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Armenians Worried by US Diplomat's Karabakh Comments
One of many border areas that has seen civilian deaths amid the fragile peace. This is on the frontier between Armenia and Azerbaijan, not the "Line of Control" around Karabakh. (Photo: Armenian defence ministry)
A speech last month by James Warlick, a United States diplomat who is part of the international group seeking a solution to the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, may have been officially welcomed in Yerevan, but many Armenians detected a shift of position that was not in their favour.
In Nagorny Karabakh, the local Armenian leadership rejected the ambassador’s comments outright.
Ambassador Warlick is the US member of the OSCE’s Minsk Group, which also includes Russian and French co-chairs and which has for year been trying to nudge Azerbaijanis and Armenians towards a workable solution to a conflict that stopped in 1994 and has remained effectively frozen since then.
In a speech at the Carnegie Centre in Washington on May 7 to mark the 20th anniversary of the ceasefire, he focused on six principles for a settlement which have been on the table since 2007, with some modification since then.
The “Madrid Principles”, as they are known, would grant Nagorny Karabakh an interim status pending a legally-binding referendum, while restoring to Azerbaijan the adjacent territories that are also under Armenian control. Refugees and internally displaced persons would be able to return home, a land corridor between Karabakh and Armenia would be maintained, and the international community would provide a peacekeeping force.
“There can be no settlement without respect for Azerbaijan’s sovereignty, and the recognition that its sovereignty over these [surrounding] territories must be restored,” Warlick said. “The time has come for the sides to commit themselves to peace negotiations, building on the foundation of work done so far.”
Although the return of territories outside Karabakh is a principle that US officials have expressed before, many Armenian politicians and analysts saw a tilt in emphasis in favour of Azerbaijan.
Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan chose instead to focus on other elements of the ambassador’s speech, and he criticised Baku for refusing to grant OSCE monitors access to the “Line of Contact” that separates Karabakh and Azerbaijan forces around Karabakh.
“Azerbaijan, unlike Armenia, has rejected and continues to reject repeated suggestions from the co-mediating countries to strengthen ceasefire arrangements, to withdraw snipers from the front line, and create a mechanism for investigating incidents,” Nalbandyan said.
His positive spin on the speech was unusual in Yerevan, as most other politicians saw nothing to like about it.
Artak Zakaryan, a member of parliament’s foreign affairs committee from the ruling Republican Party, was highly critical of Ambassador Warlick’s comments.
“They are largely unacceptable, particularly the fact that the security belt around Karabakh is termed the ‘occupied territories’,” Zakaryan said in an interview with Russia’s Regnum news agency. “Everyone is very well aware that this is not an occupation, but the result of the war that Azerbaijan brought to Karabakh. These territories are a significant factor in providing security not just for Karabakh, but for the whole region.”
In Karabakh, which has declared itself an independent state but is not recognised as such by any member of the United Nations, the government rejected the speech, saying the international community needed to treat Karabakh and Azerbaijan as equal players. In the talks process, Azerbaijan has refused to deal with Karabakh, talking only to Armenia.
“The Nagorny Karabakh conflict is the only one in the world where for two decades, the parties to a conflict have themselves managed to preserve peace and stability. I think that this very important and it shows, among other things, that Azerbaijan and Nagorny Karabakh can co-exist as two neighbouring sovereign states,” Karabakh president Bako Sahakyan, said in an interview with News.am. “It is impossible to achieve a solution to the conflict that will be acceptable to everyone. This is clear to anyone who can see Baku’s destructive policy. A full talks format has still not been created, but I am sure this is just a question of time.”
One of the points made by Ambassador Warlick was that the Lachin area, which lies between Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh, could not remain wholly under Armenian control.
“There should be a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorny Karabakh. It must be wide enough to provide secure passage, but it cannot encompass the whole of Lachin district,” he said.
When a mission from the OSCE later travelled through Lachin, they were blocked by a group of protesters.
Masis Mailyan, head of the Public Council on Foreign Policy and Security in Karabakh, said the co-chairs needed to scrap the Madrid Principles and start again.
“Armenian diplomats should have long ago rejected any discussion of a document that not only contains many points that run counter to Armenian interests, but also has great destructive potential,” he told IWPR. “It’s time to relieve the international mediators of their false ideas. This would allow them to create new regulatory mechanisms that reflect current realities.”
Stepan Grigoryan of the Analytical Centre on Globalisation and Regional Cooperation suspects that broader geopolitics are playing a role in subtle shifts in the Western position on Karabakh. Last year, Armenia abandoned plans to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union and announced it wanted to enter the Moscow-led Customs Union instead.
“In my opinion, this is a consequence of Armenia’s desire to join the Customs Union. It’s clear that the United States and EU are expressing their dissatisfaction with this decision, and they cannot be pro-Armenia in their comments,” he told IWPR.
In response to the discussion his remarks engendered, Ambassador Warlick used his Twitter page to say, “Thanks for comments, even critical ones, on my @CarnegieEndow speech. Important to have honest discussion about how to achieve #NKpeace.”
Yekaterina Poghosyan is a report for the Mediamax news agency in Armenia.
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