By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert
Russia’s new chief Nagorno-Karabakh negotiator visited Stepanakert on Tuesday to meet with the disputed region’s leadership as part of his first tour of the zone of conflict.
Yuri Merzlyakov, who was in the Azerbaijani capital Baku last week, said he wants to familiarize himself with the position of the conflicting parties ahead of the September 15 meeting of the Russian, U.S. and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. Merzlyakov said the mediators are currently working on a “modified” version of their previous peace proposals.
He would not say whether those are based on agreements reportedly reached by the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan on the Florida island of Key West in April 2001. Armenian officials claim that those agreements remain on the table.
The president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Arkady Ghukasian, described his talks with Merzlyakov as “very positive.” “I am sure that our cooperation will be effective,” Ghukasian told reporters, commending the Russian diplomat. “It was stressed that there are no Russian or American initiatives [in the Karabakh peace process]. There is only collective work and Russia is part of it.”
Ghukasian reiterated Stepanakert’s insistence on the NKR’s involvement in the direct Armenian-Azerbaijani peace negotiations. “I see no reason why Karabakh can not return to the negotiating table with the aim of achieving a political settlement,” Merzlyakov said for his part.
Azerbaijan has always opposed that, saying that the Karabakh Armenians are not a separate party to the conflict.