BAKU (Combined Sources)–The peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan is significantly impacted by the countries’ presidential elections, International Crisis Group Europe Program Director Sabine Freizer told the Azeri Press Agency on Tuesday.
The situation is sensitive, she explained, because both countries this year will have dealt with their own presidential elections.
Having elected President Serzh Sarkisian in what many deemed a flawed election in February, Armenia is currently experiencing what some consider a political crisis.
Meanwhile, with only five months to go until elections are held in Azerbaijan, controversy is looming over President Ilham Aliyev’s failure to solve many of the country’s social ills.
Over a million Azeri refugees from the Karabakh Conflict still live in shantytowns and abandoned train carts. Human rights violations are at an all time high, as severe media restrictions continue to result in the imprisonment and torture of journalists and opposition activists. According to Eurasianet, Aliyev’s recent claims that his government allegedly oversaw the creation of 650,000 new jobs by the end of 2007 are not being received well by most of Azerbaijan’s population, which has yet to feel the affects of the country’s massive oil revenues.
This is why the upcoming meeting between Aliyev and his recently elected Armenian counterpart is very important, Freizer stressed.
The two men will be meeting Friday in the Russian City of Saint Petersburg on the sidelines of a summit of former Soviet republics. It is hoped that during the meeting, the two leaders will try to make further progress towards finalizing a framework peace agreement drafted by US, Russian and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group.
The Minsk Group plan, formally submitted to the conflicting parties last November, envisages a gradual solution to the dispute that would see the transfer to Azerbaijan of the liberated territories surrounding Karabakh and delay the agreement on its status. Aliyev and Sarkisian’s predecessor Robert Kocharian apparently accepted most of the proposed principles, leading the mediators to state earlier this year that an Armenian-Azerbaijani framework peace deal could be cut in the course of this year.
But the peace process has stalled, as Azerbaijan continues to threaten to use its growing military budget for an all out invasion of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
"I hope that the presidents will agree to review the proposals of OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs," Freizer said, expressing her hopes that the change in leadership in Yerevan would have a positive influence on the negotiations.
"A New president means a new spirit, and new enthusiasm," she remarked. "I hope Serzh Sarkisian will have a constructive position and this factor will be an impetus to moving the negotiations forward."
However, according Institute for War and Peace Reporting Caucasus Editor Thomas De Waal, there is little expectation for the forthcoming meeting to yield any positive change.
There is little chance that these talks will be successful, explained De Waal, who chronicled the war and its aftermath in his "Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War.
With the passage of a UN General Assembly resolution denouncing the existence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and upholding the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, official Baku has effectively distanced itself from the basic document discussed last year by the Minsk Group Co-Chairs.
"The Azeri leadership is not likely to take drastic steps on the threshold of their presidential election, while Yerevan is too loaded with domestic problems to highlight the Karabakh settlement," he explained.
According to French Minsk Group Co-Chair Bernard Fassier, the meeting between the two presidents is of a familiarizing nature and is very important.
He said last week that the Minsk Group Co-Chairs and the Foreign Ministers of the two countries will continue the negotiation process after the meeting of Presidents. The French Co-Chair expressed hope that the meeting will yield positive results
The Minsk Group co-chairs are set to meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin on Thursday. On Friday they will meet with OSCE Head Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb.
"The next meeting of the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will depend on their disposition and on whether they will manage to establish normal relations," US Minsk Group Co-Chair Matthew Bryza told reporters in Baku Tuesday before meeting with Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.