The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group arrived in Stepanakert on Thursday to start a “field assessment mission” to Azerbaijani territories around Nagorno-Karabakh controlled by Karabakh Armenian forces.
The mediators accompanied by United Nations experts discussed the upcoming mission with the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). They are scheduled to meet with members of local non-governmental organizations on Friday before proceeding to the largely unpopulated areas surrounding the disputed territory.
The co-chairs, who announced their intention to “observe the humanitarian situation” in early September, met with President Serzh Sarkisian in Yerevan on Wednesday. Sarkisian expressed hope that they will come up with an “objective” report.
According to the Armenian leader’s press office, they also assured Sarkisian that they will pay a similar visit to a small part of Karabakh’s territory controlled by Azerbaijan “in the next stage of the monitoring.” They also promised to try to visit a medieval Armenian cemetery in the Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave reportedly destroyed by Azerbaijani authorities, the office said.
Incidentally, the mediating troika arrived in Armenia from Nakhichevan. It met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev there on Tuesday. According to Azerbaijani news agencies, Aliyev expressed confidence that the fact-finding mission will result in an “objective report” certifying “illegal” residence of Armenians in the seven districts in Azerbaijan proper that were fully or partly occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war.
An OSCE team led by a senior German diplomat already inspected those territories in January-February 2005 to investigate Azerbaijani claims that they have been illegally populated by Armenians. In a subsequent report, the mission said it found “no evidence of direct involvement by the authorities of Armenia in the territories.” “There is no clear organized resettlement, no non-voluntary resettlement, no recruitment,” concluded the report.
The 2005 inspection was organized as a result of a compromise agreement between the conflicting parties and the mediators. The deal prevented a vote in the UN General Assembly on an Azerbaijani draft resolution condemning the decade-long Armenian occupation.
The second OSCE inspection of those areas was announced just days before Azerbaijan withdrew a similar draft resolution, strongly condemned by Armenia, from the assembly. Armenian officials insist that the withdrawal was not the result of a compromise deal with Baku.