Armenia and Azerbaijan have again accused each other of torpedoing the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process ahead of a new round of peace negotiations which international mediators hope will bring them closer to a settlement.
Official Yerevan said late on Wednesday that the presidents of the two warring nations reached important “understandings” at their last meeting in Russia and that Baku is now trying to walk away from them. It also condemned Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s fresh threats to resolve the Karabakh conflict by force.
Addressing officials in Baku earlier on Wednesday, Aliyev spoke of “the last chance” for the Armenians to peacefully return the disputed territory and Azerbaijani districts surrounding it to his country. He again claimed that Armenia has still not responded to a draft framework peace accord that was modified by the U.S., Russian and French mediators late last year.
He reiterated that Baku accepted the so-called “Madrid principles” of a Karabakh settlement “with certain exceptions.” “If Armenia does not react to those proposals positively, then it will make no sense to continue negotiations in the current format,” Aliyev said.
“There are no peacekeeping forces in that region right now, there are only Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers,” he added. “The distance between them is 40-50 meters in some sections [of the frontline.] Nobody can guarantee that no unpleasant events will occur there.”
The Armenian Foreign Ministry swiftly denounced these threats as well as Baku’s earlier denial of Armenian claims that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev presented Aliyev and Armenia’s Serzh Sarkisian with a new Karabakh peace plan when he met them in Saint Petersburg on June 17. A ministry spokesman, Tigran Balayan, portrayed these statements as further proof that Azerbaijan provoked the worst Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire violation in Karabakh since 2008 the day after those talks.
“They are clearly aimed at torpedoing the negotiating process,” Balayan said in a statement. “As they are trying to step back from understandings reached in Saint Petersburg, Azerbaijan’s leaders are misleading their own people by distorting the essence of negotiations and agreements reached during them.”
According to senior figures in the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Sarkisian reacted positively to the new peace proposals, unlike Aliyev. They have claimed that Aliyev cut short his visit to Saint Petersburg as a result.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry insisted earlier this week that Aliyev and Sarkisian received no formal peace proposals from Medvedev and only discussed “various approaches” to peace in the Russian city. Aliyev likewise insisted that the Madrid principles put forward by the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in December remain on the table.
Aliyev claimed that restoration of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is the most important of those principles and downplayed the mediators’ support for the Karabakh Armenians’ right to self-determination. “Possibilities of peoples’ self-governance and self-determination must not breach the territorial integrity of states,” he said, according to Azerbaijani media.
The Azerbaijani leader also emphasized the fact that under the proposed settlement, Karabakh would have an “interim status” until an agreement is reached on its final status, the main bone of contention. But he said nothing about how that status is to determined.
The basic principles, which were first formally submitted to the conflicting parties in 2007, reportedly call for a referendum on the status to be held within the disputed territory. According to Armenian officials and some Western diplomats, Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population would be able to vote for independence, reunification with Armenia or return under Azerbaijani control.
“The self-determination of the Nagorno-Karabakh people can not be restricted by Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity mentioned for 13 times in a single speech,” said Balayan. “Having failed to learn real lessons from history, Azerbaijan’s leaders are threatening new provocations and adventures.”
The bitter recriminations came ten days before a planned meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers on the sidelines of an OSCE ministerial conference in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
In a joint statement issued on June 26, the presidents of the United States, Russia and France said they are instructing their top diplomats to “work intensively to assist the two sides to overcome their differences” before and during that meeting. They also urged the parties to “complete the work on the Basic Principles.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conveyed the same message to Aliyev and Sarkisian when she visited Baku and Yerevan at the weekend. But she left no indications afterwards that the signing of an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace deal is imminent.