Oskanian Defends ‘Madrid Principles’

Anna Israelian, Aghasi Yenokian

Aug 3 2009

Vartan Oskanian, Armenia’s former longtime foreign minister, has
defended the most recent international plan to end the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict and warned that its blanket rejection could make the mediators
reconsider their apparent acceptance of continued Armenian control
over the disputed territory.

In an extensive weekend interview with RFE/RL, he insisted that the
basic principles of the Karabakh settlement that were formally put
forward in Madrid in November 2007 are "incomparably" more favorable
for the Armenian side than any of the peace proposals made by the U.S.,
Russian and French mediators in the past.

"Whereas in the past we were offered at worst a high degree of
[Karabakh’s] autonomy within Azerbaijan and at best horizontal ties
between Azerbaijan and Karabakh within the framework of a common state,
the Madrid principles … provide for the self-determination of the
Nagorno-Karabakh people, which obviously means Nagorno-Karabakh’s
independence or reunification with Armenia," said Oskanian.

"I am convinced that if we let slip this recognition of the
Nagorno-Karabakh people’s right to self-determination, it will be
very difficult to gain it again in the future and the negotiations
could go in a totally different direction and they could start
upholding [Azerbaijan’s] territorial integrity," he said. "Today we
have an advantage over Azerbaijan in terms of the upholding of this
[self-determination] principle. That is why I think we should be
careful in our statements, our criticisms and should pick the right

The so-called Madrid principles, which the conflicting parties started
discussing years before November 2007, envisage a phased resolution
of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict that would start with a gradual
liberation of the districts in Azerbaijan proper partly or fully
occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war. In
return, Karabakh would retain a land corridor to Armenia and be able
to determine its final status in a future referendum.

Like his predecessor Robert Kocharian, President Serzh Sarkisian
appears to have essentially accepted this peace formula. According
to the American, French and Russian diplomats co-chairing the OSCE
Minsk Group, Sarkisian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev
made significant progress in face-to-face meetings held this year and
could iron out their remaining differences before the end of this year.

The prospect of a breakthrough in the Armenian-Azerbaijani talks has
prompted serious concern from Armenian nationalist groups opposed to
major territorial concessions to Baku even in return for international
recognition of Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan. The largest
of them, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun),
has warned that it will campaign for Sarkisian’s resignation if he
signs up to the Madrid principles.

Oskanian dismissed the hardliners’ position, saying that no
peaceful settlement is possible without the return of most of the
Armenian-controlled territories surrounding Karabakh. "If the Armenian
side wants to exclude the issues of return of territories, return of
[Azerbaijani] refugees from future principles and be guided by the
principle of ‘not a single inch of land to the enemy,’ which would
be a wonderful solution, then Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh or both
of them should pull out of the negotiations," he said. "If we are to
negotiate, these principles will always be on the table."

The Madrid principles have also been rejected by some leading members
of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK). The alliance’s
top leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, was forced to
resign in 1998 because of his vigorous advocacy of a similar peace
accord drafted by the Minsk Group co-chairs in 1997. It too called
for Armenian withdrawal from at least six of the seven occupied
Azerbaijani districts but contained no mechanisms for determining
Karabakh’s status, the main bone of contention.

Some of Ter-Petrosian’s close associates say that the 1997 deal
is better than what the mediators have proposed to Kocharian and
Sarkisian. In particular, they claim that under that plan the occupied
lands would not necessarily be placed back under Azerbaijani control
after the Armenian pullout from them.

Oskanian, who served as foreign minister from 1998-2008, insisted
that in 1997 the international community sought Karabakh’s eventual
return under Azerbaijani rule and came to terms with its de facto
independence only during Kocharian’s presidency. "Sometimes we are
driven by revenge and don’t think before saying and doing something,"
he said in a clear reference to the Ter-Petrosian camp.

Oskanian argued that instead of rejecting the Madrid document out
of hand, Armenian opposition forces should focus on its crucial
details. "Today their task must be to clarify what the bar set by the
authorities is," he said. "Our bar was set high. I have many doubts
about today’s bar," he added, exposing fears that Sarkisian is ready
to make more concessions to Azerbaijan than Kocharian was.

The Minsk Group co-chairs said last week that they are working on
an "updated version" of the Madrid document to increase chances of
its acceptance by Baku and Yerevan. It is not yet clear just how
significant the changes made by them are.

Speaking in RFE/RL’s Yerevan studio, Oskanian also reaffirmed his
criticism of Sarkisian’s conciliatory policy towards Turkey that
has earned the latter plaudits in the West but has not produced any
tangible results so far. "Turkey has gotten from this Turkish-Armenian
process what it wanted," he said. "The Armenian side has not gained
anything yet."

Oskanian, who set up last year a private think-tank called Civilitas,
was unimpressed by Sarkisian’s recent announcement that he will
not travel to Turkey this October for the return match of the two
countries’ national football unless Ankara takes "real steps" to
reopen the Turkish-Armenian border. He said Sarkisian should have
made a more explicit linkage between the visit and an open border.

"He left the window open," the Syrian-born ex-minister said. "I
think that’s what the Turks want … I just don’t know when our
authorities will finally realize that the Turkish side is exploiting
the process. They should have realized that a long time ago."