An unexpected joint statement issued by the presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia could reinvigorate the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.
The statement came after talks held by Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev, and Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev on October 27 in the Russian city of Astrakhan, near the Caspian Sea. “The settlement of the [Karabakh] conflict through political and diplomatic means requires further efforts on strengthening the ceasefire regime and confidence-building measures,” the statement declared.
To give substantive meaning to the statement’s intent, Sargsyan and Aliyev agreed to exchange prisoners and to repatriate the remains of soldiers killed in the fighting.
Officials in Baku have sounded an upbeat note in the days since the Astrakhan meeting. Ali Hasanov, a presidential aide, hailed the joint statement as a “positive result of the Astrakhan meeting.” Meanwhile, Aydin Mirzazade, the deputy chairman of parliament’s Committee on Defense and Security, said the statement “creates a cautiously optimistic feeling.”
While the Astrakhan statement may have offered an encouraging sign, Azerbaijani officials say they do not expect it to lead to a breakthrough during the upcoming OSCE summit in Astana in early December. “The [Astrakhan] statement serves only to create a direct dialogue in humanitarian area,” Hasanov said.
Earlier, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov downplayed speculation that a blueprint for a Karabakh peace settlement could be signed on the sidelines of the OSCE Astana gathering. “Such a proposal was made earlier but there is nothing on the table now,” he said at a news conference in Baku.
French diplomats praised the Astrakhan statement, according to a report distributed by the Panorama.am news website. A French Foreign Ministry representative was quoted as saying the statement “can help ease tension and reduce the incidents of ceasefire violation.” France is one of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe body that is overseeing peace talks.
In a related development, the Armenian parliament on October 29 postponed a vote officially to recognize Karabakh’s independence from Azerbaijan.
Shahin Abbasov is a freelance reporter based in Baku. He is also a board member of the Open Society Foundation - Azerbaijan.