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By Hrach Melkumian in Prague
Azerbaijan’s leader has effectively disavowed an earlier understanding that his country’s long-running dispute with Armenia over a breakaway ethnic-Armenian region cannot be resolved militarily.

In an interview with RAI International TV, while on a visit to Italy, President Ilham Aliev said he remained optimistic about an “easy solution” to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict if “Armenia abided by the principles of the declaration signed in Moscow.”

But Aliev insisted the nonbinding document signed between the Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian presidents earlier this month still left a military option open for Baku to reestablish control over Nagorno-Karabakh, which has enjoyed de-facto independence from Baku since a 1994 truce put an end to nearly three years of fighting between the Armenia-backed region and Azerbaijan.

“There is not a single commitment [in the declaration] that would keep Azerbaijan from resorting to a military option,” the Azerbaijani leader underscored.

Aliev’s statement is in stark contrast to the assurances by Armenia’s top leadership and governing forces that nonuse of force has been one of the fundamental achievements of the November 2 declaration in which the signatories pledge an intensified search for a “peaceful, political resolution to the conflict” based on the ongoing negotiations led by the OSCE’s Minsk Group. The document further stresses the importance of continued efforts by the Group’s American, French and Russian co-chairs to work out the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement acceptable to the conflicting parties.

The part of the declaration referring to ‘a political solution’ has been presented in Armenia as a provision that largely excludes a military solution to the Karabakh problem. Critics of the Armenian government, however, as well as officials in Nagorno-Karabakh itself have expressed their concerns that Stepanakert’s absence from among the signatories of the Moscow document might mean that Armenia has formally supplanted the unrecognized republic from further talks.

Commenting on this, Aliev argued that thereby the Armenian leadership had admitted it was Azerbaijan and Armenia as the parties to the conflict.

“It had not been so before as Armenia had tried to prove to all that the conflict is between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh,” Aliev said.

“Second of all, the declaration calls for a settlement of the conflict based on international norms and principles. It means that the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council calling on Armenia’s armed forces to end the occupation of Azerbaijan’s territories must be respected.”
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