Friday, July 15, 2005

OSCE Minsk Group in Yerevan

RFE/RL reports on the latest round of shuttle diplomacy to find a lasting solution to the frozen conflict over the disputed mainly-Armenian populated region of Nagorno Karabakh. After visits to Baku, Stepanakert and Yerevan, the OSCE mediators still appear to be "cautiously optimistic" in the run-up to a possible Armenian-Azerbaijani summit next month but serious obstacles remain.
The French, Russian and U.S. diplomats acting under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group reiterated after longer-than-planned talks with President Robert Kocharian that the compromise peace deal may be sealed in the course of this year.

“We have made a considerable degree of progress in the past year in discussing these issues between the sides,” the group’s American co-chair, Steven Mann, told a joint news conference in Yerevan. “We still have difficult issues before us, but I believe that objective conditions exist for that type of solution … before the end of the year.”
However, it should be pointed out that while the general atmosphere surrounding this latest drive to end the conflict is more positive than at anytime in the past seven years that I've lived in Armenia, there is still a shroud of secrecy surrounding precise details. That said, there is also more openess than ever before.
Armenian diplomatic sources privy to the peace process told RFE/RL last week that Aliev and Kocharian may well finalize a peace accord that will enable the predominantly Armenian population of Karabakh to determine its status at a referendum to be held within 10-15 years. They claimed that the vote will follow the liberation of all but one of the occupied Azerbaijani districts around Karabakh and the reopening of Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey.

The mediators pointedly refused to confirm or deny the claims, citing the confidentiality of the negotiating process.
With parliamentary elections scheduled for November in Azerbaijan, however, the risk of internal instability stemming from talk of a compromise solution might yet derail the obvious progress acheived so far. In today's press review, talk of a compromise deal that might require Armenia to return six of seven territories outside of Karabakh currently under its control in return for a referendum to be held 10-15 years down the line are already ruffling a few feathers in Armenia.
“The idea of holding a referendum [in Karabakh] within 10 or 15 years is not understandable,” opposition leader Vazgen Manukian tells “Ayb-Fe.” “Why not now but in 10-15 years? I don’t think this is a serious approach to the issue.” Manukian claims that security guarantees allegedly offered to the Armenians by mediators are “absolutely unserious.”

“Ayb-Fe” agrees with Manukian. “It is our right to categorically reject the proposed ‘mutual compromise,’” writes the paper. “By walking away from agreements reached in Paris and Key West Azerbaijan has not lost anything. We too won’t lose from the collapse of that plan. We will lose unless we cause it to collapse.”


“Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” says the main Armenian fear regarding the referendum idea is that Azerbaijanis could eventually become a majority in Karabakh due to their higher birth rate.
Incidentally, Armenia Now also covers the OSCE Minsk Group's visit to Yerevan and takes a more pessimistic tone. Interestingly, despite the urgent need for a solution to the conflict that broke out towards the end of the Soviet era and the fact that many observers consider it to be a major obstacle to democratization in Armenia and Azerbaijan, the visit and the latest round of negotiations didn't even make headline news on the site.

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