Perhaps for the first time in the past ten years, Azerbaijan has departed from the traditional path of peace negotiation on the Karabakh conflict and taken its case to the UN General Assembly. On November 23, the plenary meeting of the 59th session of the General Assembly began discussing an Azerbaijan-sponsored resolution entitled, “The Situation in the Occupied Territories of Azerbaijan.” Since 1993 the Karabakh peace process has been under the patronage of the OSCE’s Minsk group, co-chaired by Russia, the United States, and France. This latest action taken by Azerbaijan’s political leadership shows Baku’s desire to seek alternative ways to break the deadlocked process.
Speaking at the session, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister, Elmar Mammadyarov, noted that for the past ten years Azerbaijan had remained committed to the 1994 cease-fire, which indicated the country’s desire to solve the conflict through negotiation. At the same time, Mammadyarov expressed Azerbaijan’s concern over Armenia’s growing settlement programs in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. “While the negotiations are being held, the Armenian side is conducting a mass settlement of the occupied territories . . . This program is implemented by the Department of Refugees and IDPs [internally displaced persons] of the Armenian government and is called ‘Return to Karabakh.’ It is financed by a special fund in Armenia in violation of UN General Assembly resolutions, international humanitarian law, and the Geneva Convention of 1949,” he noted (Turan Info, November 24).
The Azerbaijani side claims that thousands of Armenian families have been settled in Lachin, Kelbadjar, and other occupied regions of Azerbaijan, with the aim of increasing the Armenian population in Karabakh to 300,000 by 2010. Armenia vigorously denies this. Armen Martirosyan, Armenia’s representative to the UN, has noted that the Armenian government was not supporting this process and that there was no need for the UN to interfere in this issue, the Azerbaijani daily Zerkalo reported on November 25. “Nagorno-Karabakh has never been and will never become part of Azerbaijan,” Martirosyan added.
Meanwhile, Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian warned that discussing the Karabakh conflict at the UN General Assembly could put an end to the ongoing “Prague talks” between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. “Should Azerbaijan choose the latter approach [taking the issue to other venues, seeking separate solutions], the Azerbaijani authorities will have to negotiate with the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership” (RFE/RL Newsline, November 10). Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, while attending the 55th anniversary of the “Oil Rocks” city on the Caspian Sea on November 22, said that these statements cause him only a “smile,” and he noted that it was Armenia who is behind the occupation of the Azerbaijani territories, not Karabakh (Turan Info, November 22).
Interestingly enough, the Azerbaijani government initiative has sparked opposition even among the co-chairs of the Minsk group. Speaking on behalf of the three co-chairs, U.S. representative Susan Moore noted that Azerbaijani concerns could have been addressed by the OSCE and that she supported the idea of a fact-finding mission within the framework of the Minsk group (Echo, November 24). The three co-chairs have asked the UN General Assembly not to take any action that could negatively affect their efforts.
The Azerbaijani leadership has tried to convince the interested parties that their initiative with the UN is not an effort to derail the existing Minsk process. “Azerbaijan does not put the solution of the conflict within the UN as a goal” said Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov (525-ci Gazet, November 27). Yet, perceiving the draft resolution as Azerbaijan’s attempt to seek alternative ways to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenia and the co-chairs of the Minsk group became fearful of opening Pandora’s box. Armenian Diaspora groups in the United States have launched a broad campaign against the draft resolution. A press release from the Armenian National Committee of America reported that Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), known for his strong support of Armenia, was urging U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Danforth to vote “no” on the “destructive resolution” (www.anca.org, November 23).
Azerbaijan, meanwhile, sees no concrete results from the ten years of activity by the Minsk group and therefore feels pressured to knock on other doors. Recently, the Council of Europe’s political committee began discussing a report on the Karabakh conflict prepared by British deputies David Atkinson and Terry Davis.