Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Close (Again) to Karabakh Peace?

Armenian Church Service held in a theatre, Stepanakert, Nagorno Karabakh © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 1994

RFE/RL reports that Armenia and Azerbaijan
are close to finalizing a peace deal as early as the end of this year. While this sounds too fantastic, rumors to this effect have been circulating around Yerevan since the end of last year. In the spring, high profile public comments from the Armenian President and Defense Minister confirmed Yerevan's position that "painful concessions are necessary for peace" in order to achieve a final solution to the "frozen conflict" over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.

The details of the proposed peace deal reported here match precisely the rumors that have been circulating since November 2004, and according to RFE/RL, have effectively been confirmed by anonymous sources in the Armenian government.

The high-level sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have told RFE/RL that the conflicting parties have already agreed on the key points of a peace deal that could be formalized as early as this year or at the beginning of next. At the heart of it, they say, is the idea of a referendum in which the Karabakh Armenians will decide whether they want to be independent, become a part of Armenia or return under Azerbaijani rule.

Some Armenian and Western officials have hinted at the possibility of such a vote over the past year that has seen major progress toward the resolution of the Karabakh dispute. Presidents Ilham Aliev and Robert Kocharian could build upon it at their next meeting scheduled to take place in the Russian city of Kazan on August 27.

The Armenian sources claimed that the referendum would be held within 10 to 15 years from the signing of a peace agreement and would follow the return of five of the seven occupied Azerbaijani districts around Karabakh. They said the Lachin district, which serves as the shortest overland link between Armenia and Karabakh, would remain under Armenian control, while agreement has yet to be reached on the seventh occupied territory, Kelbajar. The Armenians are ready to pull out of Kelbajar only after a date is set for the referendum, while the Azerbaijani side is demanding its liberation along with the five other districts, the sources said.

Of course, being close to peace and actually getting there are two entirely different things but it has to be said that the feeling among those privy to some of the details have been very optimistic about a peace deal since eary 2005. However, as with the Key West talks held in 2001, it remains to be seen how political forces in Azerbaijan will react to this news – if true – so close to the November Parliamentary Elections. Interestingly, Itar-Tass reports that "political consultations" were held on resolution of the Karabagh conflict in Baku today.

The full news item can be read online here.

On the subject of Lachin, a photo essay I shot there can be found online here as well as photos taken soon after the 1994 ceasefire. There is also an article I wrote for Transitions Online on settlement in Lachin available on my web site.

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