Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Optimism, Yet Again, on Nagorno-Karabakh

Presidents Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Robert Kocharian of Armenia will meet around June 9 in an attempt to hammer out the remaining differences regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process:
"The highly confidential discussions center on the Minsk Group’s existing peace plan that essentially boils down to holding a referendum on self-determination in Karabakh years after the liberation of Armenian-occupied Azerbaijani districts surrounding the disputed enclave. Disagreements on the date and other practical modalities of the proposed referendum are believed to have been one of the reasons for the collapse of the Rambouillet and Bucharest talks. Armenian officials say Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population would thus be able to legitimize its secession from Azerbaijan. Aliyev has claimed, however, that the Karabakh Armenians would only vote on the degree of their self-rule within Azerbaijan. According to Armenian diplomatic sources privy to the negotiating process, the would-be peace deal may not set any dates for such a vote. In that case, Karabakh will indefinitely remain under Armenian control without Azerbaijan having to renounce its sovereignty over the territory.

"Another key stumbling block is Armenian withdrawal from Kelbajar and Lachin, two of the seven Azerbaijani districts that are sandwiched between Karabakh and Armenia proper. The Armenian side has been ready, at least until last summer, to liberate Kelbajar only after the referendum, something that was deemed unacceptable by Baku. It has also rejected Azerbaijani demands for the return of Lachin, which serves as the shortest overland link between Karabakh and Armenia."

Aliyev is calculating correctly that Azerbaijan's negotiating position is gradually strenghthening vis-a-vis Armenia's, so the question is really whether the Armenians are willing to get the best deal they can now, or whether nationalist politics will see the stalemate continue into next year and perhaps beyond.

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