Diplomatic efforts towards halting hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan faced new headwinds after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said his government refuses to participate in negotiations under the current format.
As he addressed the Armenian people on Wednesday, Premier Pashinyan said his government rejected the negotiation formula which does not include recognition of the right of the Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh to self-determination. He added that Azerbaijan's call for the liberation of seven occupied districts around Nagorno-Karabakh based on basic settlement principles do not sit well with the government of Armenia.
"Our government, which inherited this negotiating base, refused to discuss the issue in this form, considering it unacceptable," he said in his second address to the nation this month, Vestnik Kavkaza reports.
The Armenian prime minister refused to adhere to the clause 3 of the four-clause ceasefire agreement mediated by Russia in Moscow on October 10 which calls on both states to kick off substantive negotiations through the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs upon the basic principles of the settlement, also known as the Madrid principles.
The Madrid principles, accepted in 2007 and updated in 2009, includes fundamental guidelines for achieving a political settlement to the decades-old Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
These principles include the return of seven occupied districts surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh region to Azerbaijani control, the return of internally displaced Azerbaijanis to their former places of residence and future determination of the Nagorno-Karabakh region's final legal status. International security guarantees that would include a peacekeeping operation upon the bilateral agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan are also included. The basic principles for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are based on the Helsinki Final Act (1975) principles, including territorial integrity of the countries.
Earlier this week, Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan refused the political and diplomatic fulfillment of the Moscow agreement, reiterating Yerevan's demands to include the illegal self-proclaimed separatist regime in the occupied Azerbaijani territories in the negotiation process as a third party. Clause 4 of the Moscow agreement excludes participation of a third party by reaffirming the current format of talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan through the OSCE Minsk Group mediation.
Officials in Baku have unequivocally rejected proposals to change the format of negotiations, which they insist should involve only Armenia and Azerbaijan as parties to the conflict.
Addressing the nation simultaneously with the ministerial meeting in Moscow last week, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said Armenia must accept the basic principles of the settlement process.
"We are giving the occupier probably the last chance to leave our lands. Get out, make a commitment, go back to the negotiations, and return to the format of the negotiations," President Aliyev said, according to President.Az. "We don’t want bloodshed. We don’t want martyrs. We want our lands back. Get out of our land!"
President Aliyev said Armenia should submit a timetable for withdrawal of its troops from occupied lands of Azerbaijan.
However, Prime Minister Pashinyan downplayed the Madrid principles by calling for independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan.
The ongoing clashes mark the longest and most intense fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the ceasefire was signed in 1994. Hostilities broke out on September 27 after Armenia's troops started shelling military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani forces took immediate counter-attack measures to repel the offensive. Military operations are being conducted in the territory of Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan has not revealed a number of military losses. Armenia's shelling the densely populated residential areas in multiple zones, including major cities of Azerbaijan situated far from the frontline, have killed 61 and wounded 282 civilians to date.
Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan have not eased since the late 1980s and early 1990s. Anti-Azerbaijan sentiments in Armenia started growing in the late 1980s due to Armenia's illegal claims for the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched a military campaign against Azerbaijan that lasted until a ceasefire deal was reached in 1994. The results of the hostilities were occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijan's internationally recognized territory, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts - Aghdam, Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Gubadli, Zangilan, Kalbajar, and Lachin. Over 30,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis were killed and one million were forcibly displaced throughout the war.
Despite four UN resolutions demanding the immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied lands and the return of internally-displaced Azerbaijanis to their native lands, Armenia has repeatedly refused to pull its forces out of the occupied territories.