STEPANAKERT — Nagorno-Karabakh is ready to negotiate with Azerbaijan, but only in an international format with the participation of mediators, Artsakh Foreign Minister Davit Babayan said on Friday.

Babayan responded to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s statement that Baku was ready to talk to Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh but considered it an internal affair.

“What Aliyev suggests is nothing but an ultimate surrender for us in which a group of aborigines who have realized their ‘guilt’ will show repentance and beg Mother Azerbaijan to forgive them and allow them to live in the Azerbaijani land,” Babayan said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

He said that instead, Stepanakert suggests using the format of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), even though it has been largely inactive since the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijan war over Nagorno-Karabakh.

“There can be some meetings, but not in the format of Azerbaijan-Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh]. It can be a format involving Azerbaijan, Artsakh, Armenia, Russia, the United States, France, it could be in various compositions, at different places, but it must be internationally recognized. And the only internationally recognized format [for talks on Nagorno-Karabakh] is the format of the OSCE Minsk Group,” Babayan said.

In his public statements Azerbaijani President Aliyev has also repeatedly said that activities of the Minsk Group are no longer necessary since, as he puts it, “the conflict is now history.”

On Thursday, Aliyev stressed that Baku will also not engage in negotiations with Ruben Vardanyan, a former Russian businessman of Armenian descent who recently renounced his Russian citizenship, moved to Karabakh and took on a leadership role in its government. The Azerbaijani leader described Vardanyan as a person “sent from Moscow with a clear agenda.”

Responding to Aliyev, Yerevan-born Vardanyan, who currently holds the post of state minister in Nagorno-Karabakh, called for “a more constructive tone” regarding his persona and insisted that he fully met the criteria for a negotiator put forward by the Azerbaijani president as someone who “lives in Karabakh and wants to live there.”

Vardanyan also emphasized that talks between Stepanakert and Baku should be conducted through international mediators, including Russia, the United States, and France.

Meanwhile, in a Twitter post on Friday Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Ambassador-at-Large Edmon Marukyan also contested Aliyev’s claim that the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh is an internal matter for Azerbaijan.

“No internal matter has ever been dealt with for decades by three permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the OSCE and now also by the EU. The issue of human rights hasn’t been considered an internal issue for seven decades, since World War II,” Marukyan wrote.

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