By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Irina Hovannisian
Armenian leaders on Friday shrugged off Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev’s claims that they have agreed to the liberation of all seven Azerbaijani districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh as part of a peace accord currently discussed by the conflicting parties.
Aliev made the comments as he inaugurated a newly built settlement for Azerbaijani refugees near Baku earlier in the day. Azerbaijani media quoted him as saying that the Armenian side is ready to pull out of even the Lachin district which serves as the shortest overland link between Karabakh and Armenia proper. He said that under the terms of the peace deal proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group the land corridor would be temporarily controlled by international mediators before being placed under Azerbaijani control.
Armenian and Karabakh leaders have repeatedly said that Lachin’s return to Azerbaijan is non-negotiable. They have also set additional conditions for Armenian withdrawal from Kelbajar, the other Azerbaijani district sandwished between Armenia and Karabakh.
“I don’t known what goals the president of Azerbaijan is pursuing, but it is known to everyone that we have principles and those principles haven’t changed,” Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian told RFE/RL. “So take Aliev’s statements easy.”
“The statements relating to territorial concessions are untrue,” said Vahan Hovannisian, the deputy parliament speaker and a leader of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation. “This is not first such case in his political career.”
In his speech, Aliev also said that Karabakh’s status should be determined after the liberation of the Armenian-occpuied districts “within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.” “Those [Karabakh Armenians] that want independence should move to Armenia,” he said.
The Minsk Group’s peace proposals seem to allow for international recognition of Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan by envisaging a referendum of self-determination in the Armenian-populated territory. The conflicting parties have yet to agree on the date and other practical modalities of the proposed vote.
In a recent interview with the French-Armenian magazine “Nouvelles d’Armenie,” Sarkisian said the Karabakh conflict can be resolved “only on the condition that Karabakh is will never be under Azerbaijani control.”