May 182017
 

MOSCOW, PARIS, WASHINGTON D.C., 18 May, 2017 – The Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Ambassadors Igor Popov of Russia, Stephane Visconti of France, and Richard Hoagland of the United States of America, released the following statement today:

According to information collected from multiple reliable sources, on 15 May, Azerbaijani armed forces fired a missile across the Line of Contact, striking military equipment. On the evening of 16 May and continuing into 17 May, Armenian armed forces retaliated with mortar fire of various calibres. These actions by both sides represent significant violations of the ceasefire and are cause for alarm.

There are contradictory reports regarding the targets of these recent strikes, as well as about casualties sustained and damages inflicted. The Minsk Group Co-Chairs and the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office continue to collect further data and analysis to gain more complete and accurate information about the current situation.

The Co-Chairs condemn these recent ceasefire violations and call upon the sides to take all necessary measures to prevent any further escalation in the conflict zone.


Source: OSCE Minsk Group page

Dec 092016
 

The report released by the Human Rights Defender (Ombudsman) of Artsakh Republic highlights the war crimes committed by Azerbaijan during the 4-day war in April, 2016 (torture, execution and mutilation of dead bodies). The findings are based on the results of Ombudsman’s fact-finding mission and the publicly available information.

The conclusions of the report are as follows:

  1. During the 2016 April war, the Azerbaijani AF committed war crimes of torture, execution, and mutilation. The war crimes had a systemic and well-organized nature, as they were committed in all three areas by all the regiments of the Azerbaijani armed forces that established control over the NKR civilians or NKDA servicemen on April 2, 2016.
  2. None of the 3 civilians and, presumably, the 4 combatants hors de combats survived the control of the Azerbaijani armed forces. Their murders seem to be executions merely for being Armenian.
  3. 27 out of the 31 NKR civilians and NKDA servicemen (about 90%), who fell under control of the Azerbaijani armed forces as a result of the Azerbaijani military aggression against NKR, were tortured, executed, or mutilated.
  4. All the NKR civilians under Azerbaijani control were executed and mutilated. One of them, a 92 year old woman, was also tortured.
  5. Three NKDA servicemen were beheaded. Two of them were beheaded postmortem, and one was executed by ISIS-style decapitation.
  6. The most widespread war crime was mutilation (24 cases), including 21 cases of ear cuts-offs. There were 5 cases of torture (including hands cut off, and throats cut). There were 7 cases of execution, mostly by gun-shots.
  7. Under the IHL, Azerbaijan bears State Responsibility for the war crimes of its armed forces, and has an obligation to investigate and properly prosecute the perpetrators and others who bear responsibility. The perpetrators and their commanders are also individually responsible.

File: Second Interim Report on Atrocities committed by Azerbaijan during the 2016 April War
Source: Artsakh Ombudsman (Human Rights Defender) Continue reading »

Dec 082016
 

HAMBURG, Germany, 8 December 2016 – We, the Heads of Delegation of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries – Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State of the United States John Kerry, and Foreign Minister of France Jean-Marc Ayrault – remain fully committed to a negotiated settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

In light of the dramatic escalation in violence along the Line of Contact in April, we express concern over continuing armed incidents, including reports on the use of heavy weapons, and strongly condemn the use of force or the threat of the use of force. There is no military solution to this conflict and no justification for the death and injury of civilians. We are also aware of allegations of atrocities committed on the field of battle in April, which we condemn in the strongest terms. We appeal to the sides to confirm their commitment to the peaceful resolution of the conflict as the only way to bring real reconciliation to the peoples of the region. We also urge them to adhere strictly to the 1994/95 ceasefire agreements that make up the foundation of the cessation of hostilities in the conflict zone.

We call on Baku and Yerevan to honor the agreements reflected in the Joint Statements of the 16 May Summit in Vienna and the 20 June Summit in St. Petersburg. We welcome the sides’ progress in implementing the exchange of data on missing persons under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross. We urge the parties to remove all remaining obstacles to expanding the mission of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and to make progress on a proposal to establish an OSCE investigative mechanism. The proposals should be implemented together with the immediate resumption of negotiations on a settlement. We would like to reiterate our call to the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to demonstrate flexibility and to return to the negotiation table with the firm aim of moving toward a sustainable peace on the basis of the current working proposals. Unless progress can be made on negotiations, the prospects for renewed violence will only increase, and the parties will bear full responsibility.

We remind the sides that the settlement must be based on the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act, namely: non-use of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and additional elements as proposed by the Presidents of the Co-Chair countries, including return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control; an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance; a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh; future determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will; the right of all internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their former places of residence; and international security guarantees that would include a peacekeeping operation. Our countries will continue to work closely with the sides, and we call upon them to make full use of the assistance of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs as mediators.

The Co-Chair countries are prepared to host a meeting of the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan when they are ready. We firmly believe that the Presidents need to engage in negotiations in good faith at the earliest opportunity. Continuous and direct dialogue between the Presidents, conducted under the auspices of the Co-Chairs, remains an essential element in building confidence and moving the peace process forward.


Source: OSCE Minsk Group page

Jul 072016
 

For almost three decades, the most dangerous unresolved conflict in wider Europe has lain in the mountains of the South Caucasus, in a small territory known as Nagorno-Karabakh. In the late 1980s, the region confounded the last Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev. In the early 1990s, the conflict there created more than a million refugees and killed around 20,000 people. In 1994, after Armenia defeated Azerbaijan in a fight over the territory, the two countries signed a truce — but no peace agreement.

Nagorno-Karabakh erupted again last weekend. It seems one of the players — most likely Azerbaijan — decided to change the facts on the ground. Dozens of soldiers from both sides were killed before a cease-fire was proclaimed on Tuesday. It could fall apart at any moment. The situation is volatile, and there is a danger that the conflict could escalate further unless the international community stops it.

A new all-out Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the stuff of nightmares. Given the sophisticated weaponry both sides now possess, tens of thousands of young men would most likely lose their lives. Russia and Turkey, already at loggerheads and with military obligations to Armenia and Azerbaijan, respectively, could be sucked into a proxy war. Fighting in the area would also destabilize Georgia, Iran and the Russian North Caucasus. Oil and gas pipeline routes from the Caspian Sea could be threatened, too.

At the heart of the issue is the status of the Armenian-majority highland enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was part of Soviet Azerbaijan. As the Soviet Union crumbled, ethnic Armenians in the territory campaigned to join Armenia. This became a full-scale war, and the Armenians have maintained control of the territory since.

Nagorno-Karabakh has been mostly quiet, save for occasional skirmishes. Most international diplomats pay little attention to this protracted conflict in the Caucasus, giving the impression that Nagorno-Karabakh is intractable but not especially dangerous, like Cyprus. The hope among the international community has been that the problem can be left alone.

That notion was shaken over the past week. More than 20 years on, nationalist hatreds have not abated. In fact, they’ve been fed over the years by official propaganda on both sides. Meanwhile, the very geography of the conflict makes it inherently dangerous.

The 1994 truce left the Armenian side in control not just of the disputed province, but also of a section of Azerbaijani territory around Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian side has no legal claim on these lands, regarding them as a protective buffer zone, but they were home to more than half a million Azerbaijanis, who were made refugees. That occupation is unsustainable and unjust, but the use of force will not deliver justice.

Azerbaijan has wasted years in denunciations of “Armenian aggression” without ever offering the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh credible guarantees that it respects their rights and does not merely wish to destroy them. A just solution of the conflict will require a serious commitment by both sides to make compromises and live together.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, has blamed France, Russia and the United States, the countries charged with mediating the conflict by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, for failing to clean up the mess. This is wrong, too. Yes, more could have been done over the years to resolve the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, but mediators mediate — they cannot alone solve conflicts between intransigent parties.

The bitter truth is that leaders in Armenia and Azerbaijan have become trapped by their own rhetoric, promising their publics total victory that can never be achieved. They have employed the status quo as a weapon to shirk hard questions about their own legitimacy or to divert people’s attention from socioeconomic problems.

A similar temptation is to identify Russia as the real villain. For sure, the Kremlin has played a role in manipulating the ethno-territorial conflicts that emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union. And Russia continues to sell weapons to both Armenia and Azerbaijan. But Russia’s role in Nagorno-Karabakh is much weaker than it is in Georgia’s frozen conflict, let alone in Ukraine. Russia shares no border with the conflict zone, has no troops on the ground and, in different ways, supports both sides. Its ability to control what happens in Nagorno-Karabakh is limited.

If there is one ray of hope in this bleak landscape it is that there is a peace process — albeit a faltering one — in place already. A draft of a sophisticated peace plan, dating from 2005, promises both sides much of what they want: a return of Azerbaijani displaced persons and restoration of lost Azerbaijani lands in exchange for security for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and a promise of self-determination and perhaps, eventually, independence.

What is missing in the South Caucasus is the political will to engage with a plan that involves doing a deal with the enemy. What is missing internationally is the admission that there is no low-cost option to resolve the conflict. Over the past week, mediators helped to broker a new cease-fire. But Nagorno-Karabakh requires more than just shuttle diplomacy. A resolution requires a complex multination peacekeeping operation and coordination between the United States, Russia and France to be joint guarantors of a peace deal.

That is a big challenge, but one dwarfed by the prospect of a new catastrophic war in the Caucasus. The big powers could start by convening a peace conference in Minsk, Belarus, first called for in 1992, but never even attempted. That would send the message that the world finally takes this conflict seriously — before it is too late.


Source: The New York Times

Jun 242016
 

VIENNA, 24 June 2016 – The Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Ambassadors Igor Popov of the Russian Federation, James Warlick of the United States of America, and Pierre Andrieu of France) call on the sides to honour the agreements which were reflected in the Joint Statements of the 16 May summit in Vienna and the 20 June summit in St. Petersburg.

We urge Azerbaijan and Armenia to remove all remaining obstacles to expanding the mission of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk. We also urge progress in substantive talks and on a proposal to establish an OSCE investigative mechanism. We will continue our engagement with the sides to advance all of these outcomes from the last two meetings between the Presidents.


Source: SOCE Minsk Group page

Jun 202016
 

At the invitation of the President of the Russian Federation, the Presidents of the Republic of Armenia, Russian Federation and Republic of Azerbaijan met in Saint Petersburg on June 20, 2016 and discussed issues pertaining to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.

The Presidents of the Republic of Armenia and Republic of Azerbaijan reiterated agreements reached at the May 16 Armenian-Azerbaijani Summit in Vienna aimed at the stabilization of the situation in the conflict area and creation of an atmosphere conducive for moving the peace process forward. Towards that end, they agreed in particular to increase the number of international observers. They expressed satisfaction with the fact that recently the ceasefire regime at the line of contact has been upheld.

A substantial exchange of opinions took place regarding the pivotal issues related to the settlement. The Heads of State took note of mutual understanding on a number of issues, the resolution of which will allow to create conditions for a progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.

The Presidents stressed the importance of their regular meetings and reached an agreement to continue them in the same format, in addition to the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, which were invited to the concluding part of the St. Petersburg meeting.


Original source: Official website of the President of Russia [in Russian]
Armenian source: Official website of the President of Armenia

May 162016
 

VIENNA, 16 May 2016 – The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State of the United States of America John Kerry, and State Secretary for European Affairs of France Harlem Desir, representing the co-chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group, met today with President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev to advance a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

They reiterated that there can be no military solution to the conflict. The Co-Chairs insisted on the importance of respecting the 1994 and 1995 ceasefire agreements.

The Presidents reiterated their commitment to the ceasefire and the peaceful settlement of the conflict. To reduce the risk of further violence, they agreed to finalize in the shortest possible time an OSCE investigative mechanism. The Presidents also agreed to the expansion of the existing Office of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson in Office. Finally, they agreed to continue the exchange of data on missing persons under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to which the Presidents committed during the Paris summit of October 2014.

The Presidents agreed on a next round of talks, to be held in June at a place to be mutually agreed, with an aim to resuming negotiations on a comprehensive settlement.


Source: OSCE Minsk Group page

Apr 262016
 

STEPANAKERT, Nagorno-Karabakh

The military commander of this breakaway Armenian republic predicted in an interview here Monday that a fragile cease-fire could collapse within days. By that night, Azerbaijani shelling had killed two Armenian soldiers in a northern border town, amid accusations by each side that the other had violated the truce.

The “frozen conflict” here, stalemated for 22 years, exploded on April 2, when Azerbaijani forces attacked across the 200-kilometer front line. The Azerbaijanis seized ground for the first time since the previous war ended in 1994. Russia negotiated a quick truce that began April 5, but as Monday’s fighting showed, another all-out conflict seems perilously close.

Karabakh is one of the world’s least-discussed and most intractable quarrels. The mostly Armenian population violently seceded from Azerbaijan in a two-year war. Since then, Russia, France and the United States have sponsored a mediation effort, but it has been fruitless: Azerbaijan demands that land once inside its borders be returned; the Armenians insist they aren’t leaving. Rather than softening over time, anger seems to be hardening on both sides.

Russia is opportunistically in the middle. Moscow says it wants to broker a lasting peace deal, but it has also been arming both sides. The United States also hopes to prevent a wider conflict but has little diplomatic leverage. The Azerbaijanis, judging by their strident social media, feel emboldened by their recent offensive; the Armenians feel isolated and increasingly reconciled to what one former peace activist here described to me as a state of “permanent war.”

I visited Karabakh with several other foreign journalists and a member of the European Parliament on a trip organized by the Armenian government. The 90-minute helicopter flight took us over stunning mountainous terrain to this lush, isolated enclave whose name means “black garden.” During my brief visit, the place seemed a bit like Switzerland in the Caucasus — not just the mountains but also the tidy streets, hillside farms and fiercely independent people.

Lt. Gen. Levon Mnatsakanyan, the defense minister of this self-declared republic, said his forces hadn’t expected the broad attack on April 2. But he said there had been warning signs: Since August, 21 Armenian soldiers had been killed and 113 wounded in attacks along the so-called “line of control.” And Azerbaijan had been restocking its arsenal with new Russian tanks, Israeli drones and Turkish missiles. The Armenian side, reassured by a supposed “strategic alliance” with Russia, didn’t expect a big Azerbaijani offensive.

“Tactically, maybe they have registered some successes,” Mnatsakanyan conceded. “But I would say that considering all the force they used, it’s rather a defeat for them.” He claims the Azerbaijanis had lost 24 tanks in the four-day battle in early April. The two sides have radically different casualty counts, and it’s impossible to independently verify the numbers. But Azerbaijani commentary has treated the campaign as a major victory after the smoldering defeat of the 1992-1994 war.

Mnatsakanyan insisted that Armenian troops could defend the enclave, without Russian help: “The result of the four-day war shows that the equipment we have and our combat readiness is okay for stopping any adversaries.” If the war resumes, he says, “we will not only repel them but advance ourselves.”

Talking to Armenian residents of Karabakh, I came away with a sense of growing militancy here, as in Azerbaijan.

Garen Ohanjanyan, the former peace activist, says this latest war has changed his view about the possibility for reconciliation. After the last war ended, he helped foster dialogue with Azerbaijanis. Now, he says, he has given up on peace and wants Armenian forces to destroy Azerbaijani economic targets. In the past month, he explains, “our nation lost its illusions.”

“Maybe my generation became too relaxed in these past years,” says Ashot Sarkissyan, a 27-year-old who works with a local nongovernmental organization and also serves in an antiaircraft defense unit. “Why didn’t we use this time to become strong enough to deter them from a war?”

Anahit Danielyan, who heads the Stepanakert Press Club, says she used to try to stay in touch online with Azerbaijani journalists. Now, she says, “I’m starting to feel this hatred from my colleagues in Azerbaijan. . . . This new war has somehow changed our perceptions of each other.”

On the road to the airport, a visitor can see the national monument, a huge stone statue of an old man and woman — heads only, the bodies seemingly buried in the hillside. The official name is “We Are Our Mountains.” The implicit message is: We aren’t moving. What seems ahead is a long, unyielding conflict.


Source: The Washington Post

Apr 092016
 

WITH so many conflicts in the world, Nagorno-Karabakh gets little attention. The bloody fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the mountainous enclave this week was a reminder that it should. Tanks and artillery traded fire; at least 50 people were killed in four days. The spectre loomed of a wider war, one that could draw in Russia, Turkey and Iran. A ceasefire brokered in Moscow on April 5th appears to be holding for now. But it brought the two foes no closer to peace.

The fighting dates back to 1988, when Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenians attempted to secede from Azerbaijan. (At the time, both Armenia and Azerbaijan were republics of the Soviet Union.) As the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, the conflict grew into a full-scale war. By 1994 some 30,000 people were dead and Nagorno-Karabakh was under Armenian control. Russia, America and France brokered a ceasefire, but sporadic shooting continued. Rather than time healing old wounds, it deepened them.

On April 2nd the frustration spilled over. Azerbaijani forces seized settlements and strategic heights along the front. (Both sides accuse each other of starting the fighting.) The campaign to capture territory marked a departure from an earlier Azeri strategy of attacks aimed at “pressure and posturing”, says Richard Giragosian, head of the Regional Studies Centre, a think-tank in Yerevan. Armenian and Karabakhi officials say they retook the captured land, but their claims have not been independently verified. The outburst demonstrates that the 1994 ceasefire framework, with no peacekeepers and only a handful of unarmed monitors, “no longer fits”, says Thomas de Waal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The fact that the assault began with both the Azeri and Armenian presidents in Washington for a security summit suggests that it was no accident. Discontent with the stalled diplomacy may have pushed Azerbaijan to try to change facts on the ground. “This is about bringing Armenia to the negotiating table,” says Zaur Shiriyev of Chatham House, a British think-tank.

At home, the political dividends were immediate. The brief war “created euphoria”, says Anar Valiyev, a Baku-based analyst. The government boasted of newfound military superiority, the result of the oil-rich state’s expansion of defence spending (from $177m in 2003 to $3 billion in 2015). Casualties were seen as justified. “The people are hungry for victories,” says Mr Valiyev.

That may help Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, cushion the pain of falling oil prices. Oil and gas accounted for 94% of the country’s exports in 2013. As prices dropped over the past two years, the Azeri central bank burned up more than two-thirds of its reserves supporting the currency before allowing it to devalue sharply. In January 2016 the government imposed a 20% tax on foreign-exchange transactions and sounded out the International Monetary Fund about a possible loan. Rising prices and unemployment prompted protests in several smaller towns earlier this year, a rarity under Mr Aliev’s tight watch.

Some on the Armenian side suggested that Turkey, a longtime ally of Azerbaijan and new foe of Russia, helped provoke the violence. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fueled the speculation by declaring that he would stand by Azerbaijan “to the end”. Yet the Turkish role is a red herring, says Laurence Broers of Chatham House: “The motives are local and not about great-power competition.”

Nonetheless, peacemaking will require a push from powers such as Russia. Moscow has closer ties with Armenia: it has a military base there and a treaty obligation to defend the country against attacks on its territory (excluding Nagorno-Karabakh). But Russia also sells large quantities of arms to Baku. Any peace plan depends on external pressure overcoming local resistance. The stakes of diplomatic failure have never been clearer: little is left to prevent a repeat, or worse, of last week’s clashes. “Now there is no excuse for the outside powers to say the situation can just be managed,” says Mr de Waal.


Source: The Economist

Apr 052016
 

VIENNA, 5 April 2016 – We, the representatives of the OSCE Minsk Group countries (Russian Federation, the United States of America, France, Belarus, Finland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Turkey), as well as the incoming Austrian OSCE Chair (2017) and the Serbian OSCE Chair (2015), strongly condemn the outbreak of unprecedented violence along the Line of Contact. We extend our condolences to all affected families. We urge the sides to cease using force immediately. There is no military solution to the conflict.

The deterioration of the situation on the ground demonstrates the need for an immediate negotiation, under the auspices of the Co-chairs, on a comprehensive settlement.

The representatives of the Minsk Group member states affirm their support for the Russian, American, and French Co-Chairs’ mediation efforts and welcome their plans to undertake direct consultations with the sides as soon as possible.


Source: OSCE Minsk Group page