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LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN KARABAGH PROBLEM

Ömer Engin LÜTEM, Retired Ambassador
24 January 2006 - ?KSAREN
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="justify">Recently, it is observed that there are some optimistic declarations regarding the solution of the Karabagh problem both in Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, there is no clear statement on the basic premises of this solution.
âri newspaper, Assa Irade, on these basic principles negotiated between two parties.

Before going into the details, we should remind the readers about some basic aspects of the Karabagh problem. Karabagh had been an autonomous region of Azerbaijan in the Soviet era, which had always been a part of Azerbaijan until mid-19th century. Because of some strategic reasons, Russians installed Armenians to the region and sent local Azeris abroad, which made Armenians a majority in the Karabagh region. After their independence in 1991, Azerbaijan and Armenia fought for Karabagh. Azerbaijan lost the war and Armenians occupied the region as well as seven other rayons (an administrative unit greater than a district but smaller than a province) surrounding it. This war also resulted in one million Azeris to seek refuge for Azerbaijan.

Although accepting that these seven rayons belonged to Azerbaijan, Armenians argue that they occupied them to assure the security of the Karabagh region. However, it is known that this occupation would be used by the Armenians as a trump during the negotiations for the solution of the problem. According to the Armenian strategy these seven rayons could be returned to Azerbaijan for the Azeri recognition of the Armenian sovereignty over Karabagh. The recent solution plan is inspired from this strategy.
 
According to Assa Irade, the main points of the proposed solution are those:

• Armenia will evacuate three of seven rayons (Fuzuli, Akdam and Cebrail). Azerbaijan, on the other hand, will open the transportation routes (both railways and motorways) to Armenia.
 
• Then Armenia will evacuate Kubatl? and Zengilan rayons and will let Azerbaijan to reach Nakhichevan by land. By the way, the Azeris of these five rayons will return their homes and a peacekeeping force will be installed in these regions.

• After a prospective agreement on the status of Karabagh, Armenia will evacuate Kelbejar rayon. The last rayon, Lachin, will be continued to be possessed by Armenia for some time (A corridor passing through Lachin region ties Armenia to Karabagh, therefore, Armenia wants to hold this rayon as much as possible)

• Determination of the status of the Karabagh, namely its possession either by Armenia or by Azerbaijan will be done by a referendum. However, two sides have not reached an agreement on when such a referendum will be held. Armenia wants to make this referendum in five years, whereas Azerbaijan prospects a period of 15 to 29 years in order to appease their public opinion. 
 
If realized, this plan will result in the following: Karabagh is dominated by Armenian population. Even if the Azeri refugees return, Armenians will continue to hold the majority. Thus, a referendum will probably result in Armenian possession of the Karabagh region. Some Azeri circles argue that, in 15-20 years time, Azerbaijan will be so strong in terms of economic development that, in the referendum, Karabagh Armenians may choose to be tied to Azerbaijan. However, it is also possible that Armenia will be strengthened economically in 15-20 years, because of the supports of the Armenian diaspora as well as those states supporting Armenia, such as France and the United States.

To sum up, if recent negotiations will succeed, Azerbaijan will give up its claim on Karabagh while reacquiring the possession of seven rayons.

There is no clear information about Turkish contribution to this process. Since Turkey had closed its borders to Armenia because of Armenian occupation of Kelbejar, a possible solution may also bring the opening of Turkish borders to the agenda. In fact, Armenia complains about the closure of Turkish border, which is the shortest way that links her to Europe, rather then the closure of the Azeri border. Thus, she will insist on the opening of Turkish border and will probably be supported by the European Union and the Unites States.

There is no doubt that opening of Turkish border will facilitate the solution of Karabagh problem. However, Turkey’s main problem with Armenia is not Karabagh but Armenian non-recognition of Turkish territorial integrity and Armenian genocide allegations against Turkey. Turkey should use this trump of closed borders not only in the solution of the Karabagh problem, but also in the solution of these two problems as well.
 

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