By Emil Danielyan
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has reportedly begun preparations for a possible international peacekeeping operation around Nagorno-Karabakh, in a further indication that a resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute is in the offing.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said on Thursday that OSCE military experts will tour Armenian-occupied territories of Azerbaijan to look into logistical aspects of such a mission.
The OSCE’s “high-level planning group,” made up of nine military officers, toured other Azerbaijani regions close to Karabakh earlier this week, examining the local infrastructure. According to reports from Baku, they inspected in particular a major military airport near Azerbaijan’s second largest city of Gyanja. It is located about 50 kilometers north of the nearest section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontline.
It was the group’s first trip to the conflict zone in eight years, suggesting that the warring sides are currently discussing practical modalities of a Karabakh settlement. Azerbaijani media quoted Mammadyarov as calling it a “step forward.” But he cautioned that agreement has yet to be reached on the size and make-up of the international peacekeeping contingent and the areas of its deployment.
Russia’s chief Karabakh negotiator, Yuri Merzlyakov, told Azerbaijani journalists this week that the conflicting parties and international mediators have already agreed to deploy at least 10,000 peacekeepers. That Karabakh peace will require international military presence is also admitted by Armenian officials. Diplomatic sources in Yerevan told RFE/RL in June that the peacekeeping force is unlikely to comprise troops from Russia, Turkey, the United States and France. They said this is supposed to ensure its impartiality.
According to Mamedyarov, the issue is among nine “principles of the settlement” which are being negotiated by the parties. Merzlyakov likewise spoke of a two-page document which he said will be discussed by the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents at their next meeting expected early next year. He said that if they sign the document, diplomats from the two countries will begin working on the text of a more comprehensive peace accord.
The precise date of the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit has yet to be determined. Mammadyarov’s deputy, Araz Azimov, said on Monday that it will likely take place in late January or early February.
Armenian officials have said that the parties have been discussing a phased solution to the Karabakh dispute that would eventually allow the disputed region’s predominantly Armenian population to decide its status in a referendum. The mediators and Azerbaijani leaders have not explicitly denied this.
A leading Baku daily, “Zerkalo,” urged the Azerbaijani government on Friday to come clean about what it described as an inevitable loss of Karabakh. “It is time to be absolutely candid and admit what the signing of such a peace agreement will lead to,” wrote the paper. “It will likely lead, sooner or later, to [international] recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence.”