Armenia, Azerbaijan Clash Over OSCE Mediation

By Zarema Velikhanova in Baku and Ara Tadevosian in Yerevan

Institute for War and Peace Reporting
April 2 2008

Azerbaijanis hint they want change to the way the negotiations over
Nagorny Karabakh are managed.

The peace process over Nagorny Karabakh is in danger of unravelling, as
Azerbaijanis cast doubt over the usefulness of the way the negotiations
have been conducted by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation
in Europe.

Since 1997, the talks have been mediated by the American, French and
Russian co-chairmen of the OSCE’s "Minsk Group." At the end of last
year, the Minsk Group tried to persuade the two sides to accept a
statement of basic principles, as a first step towards breaking the
deadlock over Nagorny Karabakh’s future – but no agreement was reached.

There is now a widespread perception that the peace process is

On March 12, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the OSCE sent secretary
general Marc Perrin de Brichambaut a letter asking him to "clarify
existing or possible procedures" for replacing or terminating the
Minsk Group co-chairmanship.

Two days later, the United Nations General Assembly passed an
Azerbaijan-sponsored resolution, which expressed support for the Minsk
Group, but whose first two points reaffirmed Azerbaijan’s territorial
integrity – taken to include Armenian-held Nagorny Karabakh – and
demanded "the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of
all Armenian forces from all the occupied territories of the Republic
of Azerbaijan".

Most countries abstained, but 39 voted in favour, including Georgia,
Turkey and Ukraine.

Among the seven countries that voted against the resolution were the
three main mediating states – France, Russia and the United States –
which said the document reflected only the Azerbaijani position in
the dispute.

On March 19 the three current co-chairmen of the Minsk Group –
Russia’s Yury Merzlyakov, Bernard Fassier of France and Matt Bryza
from the US administration – issued a statement reaffirming their
support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan,"while holding
that the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh is a matter of negotiations
between the parties".

Zeyno Baran of the Hudson Institute in Washington told the Mediamax
news agency in Yerevan that the UN resolution came in response to
Azerbaijani concerns about Kosovo’s recent declaration of independence
from Serbia.

"Baku seems to worry that Kosovo will be used as a precedent," she
said. "Azerbaijanis have seen how strongly the US has supported
Georgia’s territorial integrity, yet has been more ambivalent on
Azerbaijan’s. Of course, given that the US is a co-chair of the Minsk
Group and must therefore remain an honest broker, the US government
could not really take a different position on Karabakh.

Unfortunately, for the ordinary Azeri this is a distinction that is
difficult to understand or accept."

Armenian officials angrily accused Azerbaijan of undermining the
negotiation process. Foreign ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan also
criticised Baku for not agreeing to a meeting between President Ilham
Aliev and Armenian president-elect Serzh Sarkisian at the current
NATO summit in Bucharest.

"This shows once again that the statements and steps made by
Azerbaijani officials have nothing in common with their promises to
continue the peace process," said Balayan.

In response, Azerbaijani deputy foreign minister Araz Azimov told
journalists that his country was not shunning the current negotiating
framework. He said that an affirmation of the territorial integrity
of Azerbaijan lies at the heart of the so-called Prague Process,
which has been the basis of negotiations over the past three years.

"If that hadn’t been the case, Baku would have rejected these
negotiations," he said. "It says in these proposals that Nagorny
Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan and that Azerbaijanis and Armenians
receive the right to live on this territory. It is unacceptable to
introduce any changes and conjectures into this formula. Azerbaijan
will not permit the loss of part of its territory, and will guarantee
its territorial integrity by any means."

Outside government, a fierce debate has begun in Azerbaijan about
whether the Minsk Group should now be changed.

A well-known pro-government member of parliament, Anar Mamedkhanov,
wrote an article entitled, "Shouldn’t we tell the Minsk Group to…?"

in which he recommended that his Azerbaijan give up on the current

Political analyst Ilgar Mamedov argued that it was time for Azerbaijan
to challenge the format of the Minsk Group co-chairmanship.

"The procedure for changing the co-chairmen is straightforward,"
Mamedov told IWPR. "You put a blank piece of paper with the president’s
letterhead into the printer. You type a text on your computer rejecting
the services of the mediators, you sign it and you send it to the
presidents of the co-chairmanship countries. That’s it."

"Otherwise we will soon be doubting whom Karabakh actually belongs to –
Azerbaijan or the co-chairmen."

Orkhan Fikretoglu, a writer and commentator with the ANS television
channel, told IWPR, "It’s not worth waiting for any serious actions
from the co-chairs of the Minsk Group either now or in the near
future. The mediators in the negotiations ought to be countries that
have no interests in the region – for example, certain Muslim countries
or neutral European ones like Switzerland, Norway or Sweden. These
countries don’t need our oil or our lands."

By contrast, the Armenians basically supports the current
US-Russian-French arrangement. In 2006, President Robert Kocharian
told Armenian television, "The mediators are doing the maximum possible
within the framework of their mandate. From time to time, I ask myself
what I would do in their place and I find it hard to answer."

On March 20 this year, Kocharian – whose successor Sarkisian was voted
in last month – told a press conference in Yerevan that he wanted to
see the negotiations continue in their current form.

He then issued a warning that "if Azerbaijan continues with its
unconstructive steps, Armenia will recognise the independence of the
Nagorny Karabakh Republic, and will sign a collective defence treaty
with it".

This threat has been hinted at before, but never acted on.

The "Nagorny Karabakh Republic" unilaterally declared itself
independent from Azerbaijan in1991. However, Yerevan has never
formally recognised the breakaway territory as a sovereign state,
nor has it moved to annex it.

In practical terms, Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh are now closely
integrated with each other.

Last August, the opposition Heritage Party led by former Armenian
foreign minister Raffi Hovannissian submitted a bill to parliament
calling on Armenia to recognise the Nagorny Karabakh Republic. The
bill did not come to a vote.

Hrair Karapetian, who heads the parliamentary faction of the
nationalist Dashnaktsutiun party, told IWPR, "We continue to call for
the unification of Nagorny Karabakh and Armenia, which has de facto
already taken place."

He went on to add the proviso that "legal recognition of this reality
will be possible only if further negotiations on resolving the Karabakh
problem prove impossible."

Armenia’s national budget consistently earmarks a credit line for
Nagorny Karabakh.

In the view of Tigran Torosian, the speaker of Armenia’s parliament,
"By approving the state budget every year, the parliament of Armenia
recognises the independence of the Nagorny Karabakh Republic."

US co-chairman Bryza warned that if Armenia moved towards formal
recognition of Nagorny Karabakh, this would represent a "highly
asymmetric response" to Azerbaijan’s actions.

"Any move that prejudges the outcome of the negotiations that are
under way, and that are achieving some real results in terms of
moving closer to finalising the basic principles, would be unhelpful,"
Bryza told the Armenian Report newspaper in the United States. "And
we looked at the UN GA [General Assembly] resolution of Azerbaijan
in that very light – that it was a one-sided resolution that did not
reflect the fair and balanced nature of the proposal on the table."

He added, "Similarly, if the Armenian side were to move unilaterally
and prejudge the outcome of the negotiations by recognising Nagorno
Karabakh, that would be something that is very seriously undermining
the peace process."

Arif Yunus, a veteran specialist on the Nagorny Karabakh conflict,
based in Baku, said the current negotiations were certainly not
working, but for a different reason – they were failing to engage
with the public on either side of the conflict.

"We absolutely do have to pose the question of changing the format
of the Minsk Group," said Yunus. "The co-chairmen have just turned
into people who turn up at the negotiations. However, the problems of
Nagorny Karabakh depend not on the co-chairmen, but on the Azerbaijani
and Armenian peoples."

Zarema Velikhanova is a freelance journalist in Baku. Ara Tadevosian
is director of Mediamax news agency in Yerevan.

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