By Armen Zakarian
The leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh has always encouraged Armenian families to settle in the formerly Azerbaijani Lachin district linking the disputed region to Armenia and will carry on with that policy, a senior official said on Tuesday.
Arman Melikian, foreign minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), said NKR leaders made this clear to officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as they investigated Azerbaijani allegations about illegal resettlement in the Armenian-occupied districts in Azerbaijan proper.
“We told them that our resources permit us to pursue a policy of resettlement in Lachin and surrounding areas for the moment,” Melikian told a news conference in Yerevan. “And that’s what we will continue to do.”
The OSCE team led by a senior German diplomat completed the unprecedented fact-finding mission on February 8 after touring the seven Azerbaijani districts surrounding Karabakh. Thousands of Armenians have moved there since the 1994 ceasefire agreement stopped the Armenian-Azerbaijani war. The vast majority of them live in the Lachin district.
The mission resulted from a compromise agreement that led Azerbaijan to suspend its efforts to have the UN Generally Assembly condemn the continuing occupation of its lands. The international inspectors will present their findings in a report to the OSCE’s Minsk Group co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States.
Bernard Fassier, the group’s French co-chair who accompanied the OSCE officials on the trip, told RFE/RL last week that, with the exception of Lachin, Armenians’ migration into the occupied territories seems to be largely spontaneous and improvised. "Contrary to what many people thought, there doesn't seem to be a deliberate, large-scale plan to settle those areas,” he said.
“Except for Lachin, there is no large-scale involvement from Stepanakert, even less so from Yerevan,” he added.
The Armenian side insists that while it is ready to withdraw from Azerbaijani territories in return for international recognition of Karabakh’s independence, Lachin’s return to Baku is non-negotiable. All peace proposals put forward by the mediators over the past decade would reportedly keep the area under Armenian control.