During Key West Talks
For the Resolution of the Karabakh Conflict

Deadlock Over Karabakh

by Haroutiun Khachatrian

Source: Transitions Online (TOL)
Date: April 6, 2001

Armenian President Robert Kocharian, undaunted by Azerbaijani threats to resume armed conflict and bolstered by unified domestic public opinion, maintained a firm stance in advance of the round of Nargorno-Karabakh peace talks, held in Key West, Florida, starting on 3 April. Expectations in Armenia are low that the existing deadlock in negotiations on Karabakhs future status can be broken.

Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev will be joined by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Key West in the search for a negotiated solution. Kocharian has stated that direct bilateral talks are unlikely to produce a settlement. The divergent views of the Armenian and Azeri leaders are such that international mediators, specifically the OSCE Minsk Group, should take the lead in the search for a compromise acceptable to all parties, the Armenian president said during a meeting with university students on 21 March.

At that same student meeting, Kocharian stressed that Armenias negotiating stance remains unchanged and said that Yerevan would oppose any arrangement that leaves Karabakh under Azerbaijans jurisdiction. He said flatly that Azerbaijans proposal to grant broad self-governing powers to Karabakh was unacceptable, adding that Armenia would insist on securing a direct territorial link to Karabakh, as well as international security guarantees for the enclave.

In maintaining a firm line, Kocharian enjoys near-universal support from the Armenian political establishment. In the days leading up to the Key West meeting, the president met with leaders of most major political parties - including the Yerkrapah Union of War Veterans and Dashnaktsutiun, or Armenian Revolutionary Party - to reaffirm the unified position of Armenia on the Karabakh issue.

Kocharian and other government officials have been largely dismissive of Azeri threats to resume military operations if negotiations fail to achieve a breakthrough soon. In a speech to the nation on 21 March, Aliyev warned that a resumption of the war could not be excluded.

In addition, Azeri officials have publicly speculated that a military alliance with Turkey would enhance Bakus ability to wage and win a renewed war with Armenia.

In his meeting with students, Kocharian cautioned Azerbaijan, saying the Armenian military was prepared for any contingency, having strengthened its defensive positions along the border since the 1994 Karabakh cease-fire. "The one who starts a war, will be the one who is defeated," Kocharian said. Dashnaktsutiun leaders portrayed the Azeri statements on the resumption of hostilities to be an indicator of weakness in negotiations, while at the same time voicing concern about the possibility of Turkey becoming a factor in the Karabakh peace process.

Meanwhile, some Armenian political observers are expressing doubts about whether the OSCE Minsk Group is capable of mediating a compromise at the present time, citing the growing tension in U.S.-Russian relations. A few Armenian officials are also concerned that Russia has yet to decide whether a Karabakh settlement is in Moscows best interests. Resolution of the Karabakh conflict would remove a major obstacle to development of the Caspian Basins oil and gas reserves. It could also possibly enhance the prospects for construction of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, which is viewed as the chief rival to Russian oil and gas export routes via Novorossisk.

According to Ashot Manucharian, the leader of the Socialist Union of Armenia, if Russia decides that a Karabakh settlement does not serve its interests, Moscow may be tempted to destabilize the region, with unpredictable consequences.

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