Talks on June 24 in the Russian Volga River city of Kazan were billed as crucial for trying to resolve the decades-long conflict surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, the mountainous, mostly Armenian-populated region inside Azerbaijan.
But Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia’s Serzh Sarksyan failed to agree on a set of “basic principles” that could have marked the start of a path toward resolution.
On June 25, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian blamed the failure on Azerbaijan in a statement, saying “Kazan did not become a turning point because Azerbaijan was not ready to accept the latest version of the basic principles.” He said Azerbaijan wanted “about 10” changes to the document.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov denied that his side had been solely responsible for the stalemate.
“Unfortunately, we have been unable to reach a compromise decision on a number of principal issues, because the Armenian side requires maximum concessions from Azerbaijan, distorting the essence of the negotiation process…” he said, adding that the Armenian Foreign Ministry should refrain from “engaging in PR, but [should] work intensively to change the existing negative status quo.”
Nonetheless, Mammadyarov did say that he “got the impression” that both the Armenian and Azarbaijani presidents intend to continue “working intensively” toward finding a definitive solution.
Audronius Azubalis, the OSCE’s chairman in office
These hopes were echoed by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis, the chairman in office with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has been helping to mediate in the dispute.
“I welcome the efforts in reaching common understanding on a number of issues whose resolution will help create the conditions for approval of the basic principles,” he said. “I hope the work to address the outstanding issues will be continued, to pave the way towards resolving the conflict.”
Russian television showed the two leaders of the neighboring Caucasus Mountains countries walking around Kazan on June 24, escorted by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who led the mediation efforts. The United States and France are also mediators.
The conflict began in 1988, three years before the Soviet collapse, when Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh. The hostilities killed more than 20,000 people and forced a million into exile. Armenia gained control over Karabakh and seven neighboring regions inside Azerbaijan, around 13 percent of the country’s territory.
Playing Down The Failure
A ceasefire in 1994 ended the conflict, leaving Armenian forces in control of the region, which has been simmering ever since. Gunfire and mines routinely kill dozens of people on both sides of the border each year.
Both countries had been under tremendous pressure by the mediators in the lead-up to the summit on June 24. U.S. President Obama called Aliyev and Sarkasian on June 23 to urge them to back an agreement.
The talks were seen as the best chance for a breakthrough because upcoming elections in Armenia and the mediating countries will lessen the changes for a deal.
But Russian state television news, which played up Medvedev’s mediating role, also played down the failure, reporting the summit as only the latest installment of regular talks on the issue.
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan said some progress had been made on June 25. A Kremlin statement said they had agreed on “a number of questions whose resolution helps create conditions to approve the basic principles.”
Under the settlement framework, Armenia would withdraw its forces from the Azeri regions outside Nagorno-Karabakh, which would be given “interim” status. Hundreds of thousands of refugees would be allowed to return to the region and international peacekeepers brought in to help maintain the ceasefire. Nagorno-Karabakh’s final status would be decided in future years.
Despite years of negotiations, the presidents of both countries continue to make inflammatory statements about the region, amid growing concern over a new war. Azerbaijan has been beefing up its military, spending about $3 billion of its oil wealth a year on its army.
There are fears a fresh conflict would draw in Turkey, Iran, Russia and other countries in the region.
written by Gregory Feifer in Prague