Turkey will risk reversing its unprecedented rapprochement with Armenia if it persists in linking the process with a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict desired by Azerbaijan, Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian said on Sunday.
In an interview with RFE/RL, he also sought to cool talk of an imminent Karabakh settlement, saying that Baku is “not prepared for mutual concessions in 2010.”
Commenting on the continuing Turkish linkage of the two issues, Nalbandian reiterated his government’s arguments that Ankara and Yerevan set no preconditions when they embarked in 2008 on an intensive dialogue culminating in the signing last October of two agreements to normalize bilateral relations. He also argued that neither “protocol” makes any mention of the Karabakh dispute.
“Had there been preconditions we would not have started this process and reached agreements in the first place,” said Nalbandian. “If one of the parties is creating artificial obstacles, dragging out things, that means it is assuming responsibility for the failure of this process,” he warned.
President Serzh Sarkisian explicitly threatened last month to walk away from the agreements if the Turks fail to ratify them unconditionally and “within a reasonable time frame.” But he did not set any concrete deadlines for the Turkish ratification.
Nalbandian also avoided mentioning any dates, stressing instead the fact that Western powers and Russia also stand for an unconditional normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. “If Turkey takes a step back then this will be not only a violation of the agreements with Armenia but will demonstrate that it is not respecting the international community’s opinion, with all resulting consequences and the loss of credibility in the first instance,” he said. “Armenia, on the other hand, will -- let’s not say win -- not lose anything that we had before this process.”
The minister went on to dismiss domestic opposition criticism of the protocols and, in particular, a clause envisaging the creation of a Turkish-Armenian “subcommission” of history experts. “If we were to believe in what opponents of the protocols have said, then Turkey should have rushed to ratify these protocols a long time ago,” he scoffed.
Nalbandian insisted that the Sarkisian administration will not stop campaigning for greater international recognition of the Armenian genocide despite agreeing to what is expected to be a joint Turkish-Armenian study of the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. The subcommission in question, he said would be tasked with “restoring mutual understanding and trust between the two peoples,” rather than determining whether the massacres constituted genocide.
Turning to the Karabakh conflict, Nalbandian denounced Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s latest threats to win back the disputed territory by force. “Such statements show that Azerbaijan is not prepared for mutual concessions in 2010 as well, and that Azerbaijan remains a threat to the security of the Karabakh people,” he said, adding that they “can not make any impact on or intimidate Armenia or Artsakh (Karabakh.)”
Aliyev issued the warning in a New Year’s address to his nation. He also claimed to have secured broad international support for Karabakh’s return under Azerbaijani rule.
Speaking in RFE/RL’s Yerevan bureau, Nalbandian brushed aside the claim. “What are the mediating countries saying? They are saying what Armenia says: that the Karabakh problem should be solved in accordance with the principles and norms of international law and, in particular, the principles of non-use of force, self-determination and territorial integrity,” he said. “This is made clear in the statement which was recently adopted in Athens by the 56 OSCE members states.”
“Azerbaijan’s leadership is trying to predetermine the result of the negotiations,” he continued. “Namely, the question of Karabakh’s status, Karabakh’s self-determination. And yet the question of Karabakh’s status must be decided by the people of Artsakh themselves.”
Nalbandian pointed in that regard to a joint statement on Karabakh that was issued by the presidents of the United States, Russia and France -- the three countries spearheading the peace process -- in July. The statement reaffirmed, in general terms, the essence of the “basic principles” of Karabakh peace proposed by the American, French and Russian co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.
“Contrary to Baku’s claims, it is indicated there that the people of Karabakh hold the key to the Karabakh settlement,” said Nalbandian. He also stressed the importance for the Armenian side of the reference to peoples’ self-determination made in a Karabakh-related declaration that was adopted during an OSCE ministerial conference in Athens last November.
“It was the first time that such a statement upheld the right to self-determination,” he added. “A statement that was also signed by Azerbaijan.”
Azerbaijani leaders maintain, however, that under the existing Minsk Group proposals, Karabakh’s predominantly ethnic Armenian population would be able to exercise that right only within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. These diametrically opposite interpretations of the proposed deal raise questions about the mediators’ ability to get the conflicting parties to overcome their remaining disagreements anytime soon.
Nalbandian cautioned against excessive expectations from the negotiating process in the coming months. “I see no point in artificially accelerating the process, and I think everybody agrees with that,” he said.
“Of course, some progress in bringing the parties’ positions closer to each other was registered last year,” he added. “But that was not enough to achieve a breakthrough. If we are able to maintain the positive dynamic of 2009, then it will be possible to improve prospects for the conflict’s resolution.”