Mediators’ Call: Minsk Group co-chairs urge Karabakh not to operate new airport

The United States, Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group paid a visit to Nagorno-Karabakh on Thursday during which they urged official Stepanakert to refrain from putting a newly reconstructed airport into operation.

The airport near the Karabakh capital that was rebuilt in recent years is now capable of servicing civilian flights to and from Yerevan. But no flights have taken place yet amid threats from Azerbaijan to shoot down civilian aircraft entering the airspace that it considers to be its own.

After meeting Karabakh President Bako Sahakyan the co-chairmen, Robert Bradtke (USA), Igor Popov (Russia) and Jacques Faure (France), issued a joint statement: “We find that the operation of the airport in this situation will cause tension between the parties [to the conflict]. We also find that this issue should be resolved diplomatically and with the existing experience being taken into account.”

Bradtke, for his part, noted that during the Obama presidency in the United States they will seek to achieve tangible results in the Karabakh peace process. “We will do our best to work closely with our partners, including with Russia,” underscored the American mediator.

The international peace brokers avoided making comments on one of the most controversial issues of the recent period – the extradition of Ramil Safarov, a confessed murderer of a fellow Armenian student at a NATO-sponsored language course in Budapest in 2004, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in Hungary, to Azerbaijan. They said they addressed the matter in their statements in September as did the foreign ministers of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries in their ensuing statements.

At the same time, Karabakh leader Sahakyan called unacceptable the glorification of the criminal in Azerbaijan. He also condemned the politicization of humanitarian issues and continuing war rhetoric in Baku. Sahakyan urged the mediators to take appropriate steps “for getting Azerbaijan to a constructive direction.”

The Karabakh president reaffirmed his country’s position that the settlement of the conflict is possible only with the consideration of the existing realities, focusing on the removal of the causes rather than consequences of the conflict. He warned that any attempt to return to the past will lead to failure.

After the meeting, Karabakh presidential spokesman David Babayan told reporters that the Karabakh side had made a concrete suggestion that days be instituted during the year - for example, International Children’s Day, International Women’s Day, Holy Easter, Nowruz Holiday, New Year, etc., - when the parties to the conflict must absolutely observe ceasefire and exclude any shooting at the borders.

“In fact, the negotiation process has stalled in the aftermath of the Safarov Affair, and it must be restored some way. And this should be done in small steps,” added the spokesperson.

The co-chairs, for their part, presented to the Karabakh leadership new ideas that they said were addressed at a meeting of the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Paris, France, in late October.

“We conveyed some of our ideas that can help continue the negotiation process. We plan to discuss these topics also during our meetings in Yerevan and Baku,” said the Russian co-chair, Popov, without elaborating.

The mediating troika was expected to meet with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan in Yerevan later on Friday and then travel to Baku to meet with Azerbaijan’s leadership on Monday.