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06 09 18 - Baku Takes “the Karabakh Fires” to New York
From Annette. Mel. USA
Baku Takes “the Karabakh Fires” to New York
UN General Assembly adopts a resolution entitled “The situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan”
[September 18, 2006]

Though the United Nations Security Council adopted four resolutions on the Karabakh conflict back in 1993, the UN has never been directly involved in its settlement. Of course this doesn't prevent Azerbaijan from trying to include on the agenda of the UN General assembly issues related or even completely unrelated to the conflict. This was the case, in particular, in the fall of 2004 when owing to the strenuous diplomatic efforts Baku included an item entitled “The situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan” in the General Assembly agenda and circulated a draft resolution among the delegations.

We remind you that the Azerbaijani government maintained that official Yerevan was carrying out a policy of populating the territories controlled by the Karabakh forces with settlers. Armenia, in response, threatened to withdraw from the negotiating process if the United Nations gave in to the Azerbaijani pressure. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group found, however, a balanced way out the crisis – Azerbaijan would not insist on discussing the Karabakh issue at the UN, and Yerevan and Stepanakert would, in exchange, agree to have an OSCE fact-finding mission visit the territories under Karabakh control.

From January 29 to February 6, 2005 such a mission visited the region and was received in Baku, Yerevan and Stepanakert as well as the Karabakh-controlled territories and stated in its subsequent report that no resettlement policy was being conducted by Armenia.

In all probability, another OSCE fact-finding mission will soon visit the conflict zone, this time to verify the reports regarding fires in those territories. As is well known, due to the unprecedented heat, this summer fires broke out along the confrontation lines and in some territories controlled by the Karabakh or Azerbaijani forces, and Baku maintains that the fires were deliberately set by Armenians. Note that fires break in this region every year, but Baku has become anxious only this year. Why?

David Babayan, an aide to the Karabakh president, made the following comment: “First of all they are trying to show that those territories have been captured by Armenia, otherwise it is not quite clear why Armenia should give its consent to the visit by a fact-finding mission if these territories are under Karabakh control.” Babayan mentioned other reasons as well. Specifically, Baku is trying to cover the destruction of Khachkars in Julfa. “Azerbaijan wants to create equilibrium between the barbaric acts of destroying Khachkars by Azerbaijanis and natural fires. It should not be ruled out either that Azerbaijan is trying to take the issue of fires to the UN for internal consumption – to show their people that they are doing something,” he said.

During his September 5, 2006 press briefing, the Armenian foreign minister didn't rule out that the issue of fires might be put on the agenda of the UN General assembly. “Azerbaijanis want to discuss the issue of fires at the UN; it's their right after all, but taking into consideration that we have the Minsk process, there is the OSCE and, especially, that the UN has nothing in particular to offer additionally as regards the fire prevention or making an appraisal, we don't see this measure to be necessary. We believe that Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan can cooperate on the issue of fires in the border area. The direct involvement of the UN is out of place,” Oskanian said.

On September 7, 2006 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution entitled “The situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan”, stating that the General Assembly is “ seriously concerned by the fires in the affected territories, which have inflicted widespread environmental damage”; stressing “the necessity to urgently conduct an environmental operation to suppress the fires in the affected territories and to overcome their detrimental consequences”; welcoming “the readiness of the parties to cooperate to that end and consider[ing] such an operation to be an important confidence-building measure”; and calling upon the organizations and programs of the United Nations system, in particular the United Nations Environmental Programme, in cooperation with the OSCE “to provide all necessary assistance and expertise, including, inter alia, the assessment of and counteraction to the short-term and long-term impact of the environmental degradation of the region, as well as in its rehabilitation”.

Armenia's permanent representative to the UN, Armen Martirosyan, noted in his statement that the resolution addressed an issue, which “we thought had been brought to a close, two weeks ago, through discussions with the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, the Minsk Group Co-chairs and the OSCE Chairman-in-Office's Personal Representative. A decision was taken to send a mission of experts under the OSCE to assess the fires.

“ The authorities of Nagorno Karabakh had already accepted this proposal, and Armenia was certainly ready to use its good offices to facilitate such a mission. It was our understanding that Azerbaijan had also agreed.

Given all this, it was surprising to see a draft resolution circulating at the UN on this same issue, especially since it called for a parallel mission under UN auspices. This approach was unacceptable. We considered such a step to be an obstacle to continuing negotiations. And, since it was clearly intended to pursue other political ends, Armenia opposed this motion,” Martirosyan went on.

However, as a result of consultations with the Minsk Group Co-chairs, Armenia had come to agreement on a text that simply reiterated its support for the OSCE mission. On the other hand, although Armenia supported the content of the agreement, it remained opposed to the general idea of this agenda item and a UN resolution under it. That is why Armenia dissociated itself from the consensus on the resolution.

In his statement on behalf of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair Countries, US representative Alejandro Daniel Wolff said, “t he Russian Federation, France, and the United States of America, as the Co-Chair countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group, remain committed to promoting a peaceful, negotiated resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In this capacity, we take with great seriousness concerns raised by either side to the conflict regarding threats to the security and stability of the region, as well as any developments that pose new obstacles to the negotiation process. ”

“We commend the spirit of goodwill demonstrated by both Armenia and Azerbaijan in agreeing to cooperate to address the situation raised through this resolution. We hope the agreement reached today reflects a new readiness by both sides to engage in further measures to build confidence that will advance the process of negotiations, and we will redouble our efforts, through the OSCE's Minsk Group, to promote such activities,” the US diplomat said.

After the resolution was adopted, Azerbaijan's permanent representative, Yashar Aliyev, noted that for the first time the Armenian and Azerbaijani delegations had come up with a consensual text. Aliyev said that the resolution would enable the parties to cooperate in the environmental operation to be urgently conducted, with the assistance of the international community, and considered such an operation to be an important confidence-building measure.

David Babayan said he was not generally positive when issues were taken from the OSCE to the UN, but he maintained, on the other hand, that the international organizations themselves had taken this step.

“Everyone knows that Azerbaijan has a very rigid position at the negotiating table. And it is in the interest of the international community to somehow push this frozen situation, to overcome the deadlock. That is why they are trying to turn this populist move by Azerbaijan into a constructive channel and to create a mechanism for the conflicting parties to interact,” Babayan said.

Note that whereas the foreign ministry of Azerbaijan is trying to present the resolution adopted by the General Assembly as a diplomatic victory, the press in Baku disagrees. Thus the Zerkalo daily wrote in its September 9 th issue that it is hard to consider the resolution in question a diplomatic victory for several reasons:

“The Minsk Group has called upon Armenia and Azerbaijan to agree to the settlement principles of the Karabakh conflict developed by the mediators. Azerbaijan has in fact rejected them and Armenia has used the opportunity to publicly ‘humiliate' Azerbaijan. Our foreign minister publicly announced his readiness to meet with Vartan Oskanyan both in London and in Paris. But Oskanyan refused to meet with our minister. For that reason the co-chairs will meet with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan separately,” the newspaper wrote.

Indeed, it's hard to consider the resolution as a victory, especially for one of the conflicting parties, in this case, Azerbaijan. As in 2005, in the near future a visit by an international fact-finding mission is expected in the conflict zone – this time in the areas affected by fires. But the main task - the establishment of peace in this restless region, where the conflict has taken tens of thousands of lives an has caused hundreds of thousands of people to become refugees and internally displaced persons – will hardly be enlivened by the content of the fact-finding mission's report.

We remind you that at issue are the principles that the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan negotiated first in Rambouillet and then in Bucharest. This two-and-a-half page text consists of four main points: (1) the determination of the status of Nagorno Karabakh through a referendum to be held among the residents of the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region as of 1988; (2) the immediate withdrawal of the Karabakh forces from five regions under their control with the exception of Lachin and Kelbadjar, the modalities for which are to be discussed later on; (3) the creation of three commissions: first, to decide the referendum details, second, to address the issue of the Lachin corridor, and third, to address the issues related to Kelbadjar; (4) the issue of an interim status for Nagorno Karabakh.

Last week the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group held separate consultations with Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mamadyarov in London and Paris respectively to discuss the timing and the venue of the anticipated meeting of the foreign ministers.

Tatul Hakobyan


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