Azerbaijanis have long distrusted the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk group, co-chaired by Russia, France, and the United States. All three countries have large Armenian diasporas and are considered to favor Armenians in the Karabakh conflict. Many Azerbaijanis accuse the Minsk group of not putting enough pressure on Armenia to liberate the occupied territories and of prolonging the negotiations indefinitely.
However, after a majority of the UN General Assembly adopted a new resolution put forward by Baku, the Minsk group’s image in Azerbaijan hit a new low. In an apparent move to prevent the involvement of other actors in the mediation process, on March 14 all three co-chairs voted against the resolution, which once again affirmed the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, reiterated the right of internally displaced Azerbaijanis to return home, and called for the immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from the occupied territories. Although the adoption of the resolution was a diplomatic success in itself, the fact that Russia, France, and the United States (plus India, Vanuatu, and Angola) sided with Armenia was seen in Baku as “backstabbing.” Previously all three co-chairs had repeatedly voiced their support and recognition of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.
A wave of attacks and accusations toward the Minsk group quickly erupted in Baku. Political parties represented in parliament organized a roundtable discussion on March 18 at the Ataturk center and agreed that the actions of the Minsk group deserve high criticism. According to political scientist Vugar Seidov, “There is a justified increase of dissatisfaction by the inactivity of the Minsk group in the Azerbaijani society” (http://vugar-seidov.blogspot.com/). And the National Forum of Azerbaijani NGOs on suggested getting rid of the Minsk group altogether. Other organizations, such as the Karabakh Liberation Organization, went even further, accusing the co-chairs of “lying” (KLO Press Release, March 17).
Vilayat Guliyev, a former minister of foreign affairs and currently Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Poland, added more fuel to the fire, saying, “The recent voting at the UN showed that the co-chairs are interested in the continuation of the tensions and not its fair resolution” (Day.az, March 19).
The Minsk group co-chairs, perhaps realizing the growing criticism from Azerbaijan, issued a joint press release on March 20 affirming their support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. “We do not recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh and believe that the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh should be determined by the negotiations, which are impossible without concessions from both sides.” In an op-ed for Day.az on March 21, titled “Co-chairs Set Traps for Azerbaijan,” Seidov again blasted the co-chairs for the phrasing, insisting that this sentence runs against the principle of territorial integrity. “Instead, the sentence should include the following addition: ‘the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh, as part of Azerbaijan, should be determined by the negotiations’.”
In his popular blog (http://ilgarmammadov.livejournal.com), independent political analyst Ilgar Mammadov speculated, “If the scenario of the UN resolution was not agreed upon between Azerbaijan and the co-chairs in advance, then soon we will see new pressures on Azerbaijan by the co-chairs with the goal to compensate for the loss.”
It is surprising that out of three co-chairs the United States bore the brunt of the blame, although the Azerbaijani press has widely reported that Russia and France actively lobbied against the resolution behind the scenes at the UN. The respected TV channel ANS even called for the U.S. ambassador to appear on its weekly analytical program and explain the reasons why the United States voted against the resolution. To add more salt to the wound, Iran, Washington’s arch-rival in the region, sent an official letter on March 15, loudly announcing its support for the resolution. Now, many in Azerbaijan wonder how the United States will recover from this humiliation.
Although the relations and trust between Azerbaijan and the co-chairs has reached an historic low, most observers realize that there is no other realistic venue in which to continue the negotiations. After all, Azerbaijanis also believe that the Karabakh conflict is managed not by the principle of international law, but by power, which the co-chairs currently hold in their hands.
Khazar Ibrahim, spokesperson for the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry, warned that “his country would seriously consider its relations with those countries which voted against the resolution” (MFA press release, March 19).