By Karine Kalantarian
Nagorno-Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian has called on Armenia to refrain from further negotiations with Azerbaijan unless they involve representatives of his government.
In a weekend interview with RFE/RL in Stepanakert, Ghukasian said that Azerbaijan’s refusal to directly negotiate with the Karabakh Armenians is the main obstacle to a resolution of the Karabakh dispute. He claimed that Baku is dealing with Yerevan only for “propaganda” purposes.
“I will see an indication that Azerbaijan is looking for a solution to the problem only if Azerbaijan starts talking to Karabakh,” he said. “There is only one way Karabakh can enter the negotiating process: Armenia’s refusal to negotiate with Azerbaijan. There is no other way out of this situation.”
“They have to make a choice,” Ghukasian added, referring to Armenia’s leadership. “Either to continue negotiations in the hope of finding a formula more or less acceptable to all sides, or to refuse to talk to Azerbaijan until the latter understands that it is impossible to resolve the conflict without Karabakh.”
Representatives of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) regularly held face-to-face negotiations with Azerbaijani officials in the presence of international mediators until the late 1990s. Although the American, French and Russian co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group continue to visit Stepanakert on their periodical tours of the conflict zone, the NKR has since been largely excluded from the peace process.
Armenian opposition politicians say President Robert Kocharian himself drove the NKR out of the process by agreeing to largely confine the process to regular meetings between the presidents and foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. But officials in Yerevan insist that the authorities in Stepanakert will eventually be brought into the picture. Some of them have also argued that the format of negotiations is less important than the content of peace proposals made by the mediators in recent years. None of those proposals would reportedly restore Azerbaijani control over the disputed region.
Ghukasian admitted that he is unconvinced by such assurances. “We have been assured that Azerbaijan may give up more by negotiating with Armenia only,” he said. “But we see that that is not the case. Azerbaijan’s rhetoric doesn’t change regardless of whether it talks to Armenia only or Armenia and Karabakh.”
The remarks are another indication that the Karabakh leadership is unhappy with a peace accord currently discussed by Baku and Yerevan. It reportedly envisages the holding of a referendum on Karabakh’s status in 10-15 years from the start of a gradual liberation of Azerbaijani territories around the disputed region. Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev were widely expected to cut a framework deal based on this formula during two-day talks in France earlier this month. However, the summit effectively ended in failure.
The Minsk Group co-chairs are due to meet in Washington early next month to discuss ways of salvaging the peace process. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on Monday that they will specifically discuss a date for another meeting between himself and Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov. According to Armenian media reports, Aliev and Kocharian could also meet again as early as this March.
Oskanian indicated last week that a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict may still begin this year despite the failed summit.