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Caucasus: Armenian, Azerbaijani, And Georgian Leaders -- Conflicts Hinder Development

The presidents of the three south Caucasus nations have appealed to the United Nations to aid in their continuing transition to free-market societies. All of them cited stalemated conflicts as obstacles to their development. RFE/RL's UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 8 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Long-stalled internal conflicts are arresting progress in the former Soviet republics of the south Caucasus.

That was one of the common themes in yesterday's (Thursday) speeches to the UN summit by the presidents of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia -- Heidar Aliev, Robert Kocharian, and Eduard Shevardnadze.

Aliyev and Kocharian expressed their countries' wishes to benefit from the growth of economic globalization. But they cited the stalemate over the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh as the chief obstacle for economic growth.

Aliyev blamed the situation on what he called the "aggression" of Armenia against Azerbaijan in its enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Nearly 1 million Azerbaijanis have fled the area and other parts of Armenia since the military victory of ethnic Armenians there, and a cease-fire maintains uneasy stability. Aliyev said a permanent solution is needed to resolve the enclave's future status. He also spoke of need for greater overall cooperation in the area.

"The achievement of greater political cooperation among the regions of the south Caucasus, and the attainment of their neutral status, will allow normal relationships to exist among South Caucasian states, and will facilitate their harmonious integration into the global economic system."

Aliyev and Kocharian have had several bilateral meetings during the past year but have not reached any major breakthroughs. Azerbaijan has refused to accept Karabakh's claim of independent status. The Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe through its Minsk Group has attempted to guide a peace process.

The two presidents held bilateral talks on Thursday but officials at both the Azerbaijani and Armenian UN missions could give no details of the talks.

Kocharian's speech to the General Assembly included a pledge to continue working for a political settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.

"Armenia remains committed to the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We will continue to work intensively with the co-chairs of the Minsk Group, and we underscore their contribution to maintaining the cease-fire regime. Equally, we are ready to maintain direct contacts with Azerbaijan in order to search for compromises, although we think that direct negotiation between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh would be more productive."

Georgia's Shevardnadze said early in his UN address that he had grown frustrated at the lack of progress eight years after separatists seized the Abkhazia region and forced hundreds of thousands of residents to flee. Shevardnadze said the UN Security Council had adopted 23 resolutions on the Abkhaz conflict, with no meaningful results.

Like the other two presidents from the region, Shevardnadze said Georgia is committed to democratic values and human rights. But he said there is still a long path ahead, made more difficult by conflict, corruption and the emergence of a shadow economy.