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Ankara, Baku champion staged settlement to Karabakh dispute

Wednesday 16 March 2011, by Fulya Özerkan

A staged plan for a settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute shared by Ankara and Baku with international actors is based on an understanding that aims to bring normality to Armenia in its relationship with Turkey and Azerbaijan. The plan foresees the gradual withdrawal of Armenians from Azerbaijani territories as well as the opening of Turkish-Armenian border.

The Karabakh problem can be solved only after normality is brought to Armenia in its relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan, says a senior Azeri official.
A multi-staged approach that includes the gradual withdrawal of Armenian troops and the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border is being proposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan to resolve the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The status of Karabakh, an Azerbaijani territory occupied by Armenian forces, would be defined at the final stage of the plan, said Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov.

“This is the only single instrumental approach if anyone is really interested in solving the Karabakh issue,” Azimov told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review during a trip to Ankara late last week.

The Azerbaijani official’s talks in the Turkish capital, which focused on the details of the two countries’ new cooperation plan as well as the Karabakh negotiations, preceded an expected trip this week by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Moscow. Russia, along with the United States and France, is the co-chair of the Minsk Group conducting negotiations between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia for a settlement to the Karabakh problem.

The last round of talks between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders took place in Sochi on March 5, with the assistance of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

“This proposal for a staged approach to the Karabakh dispute has been, to a certain extent, a skeleton of the negotiations for the co-chairs,” said Azimov, deputy foreign minister since 1994 and a diplomat who has participated in the Minsk process since 1992, actively working with Turkish ambassadors Candan Azer, Deryal Batıbay and Ünal Çeviköz.

“You have Armenians in the territories, it [Armenia] has to be there. The territory belongs to the Azerbaijanis. It [Azerbaijan] has to be there. You have to come up with a combination of these two within the framework of such a staged process that guarantees the process will not be reversed,” Azimov said.

A flashpoint of the Caucasus, Nagorno-Karabakh is a constituent part of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenia since the end of 1994. While internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, the enclave has declared itself an independent republic but is administered as a de facto part of Armenia. Years of negotiations involving Russia, the United States and Europe, as well as Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders themselves, have failed to resolve the enclave’s status or enable the return of refugees from the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in support of its close ally Azerbaijan in the conflict.

Bi-communal model

The plan, which Ankara and Baku shared with international actors in the Minsk Group – Washington, Moscow and Paris – is based on an understanding aimed at bringing normality to Armenia in its relationship with Turkey and Azerbaijan. It also seeks to engage Armenians of Karabakh in normal life within the Azerbaijani territorial integrity.

“Legality has to be established. Normality has to be brought back and only after that can we decide on a status with the participation of both communities of Nagorno-Karabakh: the Azerbaijani and Armenian communities,” said Azimov.

“It probably sounds familiar if I say ‘bi-communal model’ – two communities voting on the issues of common life within the principles of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Would Armenia benefit from that? Of course, yes,” he added.

Staged withdrawal

The Baku-Ankara plan is based upon the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the occupied Azerbaijani territories, security guarantees and an interim status for Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh to be expanded over Azerbaijanis who will return to the region.

“Today we have 65,000 to 70,000 Azerbaijanis expelled from Nagorno-Karabakh who would like to return and this is not a small number. We also have 750,000 Azerbaijanis living in surrounding areas, in seven other regions adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh,” said Azimov.

Under the plan, Armenia would remove troops from eight territories: Akdam, Fuzuli, Cebrail, Zengilan, Kubatlı, Lachine, Kelbecer and Nagorno-Karabakh. The final stage would be the return of Azerbaijanis to Nagorno-Karabakh.

“It is a staged approach where every stage is based on the previous one. We cannot start cooperation without the reestablishment of territories, we cannot re-establish housing without the Armenian withdrawal from the territories,” said Azimov.

Normalizing relations

The first stage calls for Armenia to withdraw troops from five of the eight territories, Akdam, Fuzuli, Cebrail, Zengilan and Kubatlı. The initial phase also would include the opening of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

“Relations [between Azerbaijan and Armenia] should be normalized, international forces should come in, guarantees should be given and rehabilitation should start,” Azimov said. The opening of the sealed border between Turkey and Armenia is also considered part of the first stage.

After the conclusion of the first stage in five years, Armenia would withdraw from the remaining regions, the Armenian population of Karabakh would be provided with security guarantees and preparations for the return of Azerbaijanis to Nagorno-Karabakh would start.

When the parties consider it possible and affordable, they will discuss the status issue, the deputy foreign minister said. Asked about the timeframe for discussions on the status of Karabakh, Azimov said, “God knows.” But he added that he believes economic cooperation between the Azerbaijani and Armenian populations in the Karabakh region – provided by guarantees, legality and an established system of self-rule – would be quite a substantial breakthrough.

Since 1992, the Karabakh dispute has been institutionalized and everyone has their own agenda, Azimov said, noting the exception of some declarations emphasizing peace and stability in the Caucasus.

“Only a few countries are really interested in settling the issue. I think Turkey and Azerbaijan are among them,” he said.

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Source : Hürriyet Daily NewsSunday, March 13, 2011

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