American-driven peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan came to a grinding halt in Istanbul at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit. As it turned out, the October 27 assassination of key Armenian leaders and the ensuing power struggle in Yerevan did derail the negotiations, even if Karabakh had not figured among the terrorists’ motives. President Robert Kocharian, embattled at home, did not feel secure enough to negotiate and sign a document with his Azerbaijani counterpart Haidar Aliev in Istanbul.
Hopes and expectations–including Kocharian’s–had already diminished after October 27. It was now anticipated that Kocharian and Aliev would–rather than producing a framework document on the principles of a peace settlement–at least continue their direct negotiations under United States aegis and sign a symbolic statement which would commit the two countries to seeking a peaceful and mutually acceptable solution. But even those scaled-back goals remained unfulfilled at the summit. The Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents, seated in alphabetical order next to each other at the conference table, did not hold bilateral negotiations; the failure to do so broke the series of their unmediated meetings which had yielded unprecedented progress in recent months. Instead, Kocharian quickly pulled back under the umbrella of the Minsk Group of mediators and thus under Russia’s shadow–that is, the setup which had deadlocked the negotiations. He insisted, moreover, that Russia must be included in all the negotiating phases, not just the ratifying stage. The summit’s final declaration, while supporting the two presidents’ “dialogue” [rather than negotiations], called for “resuming the negotiations within the Minsk Group which remains the most appropriate format for finding a solution”–a formula which would again place Moscow’s hand on the steering wheel of the negotiating process.
On an encouraging note, Aliev and Kocharian each departed from some long-held points of doctrine. Aliev conceded that peace with Armenia must rest not only on the principle of territorial integrity of states but also, to some extent, on the national self-determination principle. Kocharian for his part conceded that Karabakh’s full secession from Azerbaijan can no longer be an option for the Armenians. By taking this position as president of Armenia, Kocharian was distancing himself from the goal he had pursued in his earlier capacity as president of Karabakh.
These were signs that the two presidents remain willing to seek a mutually acceptable accommodation of national interests. But even this did not detract from the impression that Russian-backed hardliners in Armenia are currently in a position to frustrate the negotiations, and that the process faces a timeout until the internal power struggle is resolved. As a further complication, the dividing lines in that power struggle by no means correspond to differences over the Karabakh issue. Indeed, Kocharian’s supporters include some nationalist groups which take an especially hard line on Karabakh (Turan, AzadInform, Noyan-Tapan, Snark, November 18-22; see the Monitor, October 28, November 1, 3, 8, 18; The Fortnight in Review, November 5).
TOWARD ARMENIAN-TURKISH DETENTE?