By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert
Officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe began on Monday a first-ever international inspection of Armenian-controlled Azerbaijani territories around Nagorno-Karabakh aimed at investigating Baku’s allegations that they are being illegally populated with Armenians.
The fact-finding team led by a senior German Foreign Ministry official, Emily Habber, and accompanied by the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group visited the Kelbajar district west of Karabakh before arriving in Stepanakert later in the day. They met there with Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian.
“We have heard many interesting details and I am confident that those details will help us assess the situation correctly,” Habber told local journalists afterward. She said the OSCE mission will spend ten days traveling around the occupied lands and submit a report to the Minsk Group later on.
The fact-finding mission was sent to the region as a result of a compromise agreement between the conflicting parties and the mediators that prevented a vote in the UN General Assembly on an Azerbaijani draft resolution that condemned the decade-long occupation of the seven Azerbaijani districts seen by the Armenians as a vital buffer zone guaranteeing Karabakh’s security. The resolution was endorsed by many Islamic nations but the United States, Russia and France warned that it would hamper their peace efforts.
Meeting with the OSCE officials, Ghukasian again denied that his government is encouraging the resettlement of Armenian families in those areas and said those Armenians who have moved there since the 1994 ceasefire are mostly former refugees from Azerbaijan. Ghukasian also urged the visitors to inspect Azerbaijani-controlled areas of Karabakh that were formerly populated with Armenians.
The OSCE delegation held talks with Azerbaijani officials in Baku before traveling to Karabakh via Armenia.