Since gunmen entered the Armenian Parliament late last month and killed the prime minister and several others, there has been speculation over whether the violence would undermine efforts to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Today, Armenian President Robert Kocharian acknowledged that the peace process with Azerbaijan had been delayed, but he vowed the effort would continue.
Yerevan, 16 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- President Robert Kocharian says the recent killings of Armenian leaders have pushed back efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by several months. But Kocharian also says he is still ready to strike a peace deal with neighbor Azerbaijan as the situation in Armenia returns to normal.
In an interview with Armenia's leading television channels today, Kocharian said the parties "lost several months" as a result of the October 27 attack on the parliament in which the country's prime minister, parliament speaker, and other top officials were shot dead. But he added that the future of the Karabakh peace process, which showed signs of a breakthrough in the last several months, remains "very encouraging."
Armenia has been mainly preoccupied with rebuilding its shattered leadership since the killings, which were preceded by a series of direct talks between Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev. The two leaders, encouraged by the United States, were seen as having inched closer to a deal on the ethnic Armenian-populated territory inside Azerbaijan, which broke away from Baku's rule in the late 1980s. Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Strobe Talbott discussed the dispute with leaders in Yerevan just hours before gunmen burst into the parliament chamber.
Kocharian says the peace process sponsored by the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) may take "several months" to be put back on track. He suggested that his talks later this week with U.S. President Bill Clinton and French President Jacques Chirac will give a fresh impetus to Karabakh talks. Kocharian is due to meet with Chirac and Clinton on the sidelines of the OSCE summit in Istanbul.
Together with Russia, the U.S. and France co-chair the OSCE's Minsk Group. Washington had earlier pushed for a framework Armenian-Azerbaijani agreement to be signed at the Istanbul summit. But officials say the summit will only issue a non-binding statement on Karabakh. Kocharian said he and Aliyev will meet face to face and then hold joint talks with the presidents or foreign ministers of the Minsk Group troika.
Kocharian insisted that the Armenian authorities are in full control of the situation in the country and he can now concentrate on the Karabakh issue, which he described as the number one challenge facing Armenia. The Armenian president also dismissed speculation that the gunmen who attacked the parliament aimed to scuttle a solution to the Karabakh conflict. Kocharian, who personally negotiated with the gunmen as they held dozens of hostages in the chamber, argued that they wanted as much publicity to their action as possible and would have mentioned Karabakh had it really been on their mind.