PARIS, Oct. 30 (UPI) — The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan over the weekend recommitted themselves to finding a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian met Saturday in Paris with leaders of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group, which is mediating the conflict.
After the meeting, the parties issued a statement in which the foreign ministers “reiterated their determination to continue working with the co-chairs to reach a peaceful settlement” in the wake of a furor this summer over the pardon of an Azeri soldier convicting of killing an Armenian counterpart eight years ago in Hungary.
The OSCE co-chairmen — including Ambassadors Robert Bradtke of the United States, Igor Popov of Russia and Jacques Faure of France — “stressed to the ministers the importance of reducing tensions among the parties,” the statement said, adding, “They presented their ideas on a working proposal to advance the peace process.”
The Minsk Group leaders also put a focus on an upcoming visit to region in which they are to meet with the two countries’ leaders next month, saying the “working proposal” would be discussed further then.
The Paris meeting represented an attempt to bridge a vacuum in the talks that has developed following Baku’s August pardoning of Azerbaijani military officer Ramil Safarov, who had been convicted of killing of Armenian serviceman Gurgen Markaryan in Hungary eight years ago.
The Azeri courts issued a pardon for Safarov after he was extradited from Hungary, where he had been sentenced to life in prison. He was greeted by Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev as a national hero and promoted to major after the extradition.
That move upset Armenia and brought condemnation from the United Nations. Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in September Safarov’s attack on Markaryan was clearly ethnically motivated.
“International standards regarding accountability for serious crimes should be upheld,” he said. “Ethnically motivated hate crimes of this gravity should be deplored and properly punished, not publicly glorified by leaders and politicians.”
Since then, the Minsk Group mediators have been trying to get the two sides to re-commit to the peace process and to set up next month’s meeting, which is likely to involve the presidents Aliyev and Serzh Sarkisyan of Armenia.
Karen Bekaryan, head of the Armenian non-governmental organization European Integration, told the English-language news website Panorama.am last week the Safarov episode has changed Armenia’s approach to the talks.
“After the extradition and pardon of Ramil Safarov, we have a different situation. Armenia did not abandon the talks, but we now have much to say,” he said.
“I think before making the Safarov deal, Azerbaijan discussed the possible consequences (of) thinking that Armenia would quit the talks, (which is just what Azerbaijan wants), the Minsk Group format would change, the negotiations would be transferred to another platform and Azerbaijan could accuse Armenia of foiling the negotiations,” Bekaryan said.
Armenia went to war with Azerbaijan over the disputed, Armenian majority territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988, and since fighting stopped four years later have occupied the region, which Azerbaijan claims as 20 percent of its nation.
Tensions rekindled in June when fighting broke out between Azeri and Armenian forces over the region.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in September visited Armenia for the first time, calling on both sides to break down barriers that interfere with reconciliation.
“There must be no return to conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” he said. “Tensions must be reduced and concrete steps must be taken to promote regional cooperation and reconciliation.”