By Hrach Melkumian and Emil Danielyan
A breakthrough in the stalled Nagorno-Karabakh peace process hinges on the political clout of President Heydar Aliev’s son and heir apparent, a senior Armenian diplomatic source said on Friday, confirming Yerevan’s interest in the dynastic power succession in Azerbaijan.
“The stronger Ilham Aliev’s positions will be after the presidential election, the greater the progress which one can expect at the end of this year or at the beginning of next,” the source privy to Karabakh peace talks told RFE/RL, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The official said the key question preoccupying the Armenian side and international mediators now is whether the younger Aliev will be strong enough to sell a compromise peace deal to the domestic public after his widely expected participation and victory in the October 15 presidential vote.
The 41-year-old former playboy, who was recently appointed prime minister, lacks the charisma, experience and shrewdness that has enabled his ailing father to dominate Azerbaijani politics for much of the past three decades. Still, some analysts believe that only he can build upon progress reportedly made by Heydar Aliev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian in recent years.
Armenian leaders appear to share this perception, with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian saying this week that he thinks that Ilham does not represent the Azerbaijani “party of war.” “I do not suppose that he would like to provoke a war,” Sarkisian told the “Hayots Ashkhar” daily. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, for his part, argued that Ilham must be aware of far-reaching agreements reached by Aliev Senior and Kocharian on the Florida island of Key West in 2001.
The diplomatic source said those agreements, the existence of which is denied by Azerbaijani officials, remain at the heart of peace proposals made by the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
But Russia’s new representative to the group, Yuri Merzlyakov, was reported to say in Baku on Thursday that the mediators are currently working on “new proposals.” Merzlyakov, who is due to visit Armenia and Karabakh next week, told Ilham Aliev that the troika will meet in Vienna on September 15 to discuss them. They are expected to make a new peace push after the Azerbaijani vote.
The Azerbaijani premier used the meeting with Merzlyakov to again express Baku’s dissatisfaction with the mediators’ activities. “There is a certain disappointment in our society in connection with the fact that recently the Minsk Group has been trying to avoid getting involved in a practical resolution of the conflict,” he said, according to Agence France Presse.
He has repeatedly argued in various newspaper interviews that the status quo in the Karabakh dispute leaves the Armenian side at a loss, while oil-rich Azerbaijan has the resources to develop its economy.
Both Ilham Aliev and Kocharian are due to attend a September 19 summit in Ukraine of the Commonwealth of Independent States. A spokesman for the Armenian president told RFE/RL that a meeting between them is not yet planned.
(AP-Photolur photo: Street vendors hold a picture with portraits of Heydar Aliev, left, and his son, Prime Minister Ilham Aliev, in Baku.)