Tatarstan Meeting Produces Nothing New for Peace Talks: June optimism disappears in Kazan

Another meeting of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan on the Karabakh settlement took place in Kazan, Russia, on August 27 on the sidelines of the summit of CIS heads of state held in the capital of Tatarstan. Earlier, on August 23, the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Moscow to discuss separate details of the forthcoming negotiations in Kazan.

No specific information on the subject of discussions at the Moscow meeting were made public, however Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vardan Oskanian is known to have stated that “the self-determination of Nagorno Karabakh is a priority that should be shown in the light of the population to decide their fate independently.”

The position of official Baku also remained constant. It was voiced immediately after the Moscow negotiations by Minister Elmar Mamedyarov: “Azerbaijan proceeds from the fact that Nagorno Karabakh is part of the Azerbaijani Republic and must remain within it.”

The meeting of the presidents in Kazan was preceded by curious events that deserve a special mention. It had been expected that during this very meeting a “Working Document” on the settlement of the conflict drafted by the OSCE Minsk Group cochairmen would be presented to the presidents. It was frequently spoken about in early July, however by the end of that month no concrete statements on this account were made by the mediators.

Considering the fact that today Azerbaijan is on the threshold of parliamentary elections and Armenia is facing a referendum on constitutional amendments, many political analysts expressed the opinion that this meeting could not promise any essential shifts. In this aspect it was said that Azeri President Ilham Aliyev has much more problems than his Armenian counterpart.

“President Ilham Aliyev is gradually losing the limit of foreign and domestic trust to himself saved up by his father,” political analyst Rafael Zakharyan says. “The West wishes to see in him a reliable partner who is in a position to solve problems, including the Karabakh problem. Washington’s certain concern over Ilham Aliyev’s political behavior received a new display also during the visit of the former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Baku at the end of July. It was not even excluded that by the moment of the Kazan meeting with Armenian leader Robert Kocharyan slated for August 27, Azerbaijan’s leader would have a new team.”

Interestingly, practically immediately after the Albright visit, several opposition newspapers in Azerbaijan (“Baky Khabar”, “Yeni Musavat”, “Azadlyg”, and others) published extensive materials regarding the state of affairs within the country’s law-enforcement system and corruption of the state authorities.

There is also information that during the meeting with the former U.S. Secretary of State Azerbaijan’s Aliyev promised to carry out a serious rotation of his team and dismiss the most influential officials of his staff. The dates of the “revolution from above” were mentioned in separate messages – until August 21.

“During her visit to Baku, the former U.S. Secretary of State denied the information linked to the press regarding a possible revolution in Azerbaijan if the outcomes of parliamentary elections are rigged,” Baku’s ‘Novoye Vremya’ newspaper wrote in this regard. “But a trustworthy source also reports that at a dinner with U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Rino Harnish, Mrs. Albright made a no less sensational statement telling the ambassador and the guests attending the dinner about an arrangement with President Alyiev that no later than August 20 he would dismiss the most influential ministers, the head of the presidential administration Ramiz Mehtiyev and many of the leading workers of this staff close to him.”

Quoting this newspaper, the REGNUM news agency reported in early August that the “terms of the U.S. Administration are accepted – President Aliyev is to carry out a serious rotation of his team until August 21, something that the Euro-Atlantic politicians have been expecting him to do for a long time. Then, he will be given the last chance to develop Azerbaijan in an evolutionary way.”

Albright’s visit was followed by the visit of Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov to Washington that resulted in a “postponement” of the rotation of state personal up until the parliamentary elections. However it became clear that in Kazan, Aliyev would be least concerned by the Karabakh question.

Kocharyan also went to the capital of Tatarstan with a load of certain problems connected with the discussion of constitutional amendments at the National Assembly planned for August 29. Before his visit to Kazan he gave an interview to Public Television of Armenia regarding this problem.

In any case, the negotiations between the two leaders took place on the announced day – August 27. It was also planned that at a certain stage of bilateral negotiations of the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Kazan the talks would be joined by the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, and also the cochairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group. However, the Russian leader was not present at the meeting and the negotiators themselves were limited only to the role of a diplomatic trio meeting and seeing off the presidents.

The first to have arrived to the building of the Kazan town hall was Aliyev, who, accompanied by the OSCE Minsk Group mediators headed for the room prepared for the negotiations. Five minutes later, the motorcade of the Armenian president approached the same building, and Kocharyan, with the same entourage, came up to Aliyev, greeting him at the door.

Negotiations between Kocharyan and Aliyev began at noon and lasted till 2 pm. Soon the media were informed that there would be no statement of the heads of state.

Two months before this meeting, the OSCE Minsk Group cochairmen were in a more optimistic mood and even did not rule out the possibility of reaching a settlement of the conflict in the most foreseeable future. A little bit later, there was not a trace of the former mood of the mediators, and the degree of June optimism was going down as the Kazan meeting was drawing closer. It is impossible to say precisely what happened during these two months. Oskanian did not give a concise answer to this question, but did not exclude that “the latest statements by President Aliyev could have served the occasion for that.” (The latter did not consider possible any concessions on the part of Baku).

“In view of the confidentiality of the negotiating process I am not authorized to report which questions were discussed by the presidents at the Kazan meeting,” the minister said. “It is obvious, however, that there can be no agreement accepted by the world community without mutual concessions.”

On the whole, the minister positively evaluated the results of the Kazan negotiations, but the commentary of the Armenian leader was even more interesting. On board the plane back to Yerevan, he had noted that “the negotiations passed rather not bad and if they went ahead that way, then perhaps some end is being seen.” The Armenian leader stopped short of making any other commentaries on this account.