By Emil Danielyan and Ruzanna Stepanian
Official Yerevan played down on Tuesday the dramatic failure of the latest Armenian-Azerbaijani summit on Nagorno-Karabakh, with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian saying that a breakthrough may still be achieved this year.
“Nothing should be ruled out,” Oskanian told reporters. “True, no agreement was reached at Rambouillet. But that doesn’t mean there will be no progress in the course of this year.”
Presidents Ilham Aliev and Robert Kocharian held intensive talks at the 14th century castle near Paris on Friday and Saturday amid indications that a long-awaited settlement of the Karabakh conflict is in the offing. But contrary to high expectations, they failed to cut a framework peace deal, sparking talk of yet another missed opportunity for Karabakh peace.
Oskanian insisted that the parties may still be able to build on important agreements reached by them over the past year. “The presidents failed to reach an agreement on issues that were put before them,” he said. “But I think this in no way casts shadow over the previous meetings of the presidents and successes achieved during those meetings.
“It has been said repeatedly that progress was made in 2005. That progress is still there. It is also obvious that the farther you go, the more difficult are the issues that you are dealing with. The presidents faced quite a difficult task in Paris. One should not have expected that those issues would be resolved at once.”
Oskanian said he and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov will likely resume their regular negotiations soon to discuss ways of salvaging the peace process. He also looked forward to the American, French and Russian mediators’ meeting in Washington slated for the beginning of next month. The three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group will try to map out their next steps.
Sources close to the Rambouillet summit have told RFE/RL that it collapsed due to disagreements over Karabakh’s future status and a time frame for Armenian pullout from one of six Azerbaijani districts surrounding the disputed enclave.
The parties had reportedly agreed in principle to enable Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population to determine the status in a referendum to be held within 10-15 years from the start of Armenian troop withdrawal. Such a vote would almost certainly formalize Karabakh’s reunification with Armenia.
However, Aliev stated in the run-up to the summit that Baku will not accept such a solution “today, tomorrow, in 10, 15, or even a hundred years.” “During my presidency I will never sign an agreement reflecting this,” he was reported to have told his cabinet on January 31. And on February 10 Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Tahir Tagizade noted that the proposed referendum would run counter to Azerbaijan’s constitution.
Aliev's remarks led Kocharian to declare on the eve of the crucial talks that he is now less upbeat about prospects for a peaceful settlement. Both he and Oskanian have so far stopped short of blaming Azerbaijan for the fiasco.
But other Armenian leaders were quick to point the finger at Aliev. Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian claimed that the Azerbaijani leader backpedaled at the last minute because he feared a domestic backlash against the prospect of a final loss of Karabakh.
“The Azerbaijani authorities would have nothing to tell their people if the peace agreement was made public,” Torosian told RFE/RL. “They could drag out this process for a short while or declare that those principles are unacceptable to them. I think they preferred the former.”
“But this can not last for long,” he added, expressing hope that international pressure will help to bring Baku into line.
Meanwhile, Armenian opposition politicians and supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian in particular insist that Karabakh peace remains elusive because both Aliev and Kocharian lack domestic legitimacy. Neither leader has held a presidential or parliamentary election recognized as democratic by the West. “That is the reason why there will be no progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process as long as they remain in power,” said former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian.
In a related development, the president of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Rene van der Linden, expressed on Tuesday his “great disappointment” at Aliev’s and Kocharian’s failure to break the deadlock. "I must once again reiterate that there will be no sustainable development or prosperity for the region and no future for its children without a peaceful settlement to this dispute," he warned both sides in a statement from Strasbourg.
"I strongly encourage all parties to resume their discussions as soon as possible and with renewed determination,” van der Linden added.