By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian said late Wednesday that there is still a chance for a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, playing down his and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev’s failure to achieve a breakthrough during their crucial talks in France last month.
Kocharian warned at the same time that Azerbaijan’s refusal to make major concessions, signaled by Aliev in recent days, could lead Armenia to formally recognize the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) as an independent state.
“We will continue to negotiate,” he told Armenian and Karabakh state televisions. “The [upcoming] meeting of the foreign ministers [of Armenia and Azerbaijan] will clarify at what tempo.”
“I think that there is still a chance for moving forward,” he said.
But Kocharian was quick to add that the Armenian side should be prepare for a “worst-case scenario” whereby Armenia would recognize the NKR “de jure,” formalize its “responsibility for the security of the Karabakh people,” and “reinforce the security zone” around the disputed enclave. He said that will happen if Baku continues to reject any peace that would not restore Azerbaijani control over Karabakh and drags out the negotiating process in the hope of converting its soaring oil revenues into military superiority.
Aliev appeared to advocate such a strategy in his most recent public remarks, indicating that Azerbaijani should not rush to make concessions as it will gain a stronger bargaining power over time. He specifically pointed to the ongoing exploitation of his nation’s substantial oil reserves which will reach its peak in the next few years.
“Having oil doesn’t mean having an efficient economy,” countered Kocharian. “On the contrary, world experience shows that the most developed nations don’t have oil.” He said many oil-rich countries have been plagued with enormous corruption and poor governance and Azerbaijani is unlikely to be an exception.
Commenting for the first time on his February 10-11 talks with Aliev at Rambouillet castle near Paris, Kocharian argued that it is widely seen as a failure because of “excessive expectations” fueled by international mediators in the weeks preceding the summit. He said although the two leaders were “quite close” to cutting a framework peace deal, they could not agree on one unspecified “important principle” of the conflict’s resolution.
The Armenian leader went on to implicitly lay the blame on Aliev, pointing to the latter’s claims that time works for Azerbaijan. “Any solution will require difficult decisions from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh. If you don’t want to display enough political will to make such decisions, then this could be the best justification,” he said.
The uncertain future of the peace process is due to be discussed next week in Washington by the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. The meeting is widely expected to be followed by fresh talks between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers. In addition, Russia signaled last week its intention to make a separate push for a Karabakh breakthrough, with President Vladimir Putin saying during a visit to Baku that he will soon invite Kocharian Moscow for “consultations” on the problem. Armenian opposition leaders and commentators seized upon the extraordinary move to again blame Kocharian for Russia’s perceived reluctance to treat Armenia as an equal partner.
Kocharian revealed that he and Putin had a phone conversation immediately after the latter’s return to Moscow but did not agree any dates for their proposed meeting on Karabakh. In his words, while in Baku Putin “sincerely” felt that he is one step away from brokering Karabakh peace. “I think the Russian president didn’t even know that his statement could have so much resonance in Armenia,” he said, in what appeared to a thinly rebuke to Moscow.
Kocharian was also asked to comment on the Karabakh Armenians’ growing frustration with their exclusion from Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks which led NKR President Arkady Ghukasian to call for Yerevan’s withdrawal from further negotiations. While admitting that the NKR’s involvement in the peace process has been “asymmetrical and not full-fledged,” Kocharian insisted that Yerevan has proved able to “protect the interests of the Armenian side much more effectively.” “It is much easier to ignore the interests of unrecognized states than those of recognized ones,” he said.
“You should start worrying only if Armenia’s president avoids shouldering responsibility for your security,” Kocharian added, appealing to Karabakh’s population.