YEREVAN -- Azerbaijan has withdrawn a controversial draft resolution on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from the United Nations General Assembly, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Azerbaijani officials attribute the move to an upcoming international fact-finding mission to Armenian-controlled territories in Azerbaijan that surround its breakaway region of Karabakh.
Azerbaijan envoy Agshin Mehdiyev
The proposed resolution, which was strongly opposed by Armenia, was expected to be approved by the General Assembly on September 9. It upheld the right of Azerbaijanis "expelled" from the disputed enclave and its surrounding territories to return to their homes.
It also urged the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to investigate the conflicting parties' compliance with "international humanitarian law" on the ground.
Armenia has warned that the document would cause "serious damage" to international efforts to end the Karabakh dispute. It insists that no international bodies except the OSCE Minsk Group -- co-chaired by the United States, Russia, and France -- should get involved in the conflict's resolution.
Azerbaijani UN Ambassador Agshin Mehdiyev asked the General Assembly on September 9 to reschedule the issue for the assembly's next session, which begins next week. Mehdiyev told RFE/RL that the reason for the postponement is a "field assessment mission" to the occupied Azerbaijani territories planned by the Minsk Group co-chairs, which he said would support Azerbaijan's position on the Karabakh conflict.
"As far as I know, the Armenian side continues to bring people from abroad and to settle them in the occupied territories to change the demographic situation, to destroy the cultural heritage of Azerbaijan in the occupied territories," Mehdiyev said.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry insisted today that the fact-finding visit, which the mediators would like to start by mid-October, is "in no way connected" to the Azerbaijani resolution. It pointed to the mediators' September 6 statement, which said the mission had been agreed with all conflicting parties, in principle, weeks before the draft resolution was submitted to the General Assembly.
In a written statement, the ministry claimed that Baku withdrew it under pressure from the three mediating powers. "We are thankful to all those UN member states and in particular to the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries, which through their stance prevented Azerbaijan from deviating and damaging the negotiation process of the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem," read the statement.
The U.S., Russia, and France had opposed a similar resolution which Baku managed to push through the UN assembly in March 2008. It was backed by 39 countries, most of them Islamic.
Davit Babayan, the spokesman for Karabakh's self-styled president, Bako Sahakian, told RFE/RL on September 9 that the Karabakh leadership had not yet approved of the visit by the Minsk Group co-chairs.
He said "there are still some technical issues and our final position will probably be clarified soon." He made it clear the mission would not go ahead without the Karabakh Armenians' consent.
In a joint statement, the OSCE mediators said earlier this week they will tour those areas along with representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other international bodies.
The Minsk Group co-chairs met with Sahakian during their visit to Stepanakert on September 8. They said in their September 6 statement that their planned trip to the occupied and mostly deserted territories was agreed to in principle with all conflicting parties before the summer.
An OSCE team led by a German diplomat inspected the territories in January-February 2005 to investigate Azerbaijani claims the areas have been illegally populated by Armenians. The mission said it found "no evidence of direct involvement by the authorities of Armenia in the territories." Their report concluded that "there is no clear organized resettlement, no nonvoluntary resettlement, no recruitment."
The 2005 inspection was organized as a result of a compromise agreement between the conflicting parties and the mediators. The deal prevented a vote in the UN General Assembly on an Azerbaijani draft resolution condemning Armenia's occupation of the region.