Armenia will continue to press for Nagorno-Karabakh’s direct involvement in its peace negotiations with Azerbaijan, Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian said on Tuesday.
“If Nagorno-Karabakh does not have a sense of ownership towards this negotiating process, the process cannot be effective,” Mnatsakanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service and Civilnet in an interview. “This is at the heart of our approach. Taking away this sense of ownership means breaking the effectiveness of the negotiating process.”
Mnatsakanian would not say whether he thinks Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leaders can participate any time soon in high-level talks held by Baku and Yerevan. “One may look at this issue primitively and imagine who will be sitting at the negotiating table,” he said. “You have to realize that for the last 20 years there has been an established format, a working model which has reflected realities of that period.”
Ever since he swept to came in May last year, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has said on numerous occasions that he does not have a mandate to negotiate on behalf of the Karabakh Armenians and that they should therefore become a full-fledged negotiating party. Baku rejects this demand, saying that Karabakh is Azerbaijani territory occupied by Armenia.
Speaking just hours after his March 29 talks in Vienna with Pashinian, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that “the format of negotiations remained unchanged” as a result of the summit. Pashinian criticized that statement on Monday, saying that it “does not reflect the atmosphere which we have in the negotiations.”
Aliyev again ruled out any changes to the format of the long-running talks on Tuesday. “The conflict is between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” he said.
Armenian opposition politicians and other critics of Pashinian have seized upon such statements to accuse the prime minister of failing to fulfill his pledges to get Karabakh back to the negotiating table.
Mnatsakanian dismissed the criticism. “What are we going to do?” he went on. “We are going to carry on. We are not going to say that … we won’t sit down and talk [to Baku.] We will not take a childish approach. This is a very serious issue. At stake are people’s lives.”
“But the issue [of Karabakh’s participation] cannot be removed from the table because it contains a very simple logic, and our aim is to pursue this matter so that we can boost the effectiveness of this negotiating process,” he added.
Asked whether a compromise settlement acceptable to both conflicting sides can ever be worked out, Mnatsakanian said: “This is what the negotiations are all about. There have been different approaches, ideas and proposals during all these years. It should be possible [to achieve such a settlement] through a combination of them.”
The minister cautioned, however, that this remains an “extremely difficult” task.