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Armenia/Azerbaijan: Diplomats Discuss Karabakh

Washington, 7 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Two diplomats who once negotiated on different sides of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute held a congenial discussion on Friday (Feb. 4) on ways to pursue a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Vafa Quluzada of Azerbaijan and Gerard Libaridian of Armenia spoke in Washington at a forum on the disputed enclave in Azerbaijan sponsored by the Open Society Institute, a think-tank based in New York.

During the past decade, the two men had represented their respective governments in negotiations designed to resolve status of Nagorno-Karabakh. The predominantly Armenian enclave in the mountains of western Azerbaijan has been the focus of a conflict, sometimes armed, between the two former Soviet nations since 1988.

Quluzada, who has served as adviser to all three presidents of Azerbaijan, said a peaceful resolution of the problem could be reached quicker if Russia no longer has what he called "imperialistic ambitions."

Libaridian, an adviser to former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian, recommended that both sides stop negotiating on the basis of rigid ideology. He also said each side should abandon the notion of bringing the other, as he put it, "to its knees."

The congeniality dissipated, at least briefly, when a student from Nagorno-Karabakh (unidentified) asked Quluzada why the government of Azerbaijan refuses to negotiate directly with the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Quluzada replied sternly, saying that Nagorno-Karabakh is not a sovereign nation. He said one group of Armenians declaring independence in a region of Azerbaijan is as unthinkable as another group of Armenians settling in California and declaring independence there.

The Azerbaijani diplomat dismissed separatists in the enclave as "mutineers." He said they could proclaim their Armenian cultural identity, and even have their own flag, when -- as he put it -- "you are ready to be citizens of Azerbaijan." Until then, Quluzada said, "there is nothing to discuss."

Quluzada is the founder and director of the Caspian Geopolicy Research Foundation, which studies the Caspian region. Libardarian is now a senior research fellow at the East West Institute, a New York think-tank.