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Analysis: Council Of Europe Calls For Talks Between Azerbaijan, Karabakh Leadership

In the late summer of 2004, British parliamentarian David Atkinson, who succeeded Terry Davis as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) rapporteur for Nagorno-Karabakh, was tasked with completing a report begun by Davis for the assembly on the situation in the disputed region.

Even though such reports, when adopted, are only recommendations, ever since that draft was unveiled two months ago, legislators and political commentators in both Armenia and Azerbaijan have evaluated, and lobbied to amend, criticisms they consider unwarranted and terminology they consider inappropriate or misleading.

Specifically, the Armenian side objected from the outset to the assertion that "considerable parts of the territory of Azerbaijan are still occupied by Armenian forces, and separatist forces are still in control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region." The Armenian PACE delegation sought to substitute "supporters of democracy" for the term "separatist forces," presumably in order to underscore that the elections that have taken place in the disputed republic were free and democratic, in contrast to those in Azerbaijan that the OSCE has consistently criticized as not meeting international standards for free and fair elections. The Armenian side also considered inappropriate the use of the term "ethnic cleansing" in connection with the exodus from the region of its minority Azerbaijani population.

The Davis/Atkinson report was the subject of a three-hour debate on 25 January during the PACE winter session. The Armenian delegation's efforts to tone down wording that it considered unfair proved largely unsuccessful, partly, delegation head Tigran Torosian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 20 January, due to lack of Russian support. According to on 26 January, most speakers expressed support for Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from areas bordering on Karabakh. The report was finally approved by a vote of 123 in favor and seven against. Moreover, the final version of the report terms the occupation of the territory of one Council of Europe member state by another "a grave violation" and stresses that the independence and secession of a territory may be achieved only through a lawful and peaceful process and not in the wake of an armed conflict leading to the expulsion of part of the region's population. It calls for compliance with four UN Security Council resolutions adopted in 1993 calling for the withdrawal of unnamed occupying forces from districts of Azerbaijan bordering on Nagorno-Karabakh. And it calls on the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group to expedite a formal agreement on cessation of the conflict that would "eliminate the major consequences of the conflict for all parties" and pave the way for the so-called Minsk Conference that would address the region's future status vis-a-vis Azerbaijan.

That approach is tantamount to endorsement of the so-called "phased" approach to resolving the conflict, and it would apparently require the withdrawal of Karabakh Armenian forces from the seven districts of Azerbaijan bordering on Nagorno-Karabakh that they currently control, and the return to their abandoned homes of the region's Azerbaijani minority, prior to the beginning of any formal discussion of the region's political status and of the measure of self-rule to which it would be entitled as part of Azerbaijan. The Armenian government considers this approach anathema, insofar as it would deprive the Armenian side of its sole bargaining chip (the occupied territories) before talks on Karabakh's status got under way.
The final version of the report terms the occupation of the territory of one Council of Europe member state by another "a grave violation."

Azerbaijani commentators on 26 January termed the final wording of the report a major defeat for Armenia. But the report also contained at least one recommendation that is not acceptable to Azerbaijan: the Armenian delegation succeeded in having it amended to include a call on the Azerbaijani leadership to embark immediately and unconditionally on talks with the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on the region's future status. Moreover, addressing the Assembly on 25 January, Atkinson argued that Azerbaijan should be expelled from the Council of Europe if it attempts to restore its hegemony over Nagorno-Karabakh by military means, Turan reported. Atkinson reminded PACE that he visited Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s, and added that he "will never forget" the Azerbaijani bombing of Stepanakert.

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