MOSCOW (RFE/RL)—Russia believes that the key part of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s offer of the status of an autonomous republic for Nagorno-Karabakh was that it will happen “if the parties reach an agreement.”
At a Thursday press briefing in Moscow Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova was asked by a Moscow-Baku news agency correspondent to comment on the statement that was made by the Azerbaijani leader earlier this month and elicited dismissive reactions from authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert.
“The parties must reach an agreement,” emphasized Zakharova, referring to the protracted Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh in which Russia acts as one of the international mediators along with the United States and France.
“We will never agree to grant Nagorno-Karabakh independence,” Aliyev told Russian state television in an interview aired on October 18. “But there can be a compromise on local self-government in Nagorno-Karabakh in the future; if we reach agreement it could be an autonomous republic. We cannot make more concessions.”
The Azerbaijani leader also made it clear that Armenian troops must withdraw from “occupied districts” surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh before that.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry was quick to scoff at Aliyev’s remarks as spokesman Tigran Balayan described them as “self-deception.” David Babayan, a spokesman for Nagorno-Karabakh’s leader, also dismissed the statements as “ludicrous.”
Visiting Baku and Yerevan a few days ago as part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group, Ambassador James Warlick, the American co-chair of the negotiating team, in contrast, welcomed Aliyev’s statement as an attempt to start a discussion on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status.
“President Aliyev opened up a discussion on the issue of status for Nagorno-Karabakh. This is something that we should all welcome. We should have a frank discussion about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Positions may not line up between the parties, but it’s important to put these issues on the table in public for consideration by the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and by the population in Nagorno-Karabakh itself,” Warlick said at a press conference in Yerevan on October 25.
He stressed that a “full and frank” discussion of all elements of the settlement is necessary. “We welcome the statement by President Aliyev not because that is the last word, but because he’s putting this issue out there for a discussion. And, quite frankly, all of the elements that would be a part of a negotiated settlement should be on the table for discussion, not just privately, but for the public at large,” the senior U.S. diplomat said.
In a statement on the results of their regional tour issued by Warlick and his Russian and French counterparts, Igor Popov and Pierre Andrieu, on October 26 the mediators described as “necessary” continued Armenian-Azerbaijani dialogue at the highest level “to make progress towards a settlement.”
Peace proposals made by the mediating troika over the past decade have called for a gradual Armenian withdrawal from virtually all seven districts around Nagorno-Karabakh that were fully or partly occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. That would be followed by a referendum in which Nagorno-Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population would determine the disputed territory’s internationally recognized status.
Armenian leaders have long stated that the Karabakh Armenians’ right to self-determination must be at the heart of any Armenian-Azerbaijani peace deal.