By Emil Danielyan
Armenian forces are likely to withdraw from some of the occupied Azerbaijani territories around Nagorno-Karabakh next year because the Armenians are increasingly leaning toward a so-called “phased” solution to the territorial dispute, according to the speaker of Azerbaijan’s parliament.
“It is possible that a certain part of the occupied Azerbaijani lands will be liberated in 2005,” Murtuz Aleskerov was reported to tell the parliament in Baku on Tuesday.
Aleskerov was quoted as pointing to the results of most recent Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks mediated by France, Russia and the United States. The Armenian side is now ready to embrace a settlement that would lead to a gradual troop withdrawal before a final agreement on Karabakh’s status, he added.
Similar statements have also been by other top Azerbaijani officials and they have not been explicitly denied by Armenian leaders. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian was again evasive on the subject on Wednesday.
“Azerbaijan is presenting the situation in a one-sided way,” Oskanian told RFE/RL in an interview. “Our negotiations are much more comprehensive and include all issues [of mutual concern]. So I don’t want to pay attention to Azerbaijan’s emphases.”
But in separate comments last week, Oskanian effectively confirmed that a peace deal discussed by the parties now would include elements of a phased settlement of the conflict. He at the same time indicated that official Yerevan is seeking international guarantees of continued Armenian control over Karabakh.
According to some Armenian opposition politicians and media, this could mean an independence referendum to be held in Karabakh within the next 10 or 15 years. But Oskanian would not be drawn on the credibility of those claims.
“It is too early to talk about such things,” he said. “We have always sought to achieve international recognition of the Karabakh people’s right to self-determination. This will remain a key aim of our diplomacy.”
Support for a phased peace accord would mark a significant change in Armenia’s and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s strategy of conflict resolution. The two entities have until now demanded a single “package” agreement that would resolve all contentious issues at once.
Such an agreement is believed to have been put forward by the international mediators during a peace conference on the Florida island of Key West in April 2001. It was accepted by Armenia but subsequently rejected by Azerbaijan. Speaking to reporters last week, Oskanian admitted that it is no longer possible to revive the Key West deal.
Renewed talk of a Karabakh breakthrough stems from a series of meetings held by the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers last summer. Oskanian says they reached understandings that could serve as a “basis for further negotiations.” The two men are scheduled to resume the talks in Prague in mid-January.
The resumption of peace talks follows Baku’s decision last month to effectively withdraw an anti-Armenian draft resolution on Karabakh from the UN General Assembly. The resolution, rejected by Yerevan and the mediators, would uphold Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh and condemn the resettlement of Armenians in the occupied districts in Azerbaijan proper.
Russia’s chief Karabakh envoy, Yuri Merzlyakov, said on Monday that a General Assembly vote on the document was delayed indefinitely after the three co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group promised to send a fact-finding mission to the occupied territories. “The agreement was reached after lengthy talks between the foreign ministers,” Merzlyakov told Azerbaijan’s ANS television.
“No one should live on the occupied lands,” he said.