The sudden disclosure of details from a draft peace agreement on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has sparked a surge in pro-war sentiments in Azerbaijan, analysts say, amid a growing conviction that negotiations with Armenia serve little purpose.
The tone for Azerbaijan's official reaction was set on June 22 when President Ilham Aliyev, addressing military school graduates, termed the so-called "Prague process" of regular talks about the disputed enclave "ineffective." [For background see the Eurasia insight archive]. The remarks followed a statement from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group, the body charged with mediating negotiations, and a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty interview with US Minsk Group co-chair Matthew Bryza that identified an Armenian troop withdrawal from the seven occupied Azerbaijani territories and a possible referendum on Karabakh's status as among the key points of a proposed framework agreement. [See the EurasiaNet Insight archive.] The disclosure was reportedly made in an attempt to prompt public discussion about the plan.
In an early July interview with the Turkish newspaper Jumhirriyet, however, Aliyev went on to stress that no agreements had ever been reached between the two sides. "Armenia and Azerbaijan are very far from agreement. There are some proposals from the Minsk Group co-chairs, but their last statement disclosed only a few of these proposals."
Bryza's assertion that an agreement now depends on Aliyev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian alone has been interpreted as a sign that the international community itself recognizes that mediation of the talks has reached a stalemate.
"The style of the disclosure by the co-chairs. . . clearly demonstrated that the issue is not resolved at all, and that the co-chairs would be happy to escape responsibility for any future development such as a resumption of war," Ilgar Mammadov, an independent political analyst in Baku, commented. (Ilgar Mammadov serves on the board of the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Azerbaijan. EurasiaNet operates under the auspices of the Open Society Institute in New York.)
Mammadov, however, argued that the perceived failure should come as no surprise. He suggested that the Armenian and Azerbaijani, deep down, aren't interested in talking to each other. "In November 2005, Mr. Kocharian had to survive a critical constitutional referendum, and Mr. Aliyev had to do the same with his first parliamentary elections. They both needed Western support at the polls, and, therefore, since January 2005 they pretended that progress was being made at the negotiations," said Mammadov. "The co-chairs understood their motives, but still accepted the game in the hope of making use of it. They failed."
The proposed referendum on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, however, has nonetheless stirred particular concern among both government officials and the general public. Contrary to Armenia's interpretation that such a referendum would be held in Karabakh alone, Azerbaijanis contend that the vote on the territory's status must be held nationwide in Azerbaijan proper as well as in the disputed enclave. The OSCE statement itself does not specify the conditions under which any referendum would be held.
"Everybody understands that any referendum conducted only in Nagorno-Karabakh will result in the dismemberment of the country and Azerbaijan cannot accept that," commented Eldar Namazov, president of the For Azerbaijan Public Forum, a Baku-based non-governmental organization, and a former advisor to the late President Heydar Aliyev.
In his interview with Jumhuriyet, Aliyev dismissed as misleading Armenian discussion of the proposed referendum as a quid pro quo for a withdrawal from the seven Azerbaijani territories that border on Nagorno-Karabakh. "Armenia sometimes talks about unreal things. Meanwhile, the reality is that Azerbaijan's territorial integrity is not a topic for discussions and Nagorno-Karabakh will never get independence," he said.
Talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, "together with all of Azerbaijan," about Karabakh's status, can only begin after Azerbaijani residents return to the enclave, Aliyev continued. "The future will show how much time is needed for such negotiations."
Local experts cotend that the co-chairs' statements on the Karabakh talks have fanned pro-war sentiment in Azerbaijan. "The popular argument in Baku is that if a reality created by force is acceptable, then we should create one favorable to Azerbaijan whenever the opportunity appears," Mammadov said.
According to Aliyev, the only way to avoid war over Karabakh is for Armenia to withdraw from the occupied territories without preconditions. "War must not be ruled out. There is a fragile cease-fire regime, no security measures are provided at the front-line. There are no countries separating us, no peacekeeping troops. Thus, an