By Emil Danielyan
Official Yerevan claimed a major diplomatic victory Thursday, saying the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has denied Azerbaijan’s allegations that Armenia is encouraging and financing a massive resettlement of Armenians in the occupied Azerbaijani territories around Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry released excerpts from a report drawn up by a fact-finding OSCE mission that toured those areas early last month. The report was officially submitted to the OSCE’s governing Permanent Council in Vienna earlier on Thursday and has not yet been made public by the organization.
“The Fact-Finding Mission has seen no evidence of direct involvement by the authorities of Armenia in the territories,” concludes the report cited by the ministry. “There is no clear organized resettlement, no non-voluntary resettlement, no recruitment.”
“Overall settlement is quite limited,” the OSCE team was quoted as saying, adding that there are less than 15,000 Armenians living in all seven districts in Azerbaijan proper, and not between 30,000 and 300,000 as was claimed by Baku. “The Fact-Finding Mission has concluded that the overwhelming majority of settlers are displaced persons from various parts of Azerbaijan, notably, from Shahumian (Goranboy) Getashen (Chaikent)-now under Azerbaijani control – and Sumgait and Baku.”
The Armenian Foreign Ministry welcomed the reported findings of the OSCE inspectors led by a senior German diplomat, Emily Haber. “Armenia appreciates the diligent, hard work of the Minsk Group co-chairs and the members of the Mission,” the ministry said in a statement. “We believe that their detailed, first-hand, objective report clearly describes the situation on the ground in the region.”
“Armenia believes that the most important accomplishment of the Fact Finding Mission Report is that it has laid to rest Azerbaijan’s charges,” read the statement.
The OSCE inspection was organized as a result of a compromise agreement between the conflicting parties and the mediators. The deal prevented a vote in the UN General Assembly on an Azerbaijani draft resolution condemning the decade-long occupation of the Azerbaijani lands. The resolution was endorsed by many Islamic nations but the United States, Russia and France warned that it would hamper their peace efforts.
The OSCE team found, according to Yerevan, that the vast majority of Armenian settlers live in the Lachin district that serves as the shortest overland link between Armenia and Karabakh. The Armenian side has ruled out Lachin’s return to Azerbaijan under any peace accord, while expressing its readiness to withdraw from the other occupied districts whose Azerbaijani residents were constrained to leave their homes during the 1991-94 war.
A senior Karabakh official declared last month that Stepanakert will continue to populate Lachin. The Armenian Foreign Ministry statement said the area is “viewed differently in the negotiation process.”
“This is so because Lachin is Nagorno-Karabakh’s humanitarian and security corridor,” it explained. “Without it, Nagorno-Karabakh would remain an isolated enclave.”