YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia and Azerbaijan have pledged to continue their “intensive” talks on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, international mediators said at the end of their latest tour of the region on Sunday.
The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group also expressed “deep concern” over fresh ceasefire violations around Karabakh which left one Armenian soldier dead on February 7. They called on the conflicting parties to “take additional steps to reduce tensions” in line with understandings reached by the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents at their October 2017 meeting held in Geneva.
“The Co-Chairs also call upon the Sides to refrain from inflammatory statements and provocative actions,” they added in a joint statement.
It was not clear whether they referred to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s fresh declaration to the effect that Yerevan and other parts of Armenia are “historic Azerbaijani lands” and that Baku will strive to “return Azerbaijanis” to those areas. Armenian leaders used the statement to again call into question Aliyev’s commitment to a compromise peace deal.
Aliyev made the claims on February 8 at a pre-election congress of his Yeni Azerbaycan party held the day after he met with the visiting co-chairs. The latter proceeded to Yerevan for similar talks with President Serzh Sarkisian. They met with Karabakh’s leadership during an ensuing trip to Stepanakert.
“The Co-Chairs reiterate their commitment to helping the Sides find a peaceful solution to the conflict based on the core principles of the Helsinki Act, including the non-use of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples,” read their statement.
“The Co-Chairs welcomed the parties’ expressed intention to continue intensive negotiations, taking into account the current electoral period,” it added.
Armenian officials maintain that further progress in the talks is contingent on Baku honoring confidence-building agreements that were reached at the previous Armenian-Azerbaijani summits held in 2016. Those agreements call for the deployment of more OSCE observers in the conflict zone and international investigations of truce violations regularly happening there.
The mediators said that at their latest meetings in Baku, Yerevan and Stepanakert they “underscored the importance of fulfilling, in good faith, all commitments undertaken during the October 2017 Summit in Geneva and at previous summits, in particular, Vienna and St. Petersburg.”
They also revealed that they toured “specific locations” in five of the seven districts around Karabakh that were fully or partly controlled by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war. The statement gave no reasons for the mediating troika’s rare trip to those areas.