By Emil Danielyan
An international think-tank led by retired Western politicians called on Tuesday for a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that would allow the disputed region’s population to determine its status at an internationally supervised referendum.
The International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based institution specializing in conflict resolution around the world, also warned of “ominous signs that time for a peace agreement is running out.”
“Nagorno-Karabakh's status should ultimately be determined by an internationally sanctioned referendum with the exclusive participation of Karabakh Armenians and Azeris,” the ICG said in a report on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. The group stressed that such a vote should take place after the liberation of all Armenian-occupied Azerbaijani territories around Karabakh and the restoration of cross-border commerce and transport communication between the conflicting parties.
The report’s recommendations are mostly in line with a peace formula that has reportedly been discussed by Armenia and Azerbaijan for the past year. The two sides appear to have made considerable progress toward a compromise agreement which international mediators say might be sealed at the end of this year or the beginning of next.
“There has been tentative discussion of a possible plebiscite to determine the entity's final status, but with none of the necessary detail agreed as to who would vote on what, when and how, nor any agreement as to what other settlement conditions would create the context for such a vote,” reads the report.
The report says the “self-determination referendum” should be held only after the return of Karabakh’s Azerbaijani minority displaced by the conflict and only if Karabakh is deemed to have met “international preconditions for statehood, including the protection of minority rights.”
Another ICG condition for the referendum is “incremental withdrawal of Nagorno-Karabakh forces backed by Armenia from all occupied territories around Nagorno-Karabakh.” That, according to the group, should include the Lachin district that serves as the shortest overland link between the disputed territory and Armenia proper. Its report says the vital corridor would be controlled by international peacekeepers after Armenian withdrawal.
The leaderships of Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have repeatedly stated that Lachin’s return to Azerbaijan or international supervision is non-negotiable. Armenian officials told RFE/RL earlier that the peace accord discussed by the parties envisages continued Armenian control over the area.
The ICG also called on Azerbaijan to renounce use of force in the conflict and “resume direct contact with the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh authorities.” Azerbaijani leaders regularly threaten to win back Karabakh by force. President Ilham Aliev has pledged to embark on a massive military build-up which he hopes will force the Armenian into making serious concessions.
Azerbaijan’s continuing bellicose rhetoric was denounced on Tuesday by Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. “Oil dollars seem to have gotten some Azerbaijani leaders carried away and dizzy, and they have started signing old songs,” Sarkisian said in a speech at a military base in Yerevan. “The existing situation can be compared to the situation of the early 1990s when Azerbaijan’s leaders were promising to quickly resolve the Karabakh conflict by force.”
The ICG similarly warned of the persisting danger of renewed fighting in Karabakh. “So far, despite progress in the negotiations, the resumption of war remains as likely as peace,” the group’s vice-president for Europe, Alain Deletroz, said in a separate statement.