President Ilham Aliyev has again ruled out the possibility of recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan and claimed to have secured broad international support for the disputed territory’s return under Azerbaijani rule.
In a New Year’s address to the nation, Aliyev spoke of “very important steps” towards the resolution of the Karabakh conflict which he said were taken in the course of 2009.
“The entire international community and parties directly dealing with this issue are demonstrating their will on how the problem will be solved,” he said, according to Azerbaijani media. “It is very heartening that the dominant position is the one which Azerbaijan has asserted for many years. That is, the issue must be solved on the basis of international law, within the framework of the territorial integrity of countries.
“Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity was not, is not and will never be a topic of negotiations. Nagorno-Karabakh will never become an independent state … Azerbaijan will never agree to that.”
“The Armenians residing in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Azerbaijanis that will be living there must live within the framework of a status of autonomy, and the most advanced international experience must be applied in that area,” he added.
Other Azerbaijani officials also stated in previous weeks that Baku can only grant Karabakh limited self-governance despite accepting peoples’ right to self-determination as one of the core principles for resolving the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute. Both territorial integrity and self-determination were mentioned in a joint declaration adopted in late October by top diplomats from Armenia, Azerbaijan as well as three mediating powers: the United States, Russia and France.
The conflicting parties also make differing public interpretations of the “basic principles” of a Karabakh settlement put forward by the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. The proposed framework agreement calls for the liberation of Azerbaijani territories surrounding Karabakh and a future referendum of self-determination in the Armenian-controlled territory.
Azerbaijani officials claim that Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population could only determine the extent of its self-rule within Azerbaijan. Armenian officials insist, however, the Karabakh Armenians would be able to vote for independence, reunification with Armenia or return under Azerbaijani control in the would-be referendum.
In his speech, Aliyev again threatened to end the bitter conflict by force. “Today our army is capable of achieving all objectives,” he said. “We have all the possibilities of freeing our land of occupation: both the military capacity and the patriotic spirit.”
Aliyev’s Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian, meanwhile, assured his compatriots on New Year’s Eve that the armed forces of Armenia and Karabakh remain in a position to maintain the status quo in the conflict zone. “Today, peace and stability in our region are more steady than one year ago,” Sarkisian said in a televised speech. “Components of that stability are numerous and in each of them Armenia has its significant and indispensable part.”
“For us the most important among those components is the maturing Armenian Army which is safeguarding the Motherland day and night, including this festive moment, the Army which was built by our immortal martyrs, who brought our people a victorious peace,” he added.
Neither Aliyev, nor Sarkisian commented on prospects for Karabakh peace in 2010. The two leaders held six face-to-face meetings in 2009 and are expected to meet again in the coming months. The international mediators have repeatedly urged them to iron out their remaining differences over the basic principles.