The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan concerning control over Nagorno-Karabakh begun in 1991. Since May, 1994, cease-fire was declared according to the truce agreement. Negotiations on the Karabakh conflict settlement are held with intermediatory mission of the OSCE Minsk Group, co-seated by the RF, USA and France.
Until recently, there was much optimism in diplomacy circles in relation to negotiations on settlement of the conflict and it was reaching the top in the beginning of May, 2007. The optimistic wave was aborted by the negotiation of the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and the Armenian President Robert Kocharian on June 9, 2007, which has failed because of the issue of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. According to the Foreign Affairs Minister of Armenia Vardan Oskanian, we can hardly expect another meeting of presidents in 2007. He thinks the negotiations will continue on the level of foreign affairs ministers.
At the end of June, 2007, a meeting of Azerbaijani and Armenian intellectuals took place in Stepanakert and Shushi, initiated by the Armenian and Azerbaijani Ambassadors to the RF, Polad Bulbuloglu and Armen Smbatyan. The delegates traveled from there to Yerevan, where negotiations with the Armeni President Robert Kocharian took place. Further negotiations were held with the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku.
In the negotiations were present the Armenian Ambassador to the RF Armen Smbatyan, the Rector of Yerevan State Conservatory Sergey Sarajyan, the President of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia Radik Martirosian, the Artistic Director of the Russian Drama Theatre Alexander Grigorian, the chief of the therapy department of the Republican Hospital of Armenia Ludmila Grigorian, the Azerbaijani Ambassador to the RF Polad Bulbuloglu, the President of the Academy of Music in Baku Farkhad Badalbeili, the rector of the Baku Slavic University Kyamal Abdullaev, the chairman of the Union of Artists Azer Pasha Neymatov and the Merited Engineer of Azerbaijan and a businessman Ilham Fataliev.
In the meeting with the representatives of the intelligence in Baku, the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev stated that the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh can be solved only on the basis of territorial integrity and unviolableness of the Azerbaijani borders. According to his opinion, the principle of the national self-definition of Karabakh Armenians should be carried out in form of wide autonomy within Azerbaijan. During the negotiations, an i dominated in the Azerbaijani attitude to the Karabakh issue that Azerbaijan must start treating the citizens of Nagorno-Karabakh as their own citizens. The progress in the conflict regulation should be achieved by handing over the territories of Kalbajar, Lachin, Qubadli, Jabrayil, Zangelan, Fizuli and Agdam Districts of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan, by return of the refugees of Azeri nationality to Nagorno-Karabakh including Shushi and by placing international peace-making forces in the contact zone of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. The Co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group Yuri Merzlyakov and Bernard Fassier agreed on returning seven districts already on May 5, 2007.
The Foreign Affairs Minister of Armenia Vardan Oskanian positively valued the meeting of the representatives of Armenian and Azerbaijani intelligence. The initiative has been similarly highlighted by the President of Armenia Robert Kocharian. In general, the meeting was perceived positively in the political circles of Armenia. Rather little attention to the initiative has been paid in Nagorno-Karabakh, since the negotiations were held shortly before the presidential election. The meetings were appreciated by the President of Nagorno-Karabakh Arkadiy Gukasian and the Chairman of the Parliament Commission for Foreign Relations and Information Vagram Atanesian. In Azerbaijan, the meeting was perceived largely in a negative way.
According to Bulbuloglu, the meeting took place with knowledge of the President Ilham Aliyev, yet who – with the exception of the negotiation with the intelligence representatives – stays with the anti-Armenian rhetoric: before the negotiations with the intelligence representatives in the summit of the Organization of Black Sea Economic Cooperation and after the negotiations in the meeting with graduates from the Police Academy in Baku he stated, that it was the first stage of the war, not the entire war that has ended. The initiative was denounced by the leader of pro-government party Ana Vaten, Fazail Agamaly, with the argument that while the Azerbaijani territories are occupied, there are no tolerable negotiations beyond the meetings of presidents and foreign affair ministers. The opposing Musavat Party MP Arzu Samedbeyli and the party leader Isa Gambar were the next ones to denounce the meeting. As for the meeting, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan leader Sardar Jalaloglu was concerned, whether it was not an effort to acknowledge Nagorno-Karabakh as a conflicting party (Armenia and Azerbaijan are considered to be the conflicting parties). The Chairman of the National Front Party Ali Kerimli stated that the government must explain the purpose of the trip of the Azerbaijani official representative Polad Bulbuloglu to Nagorno-Karabakh immediately. The opposing National Independence Party and the Karabakh Liberation Organization have denounced the meeting as well.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan has reacted to negative reactions by the statement of the Foreign Affairs Minister Araz Azimov, that the trip was an individual initiative of Bulbuloglu, but which was an opportunity to standpoint the Azerbaijani attitude to Armenia. Nizami Bahmanov, the chairman of the civil association Azerbaijani Community of Nagorno-Karabakh, has positively valued the meeting. Azeri refugees perceive the meeting positively in relation to a possibility of return to their hometowns. The spiritual head of Muslims of Azerbaijan Sheikh Allakhshukiur Pasha-zade is not against intensifying the dialogue.
Passing the proposal, which is based on an exchange of the recognition of legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh for the territories of the seven districts surrounding former Nagorno-Karabakh region, would have far-reaching consequences for the Armenian side. Recognition of the status of Karabakh as an autonomous region is positive for Armenia and for Nagorno-Karabakh. Possible negative sides affect economy, transport, security and demographic processes in the unrecognized republic (1). Despite the fact that from various points of view the proposal is far more advantageous for Azerbaijan than Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, it raised greater animosity among political forces and population in Azerbaijan than among political forces and population in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. That is related to unwillingnes of the Azeris to recognize arbitrary status of Nagorno-Karabakh including the autonomous one.
A series of official negotiations was concluded in the beginning of June, 2007 in the meeting of the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Further negotiations are expected only in 2009 after completion of presidential elections in Armenia and in Azerbaijan. It is unlikely that the top-level negotiations will reach solution of the situation in 2008, as the agreement with handing over the territory or with recognition of legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh would mean considerable disadvantage of any political force or candidate in relation to support of electorate.
The meeting of the representatives of Armenian and Azerbaijani intelligence was the first negotiation of Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives since the beginning of the conflict in 1991 – 1994 that took place without intermediatory mission of third parties. Yet the fact that no political force in Armenia or Azerbaijan has interpolitical reasons to carry out such negotiations points out that the meeting was initiated not only by the conflicting parties, but that it was carried out also with a quiet intervention of a third party, and the reason was creating an environment enabling constructive negotiations concerning the Karabakh issue. The standpoints of the RF and Azerbaijan with regards to the Karabakh conflict regulation have come close during the negotiations within OSCE, which displayed in the outcome of the Co-chairmen of the Minsk Group negotiations at the end of May, 2007. The activity of the RF in the negotiations has increased, resulting from the effort to maintain influence in the region.
We can presume that it is the RF who creates the environment which will enable to regulate the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, with the maintenance of dominant influence in the peace-making process, and thus in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh (2). The standpoints of the RF and Azerbaijan coming closer in relation to the issue of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and to its territorial extent adverts to a possibility, that the proposition, which is likely to be the object of top-level negotiations presumably only after the presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2008, will include regulations of autonomous status of Nagorno-Karabakh, the handing over of the seven districts surrounding the former Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, return of the refugees of Azeri nationality to Nagorno-Karabakh and placing the international peace-making forces in the contact zone of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. Handing over of seven districts of Azerbaijan and enabling the return of Azeri refugees is a disadvantageous step from the point of view of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
The format and the structure of peace-making forces has not been set so far; however, Azerbaijan will presumably assert placement of the GUAM peace-making forces, while the RF will most likely insist on placing their own peace-making forces in accordance to their own strategy of keeping influence in the region. So far it is not likely that any considerable progress will take place in the negotiations concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh issue before the presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan are held; fundamental events in the process of defining the status of the unrecognized republic can be expected only in 2009 the soonest.