Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Turkey, Azerbaijan propose staged resolution to Karabakh dispute, but Armenia isn't interested

Azerbaijan's Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov

Turkey and Azerbaijan have proposed a multi-stage plan for the settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but Armenia isn't impressed.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which ended with a ceasefire in 1994. The Armenian-majority area, located within Azerbaijan territory, has been occupied by Armenian armed forces ever since.

While internationally recognised as Azerbaijani territory, the enclave has declared itself an independent republic, but is administered as a de facto part of Armenia. Since 1994, negotiations have been held under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by France, Russia and the US.

Azerbaijani deputy foreign minister Araz Azimov discussed the plan during a trip to Ankara last week, and gave details to Turkey's Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review newspaper. His visit preceded an expected trip this week by Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Moscow.

According to Hürriyet, the plan is based on trying to bring normality to Armenia in its relationship with Turkey and Azerbaijan. The Baku-Ankara plan involves a staged withdrawl process. Under the plan, Armenia would start by removing troops from five of the eight disputed territories: Akdam, Fuzuli, Cebrail, Zengilan and Kubatli. At this stage the Armenia-Azerbaijan border would open. The border between Armenia and Turkey, which has been closed since 1993, would also likely open at this stage.

"Relations [between Azerbaijan and Armenia] should be normalized, international forces should come in, guarantees should be given and rehabilitation should start," Azimov said.

This stage would last five years, after which Armenia would withdraw from the remaining regions of Lachine, Kelbecer and Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenia population of Karabakh would be provided with security guarantees and preparations for the return of Azerbaijanis to Nagorno-Karabakh would start.

This would pave the way for economic cooperation, although Azimov admits the determining a timeline will be difficult.

Armenia has not reacted favourably to the plan, however. A spokeman for the Armenia Foreign Minister, Tigran Balayan, commented on Azimov's interview with Hürriyet by saying, "Turkey has nothing to do in the Karabakh conflict resolution. If Turkey wishes not to damage the peace process, it should not interfere in the Karabakh conflict settlement."

"Mr. Azimov's scenario for the Karabakh conflict resolution is a figment of his imagination," Balayan emphasized to Armenia's News.am.

Meanwhile, further disputes on the ground are complicating the negotiating process. An Azerbaijani boy was shot and killed on 8th March by Armenian sniper fire. Fariz Badalov was playing outside his house in the village of Orta Garvand, close to the contact line separating Armenian and Azerbaijani troops.

Soon after the incident, the Minsk Group co-chairs announced their intention to visit the region. They condemned the loss of life and urged all sides to exercise restraint and fulfil their obligations undertaken in Sochi earlier this month to seek to resolve all contentious issues peacefully, according a press release from the OSCE.

OSCE representatives have, this week, visited Azerbaijan. The OSCE chairman-in-office, Lithuania's Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis held talks with Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and President Ilham Aliyev in Baku on Monday 14th March.

Robert Bradtke of the US, Bernard Fassier of France and Igor Popov of Russia met Mammadyarov on Tuesday 15th March, according to Azerbaijani media sources. They discussed the current state of negotiations to resolve the Karabakh conflict. It is not clear whether they discussed the Ankara-Baku planned mooted by Azimov.

Sources: Hürriyet, OSCE, News.am, News.az

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