By Emil Danielyan
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev has claimed that his government’s stated refusal to ever recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto secession from Azerbaijan is supported by the international community.
In his New Year address to the nation, Aliev also repeated his regular pledges to embark on a military build-up which he hopes will eventually force the Armenians to relinquish the disputed territory.
“The most gratifying case is that the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, the Minsk Group, international organizations support Azerbaijan's position. The territorial integrity [of Azerbaijan] will never be a topic of discussions,” he said, according to BBC.
The Azerbaijani leader pointed to international condemnation of the December referendum in Karabakh that resulted in the passage of the self-proclaimed republic’s first-ever constitution. But he made no mention of the Minsk Group’s existing peace proposals that have been discussed by the conflicting parties over the past two years.
The proposed plan calls for a referendum of self-determination in Karabakh to be held years after the liberation of Armenian-controlled Azerbaijani districts surrounding the territory. Armenian officials say Karabakh’s mainly ethnic Armenian voters would be able to decide whether they want to be independent, reunify with Armenia or return under Azerbaijani rule.
Aliev insisted, however, that Baku can only grant Karabakh “greater autonomy opportunities within Azerbaijan on condition that Azerbaijan's territorial integrity is secured.” “This is our constructive position and beyond this no negotiations were held and will not be held in future,” he said.
Aliev also repeated his claims that Azerbaijan’s soaring oil revenues will translate into military superiority over the Armenian side. “We are at talks but the enemy should know that Azerbaijan can liberate native lands by any means at any time and we shall liberate it,” he said. “From now on, the army will be paid much attention.”
Aliev and Kocharian revived international hopes for a near-term solution to the Karabakh dispute following their most recent face-to-face meeting held in Belarus last month. Both leaders said they made further progress towards the signing of a framework peace accord. But Kocharian cooled renewed talk of a Karabakh breakthrough later in December, saying that there will be no “active negotiating process” until next spring’s Armenian parliamentary elections.
Still, diplomatic sources say the parties and the international mediators plan to make a fresh and possibly decisive push for Karabakh peace in the second half of this year, before presidential elections due in both Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2008.