International mediators have held separate negotiations with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss the “damage” which they believe has been inflicted on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process by the release from prison of the Azerbaijani killer of an Armenian army officer.
The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group met Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian on Sunday and his Azerbaijani counter part on Monday in Paris for urgent talks that were apparently demanded by Armenia.
“The Co-Chairs discussed with the two Ministers the August 31 decision of the Government of Azerbaijan to pardon Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani army officer who had been serving a life sentence in Hungary for the brutal 2004 murder of an Armenian officer in Budapest,” they said in a joint statement.
“They expressed their deep concern and regret for the damage the pardon and any attempts to glorify the crime have done to the peace process and trust between the sides,” said the statement.
The diplomats reiterated the three mediating powers’ view that “there is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.” They said they “will continue to maintain contacts with the sides to reduce tensions and advance the peace process.”
According the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Safarov’s release was the only issue on the agenda of the talks, with Nalbandian underlining “negative consequences” for the negotiating process and accusing Baku of “nullifying all initiatives to create an atmosphere of mutual confidence” in the conflict zone.
“The international community must not put up with Azerbaijan’s adventurist policy continuing under the guise of the negotiating process,” a ministry statement quoted Nalbandian as saying.
Mammadyarov, for his part, defended Safarov’s repatriation to Azerbaijan and the pardon granted by President Ilham Aliyev, linking the affair with the “continuing Armenian occupation of Azerbaijan’s lands.” An Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman cited by the Trend news agency said Mammadyarov told the mediators that they should therefore concentrate on ending that occupation.
Whether the criticism of Baku voiced by the U.S., Russian and French envoys satisfied Yerevan should be clear in the next few days.
“We expect the response of the international structures as well as of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs on this,” President Serzh Sarkisian said in a weekend message to Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leadership dedicated to the 21st anniversary of the disputed territory’s declaration of independence from Azerbaijan.
“Regardless of the response, on behalf of the people of Artsakh (Karabakh) and the entire Armenian nation, I would like to pose a question – after what has happened, is there a living soul on this planet who will advise the people of Artsakh to become part of Azerbaijan, a country where illicit orders set free and publicly glorify every bastard which kills people only because they are Armenians?” said Sarkisian.
The Karabakh-born president also again warned Azerbaijan against attempting to forcibly win back Karabakh and Armenian-controlled lands surrounding it. “We don’t want a war, but if we have to, we will fight and win; we are not afraid of murderers, even of those who enjoy the highest patronage,” he said.
In Stepanakert, meanwhile, Karabakh Armenian leaders spoke of retaliatory measures against Safarov’s repatriation and the hero’s welcome he received in Baku. “The [Karabakh] army will respond to that and will do everything to ensure that that bastard gets punished,” the army commander, General Movses Hakobian, told reporters.
Ashot Ghulian, the Karabakh parliament speaker, similarly promised “worthy responses” from the Armenian side. Neither Ghulian nor Hakobian elaborated. The general noted only that tension along the Armenian-Azerbaijani “line of contact” around Karabakh has risen in recent days.