By Emil Danielyan
Military officials from the OSCE will visit Nagorno-Karabakh later this month to look into practical modalities of a multinational peacekeeping operation that would be part of a resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, Karabakh’s top army general said on Wednesday.
The announcement made by Lieutenant General Seyran Ohanian, defense minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, was a further indication that the conflicting parties are close to hammering out a peace accord. It came as the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan began two-day talks in London to prepare for a potentially decisive meeting of their presidents.
According to the online news service Lragir.am, Ohanian told reporters in Stepanakert that the OSCE’s “high-level planning group” on Karabakh will visit Karabakh Armenian positions along the heavily fortified frontline and “look into the possibility of placing command posts” there. Asked whether that means the Stepanakert government has already agreed to the deployment of peacekeeping forces in territories controlled by its forces, he replied, “Discussions are still going on.”
Ohanian was also quoted as saying that the Armenian side “should not be afraid of that idea” as his troops will remain the main guarantors of continued Armenian control over Karabakh “in any case.” The NKR Defense Army received new pieces of military hardware and boosted its combat readiness last year, he added without elaborating.
The OSCE military team already visited areas close to the Azerbaijani side of the line of contact last month, inspecting local infrastructure and in particular a major military airport near Azerbaijan’s second largest city of Gyanja. It was the group’s first trip to the conflict zone in eight years.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov have acknowledged that the OSCE inspections result from substantial progress made by the parties over the past year. The two men were expected to discuss in London the agenda of the next Armenian-Azerbaijani summit which is due to take place in mid-February. International mediators say Presidents Ilham Aliev and Robert Kocharian may well finalize a peace deal.
However, the Karabakh Armenians do not seem to share their optimism, with NKR President Arkady Ghukasian saying last month that the parties are still “pretty far from a settlement.” Another Karabakh official similarly said last week that no Armenian-Azerbaijani agreements are likely to be signed this year.