By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert
International mediators trying to broker a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict headed on Friday to the Azerbaijani capital Baku after holding talks the previous night with Karabakh Armenian leaders in Stepanakert.
The French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group described as “positive” their meeting with Arkady Ghukasian, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Ghukasian’s office said participants agreed that the parties must continue their search for a peaceful resolution of the dispute based on a “mutually acceptable compromise.”
Karabakh officials at the same time voiced their frustration at Stepanakert’s continuing exclusion from high-level Armenian-Azerbaijani contacts, with Ghukasian telling the mediators that a peace deal would be “more than problematic” without the NKR’s endorsement. Speaking with local reporters on Friday, Ghukasian cautioned against having high expectations from the mediators’ visit.
“The Minsk Group will achieve no results as long as the Karabakh side does not participate in negotiations,” said Maxim Mirzoyan, a senior member of the Karabakh parliament representing the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). The chairman of the parliament’s foreign relations committee, Vahram Atanesian, similarly deplored the mediators’ emphasis on face-to-face contacts between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan refuses to recognize the NKR as a separate party to the conflict, viewing its leadership as a puppet regime governed from Yerevan.
The Minsk Group troika, including Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov, began their latest tour of the conflict zone from Yerevan on Thursday. Trubnikov said after a meeting with President Robert Kocharian that the parties remain committed to major agreements on Karabakh they reached during intensive peace talks in Paris and the Florida island of Key West at the beginning of last year.
The co-chairs were also quoted by the Karabakh president’s office as congratulating Ghukasian on his recent reelection as NKR president. The reported gesture was all the more surprising given strong criticism of the August presidential election in Karabakh voiced by Russia and the European Union, of which France is a leading member. They said in the run-up to the vote that no election held in the dispute region can be deemed legitimate until the conflict’s settlement.
Meanwhile, the troika was on Thursday accused of pro-Armenian bias by an angry Azerbaijani crowd that picketed the Baku offices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. AFP reported that protesters from the militant Organization for the Liberation of Karabakh, chanting "Karabakh or death," lowered the OSCE flag outside the offices, tore it from its flagpole and tried unsuccessfully to set fire to it.
"The OSCE is led by pro-Armenian forces," said Barat Imani, one of the leaders of the demonstration. "The Minsk Group has a choice: it can fundamentally change the way it works, abandon its pro-Armenian bias and recognize Armenia as the aggressor or it can end its involvement in the peace process."