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Is the resolution of the Karabakh conflict near? Nagorno Karabakh press digest

Will Azerbaijan produce arms?

There were much more skirmishes in the Armenian-Azeri conflict zone in 2005 than before – a worrisome and regrettable fact, 525th daily reports Personal Representative of OSCE Chairman-in-Office Andrzej Kasprzyk as saying in Baku. Some of the facts were due to soldiers opening fire out of fright. Also growing were casualties from both sides. Also a regrettable fact. But fact is fact, says Kasprzyk, noting that the reports on the situation in the zone come directly from the field commanders there. He says that the next monitoring of the contact line will be held in early Jan 2006.

The results of the visit of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to the region

The Armenian side is satisfied with the discussions with the OSCE Minsk Group, Golos Armenii daily reports Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan as saying at a press conference Dec 15. “We think that there have been positive trends in the Karabakh peace process in 2005,” says Oskanyan. He notes that there is no package of proposals by the mediators on the negotiating table at the moment. Being discussed are the key settlement principles and some additional elements. Only if accepted, can they be made draft proposals. Commenting on International Crisis Group’s reports on the Karabakh problem, Oskanyan reiterates that the talks are confidential but notes that the reports “are not coincidence.” He also says that NKR President Arkady Gukasyan has told him that some mass media had misinterpreted his words that the sides are far from the settlement. “Judging from the statements of the Azeri side, one can infer that the sides are far from the settlement,” that is what Gukasyan said, says Oskanyan.

Azerbaijan and Armenia are not far from settling the Karabakh conflict by peace but should take several serious steps to preserve the compromises, International Crisis Group Director for the Caucasus Sabina Freiser says, while commenting on the visit of the OSCE MG co-chairs’ visit to the South Caucasus. Trend reports Freiser as saying that “2006 will show if the sides are able to attain this. Otherwise, the last chance to resolve the conflict will be missed.” Freiser agrees with the co-chairs that 2006 is “an important window” for the Karabakh conflict settlement and the sides must not miss this opportunity: “Considering the fact that 2007 and 2008 are the years of elections, the political elites will hardly want to make complex compromises.” Freiser says that Armenia has already given up the demand for determining the status of Nagorno Karabakh before the “occupied” territories are returned. Both sides agree that the peace process will start only after the withdrawal of troops from the “occupied” territories, the provision of security guarantees and the return of temporarily displaced people to their homes.

To Baku Echo the point is that not everybody shares the optimism expressed by the co-chairs, by official Baku before their visit and by International Crisis Group now. In any case, in an interview to Trend the Russian co-chair of the OSCE MG Yuri Merzlyakov says: “There are closer positions. But there is also the understanding of what is unacceptable to both sides. And so, the range of scenarios has got narrower for both the sides and us. On the one hand, this makes the task easier. But I would not say that the agreement is already taking shape.”

“Never before have we said at the end of a year that the peace agreement may be signed next year. One should be able to read between lines. On the eve of 2005 we expressed hope for progress in the talks and now can say that this progress has come true. Now we say that there can be a peace agreement in 2006,” the OSCE MG Russian co-chair Yuri Merzlyakov said in Baku. “I do not want to inspire you with too much optimism, but it is enough to say that after an eight-year pause there are again officers in Baku to develop scenarios of possible peacekeeping,” says Merzlyakov. TURAN notes that the question is about the visit of the OSCE High Planning Group to Baku. The group is elaborating conditions for deploying peacekeepers, if a political solution is achieved. The peacekeeping may range from the deployment of observers to the conduct of large-scale operations with the disarmament and demilitarization of the whole region.

Haykakan Zhamanak says that the OSCE peacekeeping mission visiting Azerbaijan is a group of experts from European securities services. Baku Today reports that the 16-strong group – 7 experts from the OSCE, 7 from European countries, 1 from Georgia and 1 from Turkey – is considering where and how peacekeepers can be deployed. Dec 19 the experts left Ganca for Geranboy district. According to their schedule, after visiting the airport in Ganca, the experts were to go to Gazax and Akstafa districts, but they have changed their route. Baku Today reports the experts to have also visited Terter and Agdam districts. All the above places are situated along the contact line of the Armenian-Azeri armed forces.

In an interview to a Caucasus Knot correspondent a Karabakh expert says that peacekeeping forces may be deployed in the Karabakh conflict zone before the achievement of political agreement. “This is the most undesirable scenario for us,” says the expert, “as armed to their teeth the peacekeepers will not only prevent possible clashes between the Armenian and Azeri sides, but will also protect the authorities from their own people if unacceptable ‘compromises’ are accepted. People will no longer be able to influence their own authorities.”

The OSCE MG co-chairs have come to Yerevan and have, seemingly, gone away with nothing, reports Karabakh-online.com. They have met with the Armenia and Karabakh presidents and the Armenian Foreign Minister. But they have left more questions than answers. One thing is clear: no expected breakthrough has taken place. Someone has shown persistence. This someone appears to be NKR President Arkady Gukasyan. During a briefing after his meeting with the co-chairs Gukasyan said that the Armenian side may now get more than it was offered in 1997.

Remembering that offered them in 1997 was the “Common State” scenario, one can assume that now the question may well be about Karabakh’s independence from Azerbaijan. Even more, Gukasyan promised that Karabakh will never be given back to Azerbaijan. There can be no talk about territories before the issue of status is resolved. Nevertheless, the journalists inferred that the territories are considered outside the context of the status, which is inadmissible for Karabakh in terms of its security. The second painful issue is the repeated referendum on the status of Karabakh. Gukasyan says that there has already been a referendum in Karabakh, but “its results have not been recognized by either Azerbaijan or the international community.” If Azerbaijan and the international community promise to recognize the results of the repeated referendum, this idea is acceptable to us, says Gukasyan.

A strange statement, says Karabakh-online, even stranger as the president did not specified within what borders the new referendum should be held. He called “good wishes” the forecasts of the Karabakh conflict settlement in 2006, especially as the mediators offered nothing new – they just reiterated old ideas in new variations. New was only their statement on recovering the format with the involvement of Karabakh. Yuri Merzlyakov said that Nagorno Karabakh’s participation in the talks is inevitable, but this decision must be made by the conflicting parties rather than the co-chairs. “The key issue today is to provide against war and to sign agreement on peace,” says Gukasyan, “I do not think that there are military, strategic or economic reasons for the war to be resumed.”

Commenting on the situation on the NK-Azeri contact line, the NK president says that the situation is quite tensed. Gukasyan confirms the losses in the Karabakh army. He says that this issue was also discussed during his meeting with the co-chairs. “If we are actually close to the settlement, why is there tension in the contact line? I believe that both sides should work simultaneously for building confidence.” “If you are facing an enemy with a gun, who can attack you tomorrow, you cannot concede anything to him. So, it is necessary to create conditions for building joint future rather than continuing enmity. Joint does not mean a common state, but good neighbor relations. This is what we, unfortunately, lack today,” says Gukasyan.

A1+ reports that, according to Yuri Merzlyakov, the OSCE MG co-chairs are drafting a new document to reflect all the key principles of the Karabakh conflict settlement. “The document will be in two pages with key settlement principles for the sides to accept. I cannot say in what form the document will be presented,” Merzlyakov said. He said that as soon as the principles are approved, there will be a meeting of experts of both sides for them to prepare the final version of the document in compliance with the instructions of their leaders.

Day.az reports Merzlyakov as saying that as soon as the principles are finally approved, experts from both sides will meet to draft a basic document, as they already have relevant sanctions by their leaders. Merzlyakov says that without agreement on the settlement principles there is no sense to write any draft document. “The co-chairs (previous ones — REGNUM) have already proposed several versions with dozens of pages. But every time one would say no and everything would go to dogs. There is absolutely no sense in this now, and nobody wants this, because one should first agree how this will work and only then put this on paper,” Merzlyakov says. Answering the question if there will be a draft by the late Jan meeting of the Azeri and Armenian presidents, Merzlyakov says: “This is exactly what we are doing now – how this will be I cannot say.”

Is the resolution near?

After the regional visit of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, the Armenian authorities began saying that the final resolution of the conflict is possible in 2006, reports A1+, noting that the Nagorno Karabakh authorities do not fully agree with this, judging from their statements. The news agency has held a survey on its site with the question being “Is the final resolution of the NKR problem possible in 2006?” Some 909 visitors answered, with 48.1% saying that this is impossible, 47.9% possible, 4.1% unable to answer the question.

Day.az reports Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov as telling journalists that the work to organize a peacekeeping operation in the conflict zone will be started next year. The OSCE High Planning Group will visit the “occupied” territories of Azerbaijan in Jan 2006 to decide if it is possible to organize peacekeeping in the zone of the Armenian-Azeri conflict. Mamedyarov says that after an eight-year pause the group has already visited Armenia and Azerbaijan on a fact-finding mission, which is “a step forward.” Mamedyarov says that peacekeeping is one of the nine elements discussed in the negotiating process.

TURAN reads “between the lines” of the statements of the OSCE MG co-chairs that the peace agreement on the Karabakh conflict will be signed in summer 2006.

While the OSCE MG co-chairs, Armenian President Robert Kocharyan and other high-ranking officials are saying optimistically that the Karabakh conflict will be finalized in the near future, for NKR President Arkady Gukasyan this prospect is vague, reports 168 Zham. Also optimistic is the leader of the Azeri community of Nagorno Karabakh Nizami Bahmanov. After a meeting with the MG co-chairs Bahmanov told journalists: “It seems that 2006 will actually be the year of the conflict settlement.” He also said that if all diplomatic means are exhausted, Azerbaijan will resort to force. But Bahmanov’s most interesting words were: “Azerbaijan and Armenia are very close to agreeing on a very important settlement stage – the opening of the Agdam-Shuhsi-Lachin-Goris-Nakhichevan corridor.”

As far as Iravunk knows, the OSCE MG co-chairs propose giving Nagorno Karabakh the status of enclave and returning Azeri refugees to Shushi and Lachin. The daily reports the co-chairs envisaging no guarantees of land communication between Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, and this very fact has caused the anger and disappointment of NKR President Arkady Gukasyan.

Russian “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” says that Baku very much wants the Armenian side to agree to leave the “occupied” territories in accordance with the scheme 5+1+1. Formerly the Armenian side was ready to leave only 5 districts to be protected at the first stage by international peacekeepers – US, French and Russian soldiers. Referring to is own sources at Azeri Foreign Ministry, the daily says that several schemes of peacekeeping have already been worked out. Also being discussed is the issue for demilitarizing the region. The efforts of the OSCE MG are given positive assessment in Yerevan too. The daily reports Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan as saying that it is obvious that Nagorno Karabakh will never be part of Azerbaijan.

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