The U.S., Russian and French mediators marked on Monday the 20th anniversary of a ceasefire agreement that stopped the Armenian-Azerbaijani war for Nagorno-Karabakh with a joint statement questioning the conflicting parties’ declared commitment to peace.
“The sides have shown little willingness to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the co-chairs countries or make the political decisions necessary for progress in this peace process,” the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group said in the statement issued on the occasion.
U.S. envoy James Warlick, Russia’s Igor Popov and France’s Jacques Faure cited “the perpetual threat of escalating violence” in the conflict zone, an apparent reference to Azerbaijan’s regular threats to end the dispute by force. They also deplored a “misconception in some quarters that the status quo can be sustained indefinitely,” seemingly pointing the finger at the Armenian side.
The Russian-brokered agreement signed in May 1994 by the defense chiefs of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh ended nearly three years of fierce fighting that left the Armenian side in control of almost the whole of Karabakh and Azerbaijani districts surrounding the disputed enclave.
Around 7,000 Armenian soldiers and over 1,260 civilians, the vast majority of them Karabakh residents, died during the war. Azerbaijan publicized early this year an incomplete official list of over 11,500 combat deaths. The late President Heydar Aliyev had spoken of some 21,000 Azerbaijani war casualties, including civilians.
The warring sides have suffered hundreds of more casualties since May 1994. Nevertheless, their uneasy truce has largely held despite periodic outbreaks of fighting involving small arms.
“That agreement brought an end to outright war, halted the tragic violence of previous years, and laid the groundwork for negotiations that offered the sides a path to peace,” read the mediators’ statement. “Thanks to the resulting truce a new generation of Armenians and Azerbaijanis grew up without experiencing the horrors of war. The sides should do everything possible to protect future generations from such experience.”
The Minsk Group co-chairs also urged the conflicting parties to build on a “promising renewal of dialogue” that was marked by last November’s meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani president’s held in Vienna. They called for a peace deal based on the Basic Principles of a Karabakh settlement proposed by the mediating powers. Those include the liberation of the Armenian-controlled districts around Karabakh and the holding of a referendum on Karabakh’s final status.
Speaking at a Washington think-tank last week, Warlick insisted that Armenia and Azerbaijan agree on the basic elements of the proposed settlement and must now take a final “bold step” to iron out their remaining differences. But he did not say whether the presidents of the two nations will meet for that purpose anytime soon. The joint statement by Warlick and his fellow mediators from Russia and France likewise mentioned no possible dates for the next Armenian-Azerbaijani summit.
Responding to Warlick’s speech over the weekend, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian reiterated that the draft framework peace accord is largely acceptable to Yerevan and blamed the lack of progress on “Baku’s backtrackings.” He also argued that unlike the Armenian side, Azerbaijan oppose measures to reduce ceasefire violations that are proposed by the mediators.
“Like the Co-Chairs, we continue to believe that the elements outlined in the statements of the heads of the Co-Chair countries in L'Aquila, Muskoka, Deauville, Los Cabos and Enniskillen over the last years can be the foundation of reaching a lasting peaceful settlement of the conflict,” Nalbandian said in written remarks publicized by his press office.
The Azerbaijani leadership also reacted to Warlick’s statement. “The Azerbaijani side stands for drawing up a peace treaty. The existing status quo is unacceptable,” Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said on Thursday, according to the Regnum news agency.