By Astghik Bedevian
A senior Nagorno-Karabakh official brushed aside on Thursday Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev’s claims that Armenia and Azerbaijan moved closer to resolving their long-running territorial dispute during their latest high-level negotiations.
“We are already approaching the final phase of negotiations,” Aliev told Azerbaijani state television following his talks in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Tuesday with President Robert Kocharian. He said they reached agreement on a number of contentious issues that have precluded the signing of a framework peace accord so far.
The comments raised new hopes for a near-term solution to the Karabakh conflict. But a senior aide to Arkady Ghukasian, president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, saw no cause for optimism.
“If President Aliev is saying that the process is moving in a positive direction, that is quite dangerous in itself,” Arman Melikian told RFE/RL. “To my knowledge, his idea of positive direction is that Nagorno-Karabakh can not be an independent and sovereign state.”
It is not clear if this was also a thinly veiled rebuke addressed to Armenia’s leadership that shared Aliev’s positive assessment of the Minsk talks.
Aliev repeated on Wednesday that he will never recognize Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan. Baku is only ready to give the disputed territory a “maximum degree of self-rule,” he said.
Armenian officials insist, however, that under the existing peace plan proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group, Karabakh’s population will have a chance to legitimize the secession in a referendum to be held years after the start of an Armenian pullout from occupied territories in Azerbaijan proper. Unlike official Yerevan, the NKR leadership has voiced serious misgivings about this formula.
Ghukasian discussed the Karabakh peace process with the Minsk Group’s U.S. co-chair, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, during a visit to the United States last week.
(Photolur photo: Arman Melikian.)