Karabakh leader Bako Sahakian has spoken firmly of his unrecognized republic’s determination to remain independent amid continuing peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan that international mediators have said may provide a breakthrough soon. He also said Karabakh wants to return to the negotiating table as a full party.
In his remarks at a two-day pan-Armenian conference that opened in Stepanakert on Friday, Sahakian said Karabakh’s independence “is a reality not subject to discussion.”
“Karabakh, which is the main party to the Azerbaijan-Karabakh conflict, has been left out of the negotiations, and we must achieve the return to this important principle. It is impossible to realize any solution without the consent of the people of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,” Sahakian underscored.
Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly Armenian-populated autonomous region in Soviet Azerbaijan, has been de-facto independent from Azerbaijan’s rule since the 1994 ceasefire that put an end to nearly three years of fighting between the area’s ethnic Armenians seeking an independent status and Azerbaijani armed forces sent in to stifle local secessionism.
International mediators have yet failed to broker a solution to the longstanding dispute that represents a clash of two major principles of international law, i.e. territorial integrity and the right of nations to self-determination.
But the United States, France and Russia that spearhead the international mediatory effort as co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group have been cautiously optimistic in the past year or so about prospects of achieving a breakthrough in the protracted negotiations currently conducted between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The gathering in Stepanakert organized by the hard-line nationalist Armenian party, Dashnaktsutyun ‘to address lingering concerns in Armenian society over the Armenian-Turkish relations and the current stage of the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations’ and attended by a large number of delegates representing political, public and business circles in Karabakh, Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora, opened amid the still continuing visit of the Minsk Group troika to the region.
On the last leg of their tour in Baku, the cochairmen of the group were paving the way for another Armenia-Azerbaijan summit after securing the Armenian leader’s consent for a meeting in Moscow on July 17.
Earlier in Yerevan, Matthew Bryza, mediating on behalf of the United States, spoke of ‘significant progress’ at the talks and hoped that the planned meeting will mark further progress towards the settlement of the conflict.
His French colleague Bernard Fassier said the conflicting parties have all but agreed on the most important of about 15 “basic principles” of Karabakh peace proposed by the co-chairs.
In an interview with a state-run Russian television channel shortly before the start of the Minsk Group troika’s visit to Armenia, President Aliev said that the main bone of contention in the Karabakh conflict was “not on the agenda” of the ongoing peace talks and that agreement on the final status of Karabakh could ‘never happen’. In his July 4 statement Aliev also excluded Karabakh’s independent status.
Meanwhile, in Yerevan, Fassier described Aliev’s comments as a “step forward” as he argued that the Azerbaijani leader did not threaten to resolve the conflict by force.
“Any attempt to present the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is completely unclear and unacceptable to us,” responded Karabakh leader Sahakian while addressing the conference held under his patronage on Friday.
In his speech, the Karabakh head also stressed that no Armenian-Turkish rapprochement should or could be achieved at the expense of Armenian concessions in the Karabakh settlement process.
After nearly a year of talks between Armenia and Turkey, in which official Yerevan has insisted that any rapprochement should be achieved ‘without preconditions’, Ankara appears to be linking the establishment of diplomatic ties with Yerevan and opening the closed border with Armenia with major concessions to Azerbaijan in the Karabakh settlement.
The Karabakh leader’s concerns about this possible compromise were echoed by a senior member of the Dashnaktsutyun party.
“It would be naïve to think that it is possible to make a concession in any national issue without jeopardizing the whole [national cause]. On the contrary, making a concession in one issue will result in a chain of concessions in others,” stressed Hrant Markarian in addressing other delegates of the conference.
Markarian said he saw a danger and ‘wrong course’ in the Armenian-Turkish relations and the ongoing Karabakh settlement process, which he said might have ‘heavy consequences’.