In an interview with Russian state television aired over the weekend, Aliev said that the main bone of contention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is “not on the agenda” of the ongoing Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks which international mediators hope will yield a breakthrough soon. He also divulged other purported details of the “basic principles” of a peaceful settlement sought by the United States, Russia and France.
“As regards the question of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status, a mechanism for a provisional status could be agreed in the first stage [of the peace process,] while the issue of the final status will be solved only when the parties agree on that,” he said. “This could happen in one year, in ten years, in 100 years, or this could never happen. Time will tell.”
The framework agreement, which the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group formally submitted to the conflicting parties in November 2007, reportedly envisages a referendum of self-determination in the Armenian-controlled territory. It is understood to set no time frames for the holding of such a vote and to make clear that Karabakh would remain under Armenian control in the interim. This presumably means that Azerbaijan would not have to relinquish its claim to the disputed region while normalizing relations with the Armenians.
Aliev reiterated his earlier statements that Baku will never formally recognize Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan. “We naturally don’t see a possibility of Nagorno-Karabakh’s existence as an independent state,” he said. “Azerbaijan will never agree to that, and we think that the Armenian side understands this. At the same time the Armenian side reckons that the level of self-rule that exists in Nagorno-Karabakh must be maintained.”
Aliev also said that the implementation of the proposed peace agreement would start from the liberation of five of the seven districts in Azerbaijan proper that were partly or fully occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994. The two other districts, Kelbajar and Lachin, would be placed back under Azerbaijani rule five years later, he said.
The Armenians have categorically ruled out a full pullout from Lachin, which provides for the shortest overland link between Karabakh and Armenia. President Serzh Sarkisian reiterated on Monday that the existence of such a corridor is a necessary condition for any peace deal.
In Aliev’s words, Baku accepts the need for unfettered transport communication between the two Armenian entities. “We understand the worries of those who live in Nagorno-Karabakh that Nagorno-Karabakh could again be geographically cut off from Armenia,” he said.
The Armenian side has also been reluctant to unconditionally withdraw from Kelbajar, another strategic area sandwiched between Armenia and Karabakh. According to sources privy to the negotiating process, former President Robert Kocharian was ready to ensure Kelbajar’s liberation only in the run-up to the would-be Karabakh referendum. They say this was a key reason why Kocharian and Aliev failed to cut a deal in 2006 despite unusually high expectations of the international community.
The mediators have sounded as just optimistic about peace prospects of late, following a series of talks between Aliev and Sarkisian. They hope that the two leaders will essentially iron out their remaining disagreements during yet another meeting expected later this month.
“There are some results,” Aliev told the Russian Vesti TV channel. “Although the negotiating process is difficult, we are headed in the right direction.”