Muslim countries have blamed Armenia for heavy fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh and called for more “coercive” measures that would help Azerbaijan restore control over the Armenian-populated territory.
Ending a summit Istanbul, leaders of the nations aligned in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also accepted a Turkish proposal to set up a “contact group” that will strive for a resolution of the Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan.
In a summit communique posted on the OIC website on Friday, the 57-nation bloc reaffirmed its strong support for Baku, demanding “immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of the armed forces of Armenia from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and other occupied territories of Azerbaijan.”
“The Conference condemned in the strongest terms the continuous attacks carried out by the Armenian armed forces in the occupied territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan … The Conference supported Azerbaijan’s efforts in defeating these attacks and defending its peaceful population,” it said in a clear reference to the April 2 outbreak of fierce fighting along the Karabakh “line of contact.”
“The Conference stressed the necessity to further increase pressure on Armenia by political, economic and other coercive means in order to bring the aggressor in compliance with the OIC demands and decisions.
“The Conference decided to establish a Contact Group on the aggression of the Republic of Armenia against the Republic of Azerbaijan within the OIC at the level of Foreign Ministers and to convene its first meeting on the margins of Istanbul Summit,” added the statement.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for the creation of such a group on Tuesday at a ministerial meeting in Istanbul that preceded the summit.
It is not yet clear just how the “contact group” will seek to intervene in international efforts to end the Karabakh conflict which have long been spearheaded by the United States, Russia and France. Speaking at a news conference late on Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly scolded the three mediating powers for not siding with “our Azerbaijani brethren.”
Armenia is certain to oppose any OIC involvement in the Karabakh negotiation process. Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian was quick to reject the Turkish proposal on Tuesday. Kocharian expressed hope that Muslim states “traditionally friendly” towards Armenia “will not succumb to Ankara’s provocations.”
Iran, the most important of those nations, appears to have not signed up to the OIC declaration which also contains strong anti-Iranian language proposed by Saudi Arabia. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif condemned Riyadh when he visited Istanbul earlier this week.
Incidentally, Iran’s ambassador to Armenia, Seyyed Kazem Sajjad, met with Kocharian on Friday. A statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said the two men praised Armenian-Iranian relations and discussed “prospects for their development.” It said nothing about the OIC summit.
Iran has expressed serious concern at the Karabakh escalation but avoided publicly blaming either warring side.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether OIC declaration was backed by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The Central Asian Muslim states also make up the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) along with Russia, Belarus and Armenia. The latter has repeatedly criticized them for signing pro-Azerbaijani statements on Karabakh adopted by the OIC in the past.