By Emil Danielyan
Armenia expects the ongoing peace talks with Azerbaijan to result in a peace accord that will allow for international recognition of Armenian control over Nagorno-Karabakh, President Robert Kocharian said in a newspaper interview published on Monday.
“It is absurd to speak of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity because Nagorno-Karabakh won its independence during the collapse of the USSR through an impeccable legal procedure and has never been part of an independent Azerbaijan,” he told the French daily “Le Figaro.” “The negotiations can only be aimed at fixing a delay for the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence by means of a referendum.”
Kocharian was alluding to the underlying principle of international mediators’ current peace plan on Karabakh. It calls for the holding of a referendum of self-determination in the disputed territory years after the liberation of Armenian-occupied lands in Azerbaijan proper. Armenian officials say Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population would be asked to vote for independence, reunification with Armenia or return under Azerbaijani rule.
The Azerbaijani side maintains, however, that it will never come to terms with Karabakh’s de facto secession from Soviet Azerbaijan. In a recent interview with “Le Figaro,” President Ilham Aliev said Baku is only ready to grant the Karabakh Armenians “the highest degree of autonomy within Azerbaijan.” Other Azerbaijani officials have claimed that the proposed referendum would determine the extent of such autonomy.
Despite diametrically opposite statements, the conflicting parties seem to have made considerable progress in the talks mediated by the American, French and Russian co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. The group’s U.S. co-chair, Matthew Bryza, told RFE/RL earlier this month they are “very close” to cutting a framework peace deal this year.
The mediators discussed their next steps with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and among themselves in Paris last week. In a joint statement issued on Friday, they urged Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov to meet again soon to “overcome the remaining differences on the basic principles of a future settlement agreement.”
(Photo by the French Foreign Ministry: Kocharian pictured during Monday's talks in Paris with French President Jacques Chirac.)