The de facto leadership of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh is ready to negotiate with Azerbaijan, but only in an international format with the participation of mediators, a senior representative in Stepanakert said on November 18.
The official, Davit Babayan, was responding to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s statement that Baku was ready to talk to Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh but considered it an internal affair.
“What Aliyev suggests is nothing but an ultimate surrender for us in which a aboriginal group who have realized their ‘guilt’ will show repentance and beg Mother Azerbaijan to forgive them and allow them to live in the Azerbaijani land,” Babayan, the ethnic Armenians’ de facto foreign minister in the region, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service in an interview.
He said that instead, Stepanakert suggests using the format of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), even though it has been largely inactive since the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijan war over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for decades. Some 30,000 people were killed in a war in the early 1990s that left ethnic Armenians in control of the breakaway region and seven adjacent districts of Azerbaijan proper.
The two sides fought another war in 2020 that lasted six weeks and killed thousands of people on both sides before a Russia-brokered cease-fire, resulting in Armenians’ losing control over parts of the region and the adjacent districts.
“There can be some meetings, but not in the format of Azerbaijan-Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh],” Babayan said. “It can be a format involving Azerbaijan, Artsakh, Armenia, Russia, the United States, France; it could be in various compositions, at different places, but it must be internationally recognized. And the only internationally recognized format [for talks on Nagorno-Karabakh] is the format of the OSCE Minsk Group.”
Since the 2020 intensification, Baku has publicly refused to talk to Armenia or any other country regarding the future of the region.
Under the terms of a Russia-brokered cease-fire, Moscow currently deploys about 2,000 peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh and along a five-kilometer-wide corridor linking the region with Armenia.
Officials in Baku frequently assert that the Russian peacekeeping mission is deployed in the Karabakh region on a temporary basis.
In his public statements, Aliyev has also repeatedly said that the activities of the Minsk Group are no longer necessary since, as he puts it, “the conflict is now history.”
On November 17, Aliyev rejected the idea of negotiations with Ruben Vardanyan, a former Russian businessman of Armenian descent who recently renounced his Russian citizenship, moved to Nagorno-Karabakh, and took on a leadership role in its government. The Azerbaijani leader described Vardanyan as a person “sent from Moscow with a clear agenda.”
Yerevan-born Vardanyan, who currently holds the post of de facto state minister, an equivalent of prime minister in Nagorno-Karabakh, responded with a call for “a more constructive tone.” He said he fully met the criteria for a negotiator put forward by the Azerbaijani president as someone who “lives in Karabakh and wants to live there.”
Vardanyan also said talks between Stepanakert and Baku should be conducted through international mediators, including Russia, the United States, and France.
Meanwhile, in a Twitter post on November 18, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s ambassador-at-large, Edmon Marukian, contested Aliyev’s claim that the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh is an internal matter for Azerbaijan.
“No internal matter has ever been dealt with for decades by three permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the OSCE and now also by the EU. The issue of human rights hasn’t been considered an internal issue for seven decades, since World War II,” Marukian wrote.