on to Armenia on Tuesday have brought proposals that would address demands by the Armenian side and at the same time appease Azerbaijan. One possibility is that they would ask the Armenians to begin withdrawals from some the areas it captured during the war, which lie outside the borders of the enclave. President Alieve told the mediators in Baku that the conflict can not be resolved if they do not take into account the reality that the Armenian side keeps Azeri territories under occupation and Azerbaijan has one million refugees.
Today, the four diplomats crossed the silent war front between the opposing forces and traveled to Stepanakert, the capital of nagorno-Karabakh. During the crossing however, an incident became a stark reminder of the unresolved conflict. As Azerbaijani military personnel were attempting to disarm an anti-personnel mine to open the way for the diplomats, it exploded injuring three Azerbaijani servicemen.
Once on the Armenian side, the diplomats voiced regret for the incident as they spoke to reporters about their mission. Saying very little about the new proposals, they dismissed recent calls by various Azerbaijani circles of resolving the conflict through military means. Russian co-chairman Nikolay Gribkov said, “ As we understood from our conversations in Baku, they also want peace. In spite of some war rhetoric, most politicians and most importantly President Aliev himself made it very clear that they are for a peaceful solution only”.
Asked about chances of success, the newly appointed American co-chairman Rudolf Perina said, “ The negotiating process does not depend only on us, but it also depends on the two nations and on how fast they wish to go forward.”
Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov in turn said that a lot depends on presidents Kocharian and Aliyev, although the position of Nagorno-Karabakh is also crucial.
French co-chairman Phillippe Suremain sounded optimistic. He said that the resources to achieve a settlement are there. The peace process lasted longer that the mediators thought it would, he added, but substantial steps have been taken and there are some final details left that have to be addressed.
The diplomats met with Nagorno-Karabakh President, Arkady Ghougassian this evening but there are no details available yet. They are scheduled to meet with president Kocharian once they conclude their visit in Stepanakert and travel on to Armenia.