By Emil Danielyan
The UN General Assembly expressed concern late Thursday at fires reported in Armenian-controlled Azerbaijani territories, in a compromise resolution that seeks to placate Azerbaijan and address Armenia’s strong opposition to UN involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.
The assembly called for an urgent “environmental operation to suppress the fires in the affected territories and to overcome their detrimental consequences” and threw its weight behind the OSCE’s decision to send a fact-finding mission to occupied Azerbaijani districts surrounding Karabakh. It asked the American, French and Russian co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group to submit the mission’s findings to the United Nations by next April.
The resolution also instructs the UN Environmental Program to assess “the short-term and long-term impact of the environmental degradation of the region, as well as in its rehabilitation.”
Azerbaijan has for months been accusing Armenian forces of deliberately setting fire to deserted Azerbaijani villages east of Karabakh. Armenia and the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have rejected the accusations, saying that the bushfires are caused by natural factors such as hot weather. The Azerbaijani allegations were also effectively dismissed by the OSCE’s field representatives in the conflict zone.
Official Baku rejected, however, the findings of their two inspections of the occupied lands, leading the Minsk Group and the OSCE’s rotating chairman-in-office to promise to conduct a more thorough investigation. The authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert agreed to the idea.
Armenia threatened to boycott the next round of Karabakh peace talks when Azerbaijan moved to include the issue on the UN General Assembly agenda last week. An Azerbaijani draft resolution submitted to the assembly accused the Armenians of pursuing a “scorched earth” policy in the occupied lands and demanded a separate UN inquiry into the problem. But it underwent radical changes as a result of behind-the-scene talks between Armenian and Azerbaijani diplomats and the international mediators. Azerbaijan's UN Ambassador Yashar Aliev described the text, adopted by consensus, as “honest and appropriate.”
Aliev’s Armenian opposite number, Armen Martirosian, said: “As a result of our consultations with the Minsk Group Co-chairs, we have come to agreement on a text that simply reiterates support for the OSCE mission. In this regard we would like to welcome the readiness of all the parties to negotiate in the spirit of compromise under the able and very effective mediation of the Minsk Group co-chairs.”
Still, Martirosian added that Yerevan decided to dissociate itself from the document because it disagrees with its title that refers to “the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.” The diplomat also objected to the “the general idea of this agenda item and a UN resolution under it.”
The Minsk group co-chairs, for their part, issued a joint statement saying that “fires of both natural and manmade origin are a regular occurrence in the region in question.” “We commend the spirit of goodwill demonstrated by both Armenia and Azerbaijan in agreeing to cooperate to address the situation raised through this resolution,” they said.
The mediators are due to hold separate talks with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Paris next week, in a fresh attempt to clinch agreement on the main principles of a Karabakh settlement which they made public in June. Their statement renewed calls for the conflicting parties to sign up to the proposed peace deal.