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Armenia believes the status of Nagorno-Karabakh is a key issue in the continuing search for a settlement in the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute and regards the Armenian-controlled territories surrounding the enclave as a guarantee of its population’s security, the country’s leader said in an interview with a leading European newspaper.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung quoted President Serzh Sarkisian in its Monday issue as saying that Azerbaijan’s recognition of the self-determination of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population can be followed by solutions to other issues.

“The control over territories is not an end in itself for us, but is aimed at Karabakh’s security. Today we need to negotiate over principles of settlement, which can be followed by the basic peace accord. We still have a long way to go,” Sarkisian said, according to the text of his interview disseminated by the presidential press office Tuesday.

Earlier this month Sarkisian met with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev in Moscow and following tête-à-tête talks signed a joined declaration along with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pledging to step up efforts for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

The signing of the nonbinding document came amid growing international hopes for a breakthrough in internationally mediated Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks.

Sarkisian commented that the Moscow declaration was important for the Armenian side due to its exclusion of a military way of resolving the dispute.

“Of course, it is just a declaration, and we would be very glad to reach an agreement. Anyway, I do not mean to underestimate the importance of that document,” Sarkisian told the German paper. “I am also glad that Azerbaijan signed a document that assumes all principles of international law as a basis for a solution to the conflict and not only the principle of territorial integrity.”

Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly Armenian-populated autonomous region in Soviet Azerbaijan, broke free of Baku’s control after the demise of the USSR, prompting a bloody war that claimed thousands of lives on both sides.

After nearly three years of fighting, Karabakh Armenians managed to establish control over the most part of the region and expand into surrounding areas to form a security zone.

Since 1994, when hostilities ended after a Russia-brokered ceasefire, negotiations between the former warring sides over the future of the region have been conducted through the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) jointly chaired by the United States, France and Russia.

The parties to the conflict have so far been unable to reconcile the two seemingly conflicting principles of international law, i.e. territorial integrity of states and the right of nations to self-determination. The stalemate that until recently had been observed in the peace process led to increased war rhetoric and petrodollar-backed military buildup in Azerbaijan as well as questions over the efficiency of the format of negotiations.

“I also positively evaluate the fact that despite critical assessments of the effectiveness of the Minsk Group’s activities made of late, the document [signed in Moscow] underscores the importance of the Group’s format and the role of the United States, Russia and France as mediators,” Sarkisian said.

The Armenian leader also effectively excluded a status of Karabakh implying its dependence on Baku as he said that history proves Armenians cannot develop in a safe environment under Azerbaijani rule.

“We have never thought that Karabakh can remain within Azerbaijan with any status,” he said.
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