BAKU — President Heidar Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Armenia’s President Robert Kocharian will have talks in the Czech capital later this week in the latest attempt to thrash out a solution to their long-running dispute over the enclave of Karabakh.
But observers were sceptical that the meeting, due to take place on the sidelines of a NATO summit which starts November 21 in Prague, would lead to any significant breakthrough in the decade-old separatist conflict, AFP reported.
Neighbors Azerbaijan and Armenia are locked in a tense military standoff over Karabakh, a picturesque mountain region, fueling instability in the already volatile south Caucasus region.
The enclave is under de facto Armenian control and its rulers are pressing for it to be recognized as an independent entity, but Azerbaijan insists Karabakh is part of its territory and wants it back.
Aliyev and Kocharian held four hours of talks in eastern Azerbaijan in August — the first one-to-one meeting between the two leaders in a year — raising hopes that a deadlock in the peace process had been broken.
At a subsequent meeting in the Moldovan capital Chisinau in October they said they were continuing to make progress toward a peace settlement.
But analysts said that with presidential elections due next year in both Azerbaijan and Armenia any peace deal — which would inevitably involve making unpopular concessions — is highly unlikely in Prague.
“The chances that the two presidents will make any progress toward a settlement at this meeting are minimal,” said Tofiq Zufulgarov, a former Azeri foreign minister who took part in previous peace talks. He added: “The issues Aliyev and Kocharian will discuss will be about coordinating their efforts so that they do not create internal political problems for each other on the eve of the elections.”
Talks last week between Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Tatoul Margarian and his Azeri counterpart Araz Azimov in Vienna did not augur well for the meeting of Kocharian and Aliyev in Prague.
According to a source in Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, who did not want to be identified, the meeting, which was organized by international mediators, was acrimonious and broke up with no agreement.
Competing claims to Karabakh sparked a five-year war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, which left about 30,000 dead on both sides and forced a million people to flee their homes.
A decade on, many thousands of those refugees remain in makeshift camps waiting for a peace settlement which would allow them to return home.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan, though its leadership says it remains committed to observing a 1994 cease-fire, has been making frequent threats that it will resume hostilities unless a peace deal is found soon.