By Anna Saghabalian
The idea of holding a referendum on Nagorno-Karabakh’s status as part of a gradual resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute is not discussed by the conflicting parties despite reports to the contrary, a senior Karabakh official said on Thursday.
“It is senseless to talk about that because the issue is still not on the table,” Arman Melikian, foreign minister of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), said, commenting on what might be the principal element of a peace deal looming on the horizon. “Various options are being discussed,” he added vaguely.
Melikian echoed statements on the issue made by Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov on Monday. "A referendum is not a subject of the talks,” Azimov told a news conference in Baku. “We are ready for any kind of cooperation within the framework of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Under the Azerbaijani constitution, there can only be a nationwide referendum, or no referendum at all.”
However, Azimov appeared to contradict himself when he stated that the residents of Karabakh must themselves decide on their future. “The local Armenians, who are citizens of Azerbaijan, as well as Azerbaijanis, must themselves determine their status,” he said.
Armenian officials privy to the peace process told RFE/RL earlier this month that the parties are close to agreeing on a peace formula that will enable the predominantly Armenian population of Karabakh to determine its status at a referendum to be held within 10-15 years. They said the vote will take place after the liberation of all but one of the occupied Azerbaijani territories surrounding Karabakh.
International mediators refused to confirm or deny this during their visit to Baku, Stepanakert and Yerevan last week. They said only that an agreement ending the long-running dispute could be signed by the end of this year. Azimov also spoke of a “great chance of achieving peace.”
Melikian dismissed suggestions that the NKR leadership may not be informed about details of the peace talks. “I think we are sufficiently informed about the course of the negotiations and are in a position to react to them,” he told reporters. “Karabakh’s independence is the supreme value for our people and is not subject to discussions,” he added.
(Photolur photo: Arman Melikian.)