By Emil Danielyan
Armenia and Azerbaijan have failed to hold potentially crucial peace talks in New York, accusing each other instead of hampering international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The foreign ministers of the two South Caucasus foes sounded pessimistic about a near-term solution to the dispute as they addressed the ongoing 61st session of the UN General Assembly late Monday. Armenia’s Vartan Oskanian said Azerbaijan is reluctant to accept international mediators’ most recent peace proposals, while his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov accused Yerevan of avoiding further direct negotiations with Baku.
Oskanian and Mammadyarov were expected to meet on the sidelines of the Assembly session and try to kickstart the peace process that ran into trouble earlier this year. Officials have said that the talks could pave the way for another, potentially decisive Armenian-Azerbaijani summit on Karabakh.
However, the two men failed to come face to face on Monday and were not scheduled to do so on Tuesday. Oskanian was only due to meet separately with the American, French and Russian co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in New York.
Oskanian and other Armenian officials have said that the planned meeting of the foreign ministers was called into question by the General Assembly’s decision earlier this month to discuss the conflicts in Karabakh and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. The issue was included on the assembly agenda at the urging of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Armenia has long resisted UN involvement in the Karabakh peace process, insisting that the Minsk Group remain the sole mediating body.
“It is difficult to hope for the breakthrough in the negotiations when Armenia rejects face-to-face meetings and refuses to take a constructive approach to solve existing problems,” Mammadyarov said in his speech. He charged that the Armenians are defying international norms by insisting on international recognition of the Karabakh Armenians’ right to self-determination.
Oskanian strongly denied this, arguing that Yerevan has largely accepted the Minsk Group’s current peace plan that would allow the predominantly Armenian population of Karabakh to determine the disputed region’s status in a referendum. “One cannot blame us for thinking that Azerbaijan is not ready or interested in a negotiated peace,” he said. “Yet having rejected the other two compromise solutions that have been proposed over the last 8 years, they do not want to be accused of rejecting the peace plan on the table today.
“Therefore, they are using every means available – from state violence to international maneuvers – to try to bring the Armenians to do the rejecting. But Armenia is on record: we have agreed to each of the basic principles in the document that’s on the table today,” added Oskanian.
Azerbaijan’s position on the Minsk Group plan remains unclear, with top aides to President Ilham Aliev regularly lambasting the mediators for their refusal to push for a restoration of Azerbaijani control over Karabakh. Mammadyarov noted in that regard that agreement on Karabakh’s status requires the “consent of both the Azerbaijani and Armenian communities of Nagorno-Karabakh,” but made it clear that Baku is ready to consider only ways of ensuring its “self-rule within Azerbaijan.” He also demanded Armenian withdrawal from “all the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.”
Armenian officials insist that under the proposed peace deal, residents of Karabakh will be asked to vote for the region’s independence, reunification with Armenia or return under Azerbaijani rule. The mediators have stopped short of publicly confirming this, saying only that practical modalities of the referendum would be decided “through further negotiations.”