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Peace Process: Where We Are Now

A summary of progress on the road to a settlement.
By IWPR
The Minsk Group, which is chaired by Russia, France and the United States and aims to find a peaceful settlement of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, has laid out principles on which it believes the crisis should be resolved.



The principles are occasionally adjusted to reflect changes on the ground, but are still essentially the same as those agreed in a meeting in Madrid two years ago.



“We are instructing our mediators to present to the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan an updated version of the Madrid Document of November 2007, the Co-Chairs’ last articulation of the Basic Principles. We urge the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to resolve the few differences remaining between them and finalise their agreement on these Basic Principles, which will outline a comprehensive settlement,” the French, Russian and United States presidents said in a joint statement after the G8 summit in Italy on July 10.



So what are the Madrid Principles, and what are the two sides’ positions on them?



RETURN OF THE TERRITORIES SURROUNDING NAGORNY KARABAKH TO AZERBIAJANI CONTROL



Currently, Armenian forces control parts of the Aghdam and Fizuli regions, and all of the Kelbajar, Zangilan, Jabrail and Gubadly regions, which are all outside the Soviet-era boundaries of Nagorny Karabakh and which they seized between March and November 1993. They also control the Lachin area, but this is covered by a different point of the Madrid Principles.



This principle is supported by Azerbaijan, which wishes to regain control over its internationally recognised borders.



In Armenia, this point raises concerns, however, since it involves surrendering the current “security belt” around Nagorny Karabakh proper. Armenian strategists consider the regions to be a buffer zone ensuring there cannot be a surprise assault on the self-declared state. However, even in early rounds of talks between the two sides, Armenian negotiators recognised that sooner or later these territories would have to be returned to Baku’s control in some way.



AN INTERIM STATUS FOR NAGORNY KARABAKH PROVDING GUARANTEES FOR SECURITY AND SELF-GOVERNANCE.



This point is tolerated by Azerbaijan, which has repeatedly announced it is prepared to give Nagorny Karabakh “the highest possible autonomy” consistent with its territorial integrity.



However, both sides have concerns about the definition of this article. How long would the interim status last? The current speculation in local media is that it could last for 15 years, by which time a resolution of its status would have to be secured under point 4 of the principles.



A CORRIDOR LINKING ARMENIA TO NAGORNY KARABAKH



This refers to the Lachin region, which separates the Soviet-era borders of Nagorny Karabakh and Armenia, and which Armenians consider to be a crucial lifeline, without which Nagorny Karabakh could be blockaded. It is currently controlled by Armenian forces.



Azerbaijan’s negotiators do not seem to have a firm opinion on the Lachin region, since conceding a corridor is a logical side-effect of the other points, but could also raise doubts about their country’s territorial integrity. The issue of the Lachin corridor is a potentially serious sticking point for the two sides.



FUTURE DETERMINATION OF THE FINAL LEGAL STATUS OF NAGORNY KARABAKH THROUGH A LEGALLY BINDING EXPRESSION OF WILL.



This point also divides opinion among Azerbaijan’s negotiators. Conceding a final referendum also risks conceding independence for Nagorny Karabakh, which is considered unacceptable. However, some commentators have expressed the opinion that, in a popular vote, ordinary Armenians in Nagorny Karabakh might prefer to remain in oil-rich Azerbaijan.



THE RIGHT OF ALL INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS AND REFUGEES TO RETURN TO THEIR FORMER PLACES OF RESIDENCE.



Although this is theoretically accepted by all sides, it is a point that could prove very hard to implement. If it addresses all the victims of the war, it cannot only apply to Nagorny Karabakh itself. There are refugees from Armenia in Azerbaijan, and refugees from Azerbaijan in Armenia, without beginning to consider Nagorny Karabakh and the other territories where actual fighting occurred. Would this point include Armenians returning to Baku or Azeris to Yerevan? How would these people regain their old houses of flats? Who will guarantee their security?



If this point only addresses Nagorny Karabakh itself, then there is a potential sticking point concerning the town of Shusha, which Armenians call Shushi), that was predominantly ethnically Azeri before the war and which controls the heights above Khankendi, the main town in Nagorny Karabakh and which Armenians call Stepanakert.



Before the war, the population of Nagorny Karabakh was 76.9 per cent Armenian (about 145,000 people), 21.5 per cent Azeri (about 40,000 people) and 1.6 per cent other (about 3,000 people). There are around a million refugees and internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan.



INTERNATIONAL SECURITY GUARANTEES THAT WOULD INCLUDE A PEACEKEEPING OPTION.



Both Armenia and Azerbaijan boast that, even without peacekeepers, the ceasefire agreed 15 years ago has been observed. However, there are regular exchanges of fire over the line of control. Soldiers and civilians are still occasionally killed, and peacekeepers would almost certainly be required to ensure the safety of refugees allowed to return under point 5.



Different peacekeeping forces have been mooted, although the co-chairs of the Minsk group are banned from providing troops under the terms of their mandate. Italian, British, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Romanian and other forces have all been suggested, but there is no clarity on this issue.



Kenan Guluzade is a regional expert from the South Caucasus think tank and editor-in-chief of the www.analitika.az website.

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