Turkey urged the world’s predominantly Muslim states on Tuesday to set up a joint “contact group” that would strive for a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan, its closest regional ally.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu expressed hope that the nations aligned in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will back the idea as he addressed their latest ministerial meeting held in Istanbul.
Cavusoglu called for a settlement that would restore Azerbaijani control over Karabakh and surrounding Armenian-held districts. “The OIC should also take the initiative,” he said. “In this regard, the creation, within the organization’s framework, of a Contact Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue would be a very important step.”
Cavusoglu did not clarify whether the OIC group should seek a major role in international efforts to end the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute, which have long been spearheaded by the United States, Russia and France.
“I would like to approve the conference’s decision to set up the Contact Group,” Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said at the Istanbul gathering. He said the international community must press Armenia to end “the illegal occupation of Azerbaijan’s lands.”
The 57-nation Islamic bloc has repeatedly adopted resolutions voicing full support for Azerbaijan in the Karabakh conflict. Armenia has rejected them.
Just like the Turkish government, the OIC secretary general, Iyad Madani, has blamed Armenia for the April 2 outbreak of heavy fighting along the Karabakh “line of contact” that nearly escalated into a full-scale war. In an April 3 statement, Madani demanded an “immediate, unconditional and complete withdrawal of Armenian forces from Nagorno-Karabakh region and other occupied Azeri territories.”
Official Yerevan was quick to denounce the “provocative” Turkish proposal to the OIC, with Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian accusing Ankara of falsely portraying the Karabakh conflict as a religiously-motivated one. He expressed confidence that Muslim states “traditionally friendly” towards Armenia “will not succumb to Ankara’s provocations.”
“Obviously, because of Turkey one-sided position and obsession with backing Azerbaijan at any cost, any Turkish interference in the process of the resolution of the Karabakh conflict would only harm it,” Kocharian said in written comments.
On April 4, President Serzh Sarkisian condemned Turkish support for the “Azerbaijani adventure” in Karabakh.
Russia, which helped to stop the fighting on April 5, has also denounced Turkish leaders’ “one-sided” statements. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev suggested over the weekend that the “Turkish factor” might have also been behind the Karabakh escalation.