By Ruzanna Stepanian
International mediators brokering a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement arrived in Yerevan on Friday for a series of meetings with Armenian leadership in hopes of building on the recent progress in peace talks.
The United States, Russian and French cochairmen of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group were scheduled to hold a meeting with Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian late on Friday, a Ministry spokesman said.
The Minsk Group troika including Matthew Bryza, Yuri Merzlyakov and Bernard Fassier arrived in Yerevan from Baku where they held talks with Azerbaijani leadership.
The mediators’ regional tour comes amid renewed international hopes for a breakthrough in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks after the two states’ leaders pledged an intensified search for a solution to the long-running dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, a former mostly Armenian-populated autonomous region in Soviet Azerbaijan that has been de-facto independent from Baku’s rule after the collapse of the USSR.
Less than two weeks ago the president of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliev, were joined by their Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow to sign a declaration pledging to step up their efforts in seeking a negotiated peace.
The nonbinding document, in particular, referred to the principles drafted by the Minsk Group and presented to the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan at the OSCE summit in Madrid in November 2007 as a likely basis for continued talks on a peace accord.
Sarkisian then left Moscow for Paris where he met with French President Nicholas Sarkozy and then visited Brussels for high-level meetings with European Union and NATO leadership.
The visiting diplomats are expected to stay in Armenia at least until Monday afternoon when they are scheduled to hold a press conference at the United States embassy in Yerevan.
At some point before that, the mediators are also expected to meet President Serzh Sarkisian, according to information confirmed by the latter’s press officer Samvel Farmanian on Thursday.
Sarkisian, however, unexpectedly left for Nagorno-Karabakh capital Stepanakert earlier on Friday. No official announcement had preceded his departure, though.
RFE/RL’s Stepanakert-based correspondent confirmed that Sarkisian was in Stepanakert and would not return to Yerevan at least until Saturday afternoon as he was scheduled to take part in a local cultural event unrelated to the Karabakh negotiations. No other details of the Armenian president’s stay in Karabakh have been disclosed.
Meanwhile, Armenia’s main opposition alliance on Friday announced a planned meeting of its representatives with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza in the coming days.
Ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian, who currently leads the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance, will not, however, participate in the meeting, his spokesman told RFE/RL without elaborating.
Stepan Demirchian, chairman of the People’s Party of Armenia and a senior member of the Ter-Petrosian-led alliance of opposition parties, said at a press conference on Friday that during the meeting they also plan to address the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh’s participation in the negotiating process as a full-fledged party.
Among other things, the declaration signed by the three leaders in Moscow also called for a direct dialogue between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, which led to an assumption that the document formally recognizes Armenia as a party to the process negotiating on behalf of Nagorno-Karabakh.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Monday, the unrecognized republic’s president Bako Sahakian called for Stepanakert’s immediate role, warning that efforts to achieve an ultimate solution to the protracted conflict will remain unsuccessful until Nagorno-Karabakh returns to the negotiating table as a full party.
Nagorno-Karabakh has enjoyed a de-facto independent status but maintained strong links with Armenia ever since a Russia-brokered ceasefire agreement in 1994 put an end to a three-year war between the Yerevan-backed enclave’s ethnic Armenians and Azeris that killed tens of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands on both sides. Sporadic clashes along the line of contact separating the Karabakh Armenian forces and the Azerbaijani army have continued to date.