IN KARABAKH TALKS, PROMISE OF A REFERENDUM IN RETURNFOR LAND
by Tatul Hakobyan
Friday August 21, 2009
Secret details of the negotiations emerge
Tsaghkadzor, Kotayk Province, Armenia - At a meeting with young
Armenians in the resort town of Tsaghgatsor, the American co-chair of
the OSCE Minsk Group, Matthew Bryza, said the Madrid Document for the
resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict sought to reconcile the
three main principle of the OSCE Helsinki Final Act - the principles
of the self-determination of peoples, the territorial integrity of
states, and the nonuse of force.
"Those three principles may sound contradictory, at least the first
two, but they are not. It is difficult to reconcile them; that is
why we have been negotiating so long, that is why the talks have
been so complicated. But I think we have found a formula in the
Basic Principles as reflected in the Madrid Document of November
2007 - and now reflected in the updated version of that document
that the co-chairs pulled together in Krakow at the end of July -
that does strike that balance," Mr. Bryza said at the meeting,
which had been organized by the Yerevan-based International Center
for Human Development.
Mr. Bryza, who is deputy assistant secretary of state, went into
greater detail than ever before about the document on the negotiating
"A legalization of the status quo"
"The basic idea of the agreement is that Nagorno-Karabakh will receive
an interim status, which will be a legalization of the status quo. The
interim status will make clear and ensure that that status quo will
continue for an interim period until the second key element - until
there is a vote by the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh to determine
the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh. So there is a way that
self-determination is expressed in terms of this interim status and
the final status that will be determined by the vote," Mr. Bryza said.
The principle of territorial integrity, as the American diplomat
put it, will be reflected with the return of the "seven territories
surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh" to Azerbaijan.
"Those territories will be returned in a staged way, as President
Aliyev described in July in an interview with Russian television;
five or six territories being returned immediately and one or two or
part of one and another territory returned with some delay, maybe
in five years, maybe in another number of years. So we will also
take care of the principle of territorial integrity by the return
of these territories to Azerbaijan with the final legal status of
Nagorno-Karabakh to be determined at some point," he said.
In addition, "knowing that the most important factor for the residents
of Nagorno-Karabakh is their security," there will be a special
security regime with guarantees that ensure that there won't be any
threatening military forces surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh; there will
be international peacekeepers.
Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed
Finally, another key element, according to Mr. Bryza, is the
corridor that connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and the opening
of all transit routes between Azerbaijan and Armenia, including
Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhichevan.
"I truly do believe that the two presidents right now are on the
verge of a breakthrough that will clear the way, could be in months,
to finalize the Basic Principles. I can't predict exactly when they
will come up with that agreement to finalize the Basic Principles
because they still wonder about each other; they wonder, Does my
counterpart really want a settlement or is he trying to manipulate
me? Is he trying to get more concessions from me so that the agreement
looks as good as possible to his population or is he simply trying
to get a little more advantage over me?" Mr. Bryza said.
The U.S. diplomat, who according to persistent rumors, is a contender
for the position of U.S. ambassador to Baku, said, "The Karabakh and
Armenian-Turkish negotiations are separate processes; they are moving
forward at different speeds, but they help each other as one process
Referring to Presidents Serge Sargsian and Ilham Aliyev, he added,
"There is no agreement yet but they are very close. Nothing is agreed
upon until all the elements are agreed upon at once."
Reading the documents
The Madrid Document was presented to the foreign ministers of Armenia
and Azerbaijan in 2007. An updated proposal was placed on the table
in July 2009, and the main elements were publicized.
How does the updated version, which is sometimes referred to as the
Krakow Proposal, differ from the Madrid Document?
The Armenian Reporter was able to review the still-secret Madrid
Document in its various manifestations. This review and interviews with
former and current officials intimately familiar with the negotiations
show that the Krakow Proposal does not differ profoundly from either
the original Madrid Document or from the working paper presented to
the sides in 2005.
Points of contention
At the core of all these documents are four basic principles: that
the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict must be based on the
principle of self-determination through a referendum, a plebiscite,
a popular vote, or a legally binding expression of will; that certain
territories must be returned; that internally displaced persons must
have the chance to return; and that there must be security guarantees.
The principles are certainly important, but as they say, the devil is
in the details. In order to decide the acceptability or unacceptability
of any document, one has to review not the positive points of the
document, but its negative aspects. Simply put, if all the points in
the document are acceptable except for one, then the whole document
can be considered unacceptable.
The Madrid Document, presented in November 2007, is composed of 14
basic principles, and incorporates the four founding principles.
The first point is about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh,
which, according to the Madrid Document, must be decided by
a plebiscite. Legally, a plebiscite differs somewhat from a
referendum. If a referendum is legally binding, a plebiscite
isn't necessarily so. And in the updated Madrid Document, the term
"expression of will" is used, which isn't a legal term, although it
is qualified as "legally binding." Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have
neither rejected nor accepted the Madrid and updated Madrid Documents.
Kelbajar linked to referendum
Over the years since the failed 2001 Key West talks, Armenia and
Azerbaijan have been arguing around three basic issues. The first
was when Kelbajar would be returned. The second was how the region
of Lachin - beyond the narrow corridor around the Goris-Stepanakert
Highway - would be dealt with. The third was the status of the Lachin
Following the 1994 ceasefire, during all negotiations, the Armenian
side has agreed in principle to return five of the seven regions
that adjoined the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region. Former
President Robert Kocharian was also not against the return of
Kelbajar - but only after a referendum determining the final status
of Nagorno-Karabakh. The February 2006 talks in Rambouillet, hosted
by French President Jacques Chirac, came to an impasse for this
Azerbaijan insists that Kelbajar must be returned within a specific
and determined time frame - three, five, or 10 years. Armenia insisted
that the return of that region should be linked to the carrying out
of the referendum. In other words, Armenia wasn't opposed to returning
Kelbajar quickly - even within a year - as long as the referendum took
place first. It was apparent to everyone that carrying out a referendum
in the future was added to the document as a face-saving measure for
the sides, and a referendum would never take place; thus, Azerbaijan
insisted on a definite timeframe instead of a definite order of events.
Lachin: the region and the corridor
The second dispute was over the portions of Lachin that were not part
of the land corridor. Azerbaijan demanded the return of the region
of Lachin, with the exception of the Lachin corridor. The region
of Lachin covers an area of 1,835 square kilometers and Azerbaijan
does not want to give that up. During the negotiations, the Armenian
side was trying very hard to ensure that the corridor be as wide as
possible, at least 30-40 km. In this way, what remained disputed was
when the region, minus the corridor, would be returned and how wide
the actual corridor would be.
The third and most fundamental problem, around which the Armenians
and Azerbaijanis had been arguing from 2004 to 2007, had to do with
the status of the Lachin corridor. Armenia insisted that the Lachin
corridor would have the same status as Nagorno-Karabakh. Another point
of contention was the status of the Lachin corridor in the interim
period between the signing of an agreement and the referendum to
determine Nagorno-Karabakh's final status.
Azerbaijan was opposed to the Lachin corridor having the same status
as Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku proposed several alternatives to be able to
use the corridor simultaneously with the Armenians. Baku proposed that
it belong neither to the Armenians nor to the Azerbaijanis, but rather
be placed under the protection of the OSCE, or perhaps be rented the
corridor to the Armenians. In this way, Azerbaijan did not want to
sign a document that could place its ownership of Lachin into question.
When Robert Kocharian became president in 1998, he refused to continue
the negotiations as they had been conducted in the previous years by
Yerevan, Baku, and Stepanakert.
Armenia's third president, Serge Sargsian, continued the negotiations
and ensured continuity in the negotiation process. The co-chairs,
Yerevan, and Baku accept that in the last several months, the
negotiation process has seen progress. It was even said that after
the July 17 meeting of the two presidents in Moscow, an announcement
would be made about an agreement over the Basic Principles - which
did not happen. If progress has been made, the question is this:
have the disputes surrounding Kelbajar, the region of Lachin, and
the Lachin corridor been resolved? If so, what mutual concessions
have the side agreed to?
Is it possible that President Sargsian and Foreign Minister Edward
Nalbandian have been able to ensure that Kelbajar will not be returned
until a referendum is held? Is it possible that Yerevan has been able
to secure a favorable resolution to the issues of the Lachin region
and the status of the Lachin corridor? That remains to be seen.