White House: Territories Surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh Should Be Returned To Azerbaijan’s Control

On June 10, 2016, the U.S. White House administration answered officially to the petition, which demands the withdrawal of Armenian troops that are occupying 20% of Azerbaijani territory and emphasizes the dramatic situation of hundreds of thousands of citizens threatened by a humanitarian catastrophe because of neglected Sarsang dam.

In response to the petition, the White House stated that as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, the United States is strongly committed to a peaceful and lasting settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

“We have read Resolution 2085 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and, although the United States is not a member of PACE, we welcome opportunities to exchange views on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process with any interested interlocutor,” the White House said in a statement on June 11.

According to the statement, the Obama Administration urges the sides to demonstrate restraint and enter into an immediate negotiation on a comprehensive settlement, which would include the return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan’s control and a determination of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status.

“As part of our ongoing dialogue with the sides, we have and will continue to facilitate discussions related to humanitarian issues. Management and maintenance of the Sarsang Reservoir is one such issue. We welcome a meeting between technical experts from the sides to discuss water management and dam inspections. The co-chairs are ready to facilitate such a meeting. Ultimately, a resolution of this longstanding conflict depends on the political will of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. As a Minsk Group co-chair country, we will continue our efforts to advance peace and prosperity in the region,” said the statement.

This petition was signed by over 330,000 signatures, more than triple the number needed to secure a reply by the Obama administration. Few weeks ago the proponent of this petition, Elkan Suleymanov, the President of the non-profit Association for Civil Society Development in Azerbaijan (ACSDA), already said he "seriously questions an objective response" from the White House to the petition, due to "long term and on-going global political pressure on our country by power states and international organizations."

Today this prognosis came true. With the excuse of the US not being PACE member, the White House administration evades to directly support the Resolution 2085(2016) related to the Sarsang reservoir, which was recently adopted in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, identifying Armenia as the aggressor and calling for immediate withdrawal of Armenian troops from the region.

Speaking to APA, Elkhan Suleymanov said: "I expected that the White House Administration would not explicitly endorse PACE Resolution 2085 (2016). But I regret the U.S. Administration neglected the part of our call in the petition expressing the assistance for preventing a humanitarian catastrophe due to the current conditions of the Sarsang reservoir.”

Whereas the petition is indeed highlighting the human rights situation of the people living in the regions affected by the occupation, in particular in the Sarsang area, the White House’s answer is rather focusing on “determination of Nagorno-Karabakh status”.

“In this regard we welcome the U.S. Administration’s position being not supportive of a separatist solution for Nagorno-Karabakh and not leaving possibility for illegal self-determination”, said Suleymanov, “Whereas the White House answer is evading the main question on basic rights of people being victim of Sarsang situation, we welcome nevertheless that the U.S. administration is not stepping into Armenian rhetoric.”

The comprehensive settlement between Azerbaijan and Armenia should include – according the White House’s answer – “the return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan’s control and a determination of Nagorno-Karabakh status”.

“Of course we also want the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to return under Azerbaijan’s control and withdrawal of Armenian troops, the sooner the better. Moreover, we welcome this formulation by U.S. administration as it is identifying Armenia clearly as aggressor and occupant. About future status of Nagorno-Karabakh, we note that this may be indeed determined when it comes to the level of local autonomy, as it is for instance the case in many European countries. Nagorno-Karabakh is and will always be part of Azerbaijan, together with surrounding occupied districts, as it was confirmed in several U.N. Resolutions and recently in PACE Resolution 2085(2016). And as the U.S. administration respects international resolutions, it’s clearly all about the level of local autonomy within Azerbaijani sovereign boundaries what the Obama administration is having in mind, while discussing determination of Nagorno-Karabakh status”, concluded Elkhan Suleymanov. 

Summarizing, whereas the White House is even evading the main question of the petition, Suleymanov, however, stressed today once again the importance of the existence of this petition, irrespective of the White House response.

"The facts that Armenia is an aggressor, that Nagorno-Karabakh and other territories of Azerbaijan are under the control of Armenian armed forces, that humanitarian catastrophe due to Sarsang dam is imminent, were on the U.S. White House's official website for over two months. Millions of people from all over the world, being misinformed by biased international media for more than 20 years, have been visiting this website during more than two months. All these people now obtained correct information on injustice done to our country and concrete dangers threatening our citizens and the occupation of our territories. Therefore this petition was a very important and a significant activity on the way to the liberation of our territories from the occupation. This is an important victory of Azerbaijan in intellectual fight!"  

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict entered its modern phase when the Armenian SRR made territorial claims against the Azerbaijani SSR in 1988.

A fierce war broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. As a result of the war, Armenian armed forces occupied some 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory which includes Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts (Lachin, Kalbajar, Aghdam, Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Gubadli and Zangilan), and over a million Azerbaijanis became refugees and internally displaced people.

The military operations finally came to an end when Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in Bishkek in 1994.

Dealing with the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the OSCE Minsk Group, which was created after the meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Helsinki on 24 March 1992. The Group’s members include Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia, the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Belarus, Finland and Sweden.

Besides, the OSCE Minsk Group has a co-chairmanship institution, comprised of Russian, US and French co-chairs, which began operating in 1996.  

Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 of the UN Security Council, which were passed in short intervals in 1993, and other resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly, PACE, OSCE, OIC, and other organizations require Armenia to unconditionally withdraw its troops from Nagorno-Karabakh.

Malahat Najafova – APA.Az