International mediators seeking to broker a peaceful solution to the protracted conflict over Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region have urged the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders to refrain from statements and actions “suggesting significant changes to the situation on the ground” ahead of their summit talks expected soon.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a statement on March 9 that the co-chairs of the so-called Minsk Group underlined the importance of “maintaining an environment conducive to productive discussions and continue to assess positively the recent lack of casualties on the front lines.”
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev traded accusations in public statements earlier this month, just days after the U.S., Russian, and French mediators announced that the two leaders had agreed to meet soon for further talks.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked for years in hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Azerbaijani territory that was seized by Armenian-backed forces during a war that killed more than 30,000 people before a 1994 cease-fire.
Sporadic fighting continues, and three decades of diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh -- whose claim to independence has not been recognized by any country -- have brought little progress.
The OSCE statement said the co-chairs -- Igor Popov of Russia, Stephane Visconti of France, and Andrew Schofer of the United States -- have been working with the two countries’ foreign ministers for “this important leaders’ meeting,” which will be the first direct contact between Pashinian and Aliyev under co-chairs' auspices.
It also said that the co-chairs welcomed “some initial steps being taken in the region to prepare the populations for peace and encourage the sides to intensify such efforts.”
“At the same time, the co-chairs reiterate the critical importance of reducing tensions and minimizing inflammatory rhetoric.”
“In this context, the co-chairs urge the sides to refrain from statements and actions suggesting significant changes to the situation on the ground, prejudging the outcome of, or setting conditions, for future talks, demanding unilateral changes to the format without agreement of the other party, or indicating readiness to renew active hostilities,” the mediating troika said.
Speaking in parliament on March 6, the Armenian prime minister dismissed Baku’s offers to grant Karabakh a high degree of autonomy, insisting that “the people of Nagorno-Karabakh have a right to self-determination and must be able to exercise that right.”
The day before, the Azerbaijani leader had accused Yerevan of “not showing a serious desire to conduct substantive negotiations and is trying to impede a Karabakh settlement by all means.”
The mediators reiterated that “a fair and lasting settlement must be based on the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act, including in particular the nonuse or threat of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”
“It also should embrace additional elements as proposed by the presidents of the co-chair countries in 2009-12, including: return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control; an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance; a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh; and future determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will.”
The statement also cited the “the right of all internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their former places of residence, and international security guarantees that would include a peacekeeping operation.”
The OSCE added that “continuous and direct dialogue between Baku and Yerevan” conducted under the Minsk Group co-chairs remains an “essential element” to the peace process.