By Ruzanna Stepanian
The European Union hopes that that Armenia and Azerbaijan will keep up the fresh “momentum” in their efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict despite the upcoming Armenian parliamentary elections, a senior EU diplomat said late Sunday.
“I hope, of course, that the momentum that we have seen building again in the peace process over the last few weeks will be maintained,” the EU’s special representative to the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, said before Monday’s talks with Armenian leaders in Yerevan.
Semneby was commenting on President Robert Kocharian’s Friday statements that all but ended hopes for the signing of a Armenian-Azerbaijani framework agreement in the coming months. “Before the elections to the National Assembly, there will be no active negotiating process,” Kocharian said. He claimed that “even the best” peace deal would be exploited by his political opponents ahead of the polls due in May.
Azerbaijan seized upon the remarks to accuse Armenia of dragging out the peace process. “It looks as though the Armenian side is stalling for time,” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev’s chief foreign policy aide, Novruz Mamedov, said on Sunday. “The president of Armenia wants to subordinate the negotiation process to his political interests and is trying to score points ahead of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.”
Another Azerbaijani official, Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov, said: “Neither Yerevan, nor the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group have so far informed Baku about the Armenian side’s intention to suspend negotiations due to the upcoming elections in Armenia.”
The issue was on the agenda of Semneby’s meeting with Kocharian. A statement by the latter’s press office said the two men discussed the “latest developments” in the negotiating peace process but gave no details.
Aliev and Kocharian reported further progress towards Karabakh peace following their last face-to-face talks held in Belarusian capital Minsk on November 28. The talks raised fresh hopes for a peaceful solution to the conflict.
While in Yerevan, Semneby also met with Arkady Ghukasian, president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). The envoy indicated afterwards that the EU would like to step up direct contacts with the Karabakh Armenians, saying that they are “very important.” “I regret that until now we have not had sufficient contacts of this kind,” he told reporters.
Semneby also sought to tone down EU criticism of the December 10 referendum in Karabakh on a constitution that declares the disputed territory an independent state. The bloc as well as two other pan-European organizations joined Azerbaijan in branding the vote illegitimate.
Ghukasian on Monday rejected the criticism as “illogical.” “I think that the international community should on the contrary contribute to the democratic processes that are taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh,”
“That [international] reaction should not be construed as a negative attitude to democratic processes in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Semneby said. “We realize that there is a high degree of democratic culture in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is a positive thing.
“As for the referendum, it has other key aspects with which we can not agree. Namely, the fact that it predetermines issues, including the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, that need to be resolved during negotiations.”