NAGORNO KARABAKH CONFLICT: TEN YEARS OF REGULATION
David Shahnazarian, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Chairman, Center of Legal and Political Studies “Soglasie” (Erevan, Armenia)
The institution of a cease-fire regime in the zone of the Karabakh conflict in May 1994 highlighted the first stage of conflict regulation—the end of active warfare. The follow-up actions, which should have been directed to the establishment of irreversible peace and of ensuring regional integration, have been put off for an indeterminate period. Recognizing as a starting point that the truce was a genuine achievement over the entire period of the Karabakh conflict resolution should not lead us, however, to ignore those key factors important to overcoming the negotiation deadlock that earlier facilitated the establishment of the cease-fire.
Since March 1992, when the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE, then the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe, CSCE) assumed the mandate to mediate the Karabakh conflict, the so-called “step-by-step” concept was adopted as the basic approach for moving ahead. Realizing that the polarized positions of Baku and Stepanakert on the question of the status problem might hinder the negotiation process, both the sides to the conflict and the mediators shared the view that a political accord should be achieved before status negotiations are tackled. This very concept was fixed by a resolution of the CSCE/OSCE Council of Ministers in 1992. That resolution also made it clear that the authority to determine the status of Nagorno Karabakh belongs to the OSCE Minsk Conference.
The international community recognized Nagorno Karabakh as a conflicting side and a full member in the process of conflict resolution. In the spring of 1993 a Planning Group affiliated with the Vienna Center for the Prevention of Conflicts held five negotiating sessions for the purpose of resolving issues related to the cease-fire regime, including the mandate. Nagorno Karabakh representatives were full participants in these talks. Additionally, several rounds of separate talks were held in Moscow with the presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and the elected leaders of Nagorno Karabakh.
The international peace-brokers shared the view held by the leaderships of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict was a human rights and self-determination problem and consequently, that the Nagorno Karabakh authorities should be full participants in the search for a final solution to the problem of status.
Until 1998 the position of the Armenian authorities was that Armenia was not a conflicting side, that it had no territorial claims against Azerbaijan, and that it was involved in the conflict because of Azerbaijan’s aggression toward the Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh and its policy of ethnic cleansing. Consequently settling the problem through an agreement reached between Azerbaijan and Armenia alone was precluded. Armenian authorities also declared that they would accept any solution reached between Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh. It should also be remembered that the government of the Republic of Armenia announced officially in November 1993 that the communication corridors, passing across its territory and linking Azerbaijan and its Nakhichevan exclave were open and their security guaranteed.
The relevant decision of the OSCE Budapest Summit in December 1994 was anchored on these very principles, underlining their crucial importance in the issue of overcoming the first stage of the conflict. We would like to recall that the cease-fire agreement was ratified by Nagorno Karabakh as well as Azerbaijan and Armenia.
During trilateral talks on the political agreement in February 1995 involving Azerbaijan, Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia, Azerbaijan made the first attempt to deny Nagorno Karabakh its full participant status in the conflict resolution process. In response, in its March 1995 meeting held in Prague, the OSCE Committee of Senior Officials reconfirmed prior OSCE decisions fixing that Nagorno Karabakh, as a conflicting side, is a full participant in all stages of the resolution process.
Within that period official Baku did not conceal its goal of achieving a one-sided victory by manipulating “the Deal of the Century” contract related to the exploitation of Caspian oil reserves and the rivalry for oil export routes. Azerbaijan’s drive to reach negotiating superiority by utilizing the oil factor led, in return, to the hardening of the position of Nagorno Karabakh: it demanded that the issue of its status be part of the trilateral negotiations being held regarding the political agreement. As a result, late in 1995, at the urgent request of Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh, the OSCE Minsk group tried to apply the so-called “package” concept of conflict resolution instead of the “step-by-step” one. Furthermore, Armenia exerted every effort to prevent deviations from the previously reached fundamental agreements and continued to maintain that the step-by-step option was the most realistic. But due to the urgent request of Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan and contrary to their previous decisions, in January 1996 the OSCE proposed a formula that predetermined the status issue as part of a package solution: Nagorno Karabakh would be granted autonomy within Azerbaijan and an overland connection with Armenia.
The efforts to regulate the conflict on the basis of the “package” concept did not promote the sides’ willingness to go to concessions. On the contrary, they deepened the contradictions. The fatal essence of the package regulation was proved at the OSCE Lisbon Summit (December 1996). The “war of vetoes” that characterized that meeting was a mere expression of these increasingly opposing viewpoints. As a result the Summit failed to help move the negotiation process ahead, creating instead a durable “post-Lisbon” vacuum for the search of ways to end the conflict.
After another attempt to try to solve the conflict on the basis of the package option failed in 1997, the peace-brokers went back to the step-by-step concept and in September 1997 both Azerbaijan and Armenia accepted, as a basis for negotiations, the OSCE Minsk Group proposal. This proposal foresaw first reaching an agreement dealing with the consequences of the armed conflict (including technical issues regarding the cease-fire) and only then tackling negotiations on the status of Nagorno Karabakh. In that proposal Armenia was recognized as a guarantor of the security of the population of Nagorno Karabakh and as such assumed a range of important obligations: to facilitate the deployment of peacekeeping forces, the return of refugees, ensuring the reopening of communication routes, and economic cooperation. Thus, rejecting the package concept, Azerbaijan returned to the step-by-step one. But these proposals were rejected by the Nagorno Karabakh leadership. The contradictions in the methodology of conflict resolution between Erevan and Stepanakert were used as an excuse for a coup d’état in Erevan in February 1998.
The forces that seized power in Armenia as a result of the 1998 coup have adopted quite contrary approaches, regarding the place and the role of the Republic of Armenia in the context of contemporary global and regional developments. Rejecting the principles, which had proved their efficiency in the issue of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict regulation, the new authorities of Armenia insisted that the international mediators return to the package option. It is noteworthy that this time it was Azerbaijan that rejected the proposal based on the package solution option and adopted a destructive stance.
Making every effort to maintain their power—anchored on the conflict—at any cost, the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia have shifted the negotiation process from the format of the OSCE Minsk Group to the direct dialog and face-to-face meetings. From 1998 to 2001 Robert Kocharian and Heydar Aliev have held close to 20 fruitless meetings the only result of which has been the steady disintegration of previously shared views on the strengthening of the cease-fire regime and making the peace process irreversible. Ousting Nagorno Karabakh from the talks around its status, refusing to recognize it as a side to the conflict and turning it from the subject of the conflict into its object, Kocharian and Aliev have deliberately redesigned the issue of Nagorno Karabakh’s self-determination into an issue of an Azerbaijani-Armenian territorial dispute.
The last months of 2000 and the first half of 2001 have seen an unusual acceleration in the mediation efforts, followed by a sudden halt. These unexpected moves come to prove that the potential for peaceful resolution of the conflict is close to being exhausted, and the fate and the future and the security of Azeris and Armenians are in danger. An unexpected statement that a promising Kocharian-Aliev meeting, originally slated for July 2001 in Geneva, was canceled followed numerous optimistic prognoses of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairmen regarding an imminent solution. What was strange in the situation was not the cancellation of the Geneva meeting; but rather the explanation provided by the Minsk Group Co-chairmen that the leaders of the two countries were ready for peace, but that their two nations were not.
This kind of assessment of the three Co-chairmen leads us to ask an important question: What initiatives have the authorities undertaken to secure reciprocal concessions and to promote the political co-existence of the two nations? An examination of their policies leads us to reach a conclusion very different from the Co-chairmen. The authoritarian powers in both Azerbaijan and Armenia are themselves not ready for peace and are interested in maintaining the conflict and the threat of hostilities resumption through exploiting the so-called “stand by” regime.
Let us recall one of the newest arguments. Following the March 2002 visit to the region by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairmen, the sides have rejected any opportunity of concession. Azerbaijan put forward the statement of going back to the 1988 status quo. Armenia highlighted the necessity of taking into consideration military political realities as direct outcomes of warfare.
Following the previous, November 2001 visit to the region by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairmen, Azerbaijan stated that it deemed the group’s new proposal unacceptable. For its part, the official Erevan retorted that it was not willing to discuss any solution other than the one based on the “Paris principles.” Although not made public, The Paris principles ostensibly refer to a framework agreement between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan reached in Paris in early 2001 whereby the status of Karabakh would be resolved by Azerbaijan recognizing Armenia’s sovereignty over Karabakh in return for Armenia providing some kind of equivalent territorial concession in its south or Azerbaijani control/sovereignty over a corridor that would link Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan. President Kocharian’s trip to Nagorno Karabakh for consultations with Nagorno Karabakh president suggests that Armenia’s constant acceptance of proposals is conditioned by Baku’s refusal of same, and not by its readiness to accept a compromise. In this regard Aliev’s statement was not surprising: he argued that the conflict should be resolved on the basis of Azerbaijan’s national interests only, omitting any mention of international norms, bilateral concessions or the need for a peaceful process.
Kocharian and Aliev have opted for tactics that are self-serving and aim at scoring political points on the domestic scene. In turn, the tactics of each in his own country is causing a hardening of the position in the other; and any proposal coming from the mediators with the aim of softening their stances is inviting more intolerance. The periodically reiterated incompatible and rigid positions is inevitably deepening the disappointment in both populations which, in turn, is producing an aggressive atmosphere, and feeding on the appetite for a one-sided victory in both Azerbaijan and Armenia. This, at the end, turns the task of building an atmosphere of mutual confidence into an impossible undertaking. So, it is not accidental that official Baku and Erevan have stopped talking about concessions and about the need for a peaceful resolution after Kocharian-Aliev tête-à-tête meetings. Furthermore, any initiative of public and political activists, aimed at preventing the aggravation of the conflict and relieving the tension is qualified as “treason.”
Azerbaijan’s preconditions to resume the negotiations constitute one way to ensure the failure of the peace process. The Armenian authorities’ lack of response and unwillingness to reveal the groundlessness of such preconditions is another.
Azerbaijan, Nagorno Karabakh or Armenia have all failed to comply with the four resolutions of the U.N. Security Council concerning the Karabakh conflict adopted in 1993, during the period of the most active military operations. Consequently, Azerbaijan’s one-sided accusation of Armenia of failing to fulfill them is an attempt to use these resolutions for domestic political as well as international propaganda purposes. The sides held a series of military maneuvers and Azerbaijan, in concert with Turkey, is going on with the blockade of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, which the international law defines as a hostile action.
Azerbaijan’s efforts to manipulate the issue of the town of Shusha are worth special consideration. Using the town’s favorable geographic location during the hostilities with the aim of mass bombardment of the peaceful Armenian population of Stepanakert and adjacent settlements, Azerbaijan incited the armed units of Karabakh to take counter attacks. In May 1992 Shusha was overtaken by Karabakh’s troops. This military failure is constantly used by Aliev’s regime as an occasion against his political rivals. A number of noisy trials were held where the current Azerbaijani accused the Azeri military leaders of the time of having turned over the town willingly and not of military defeat in the hands of the Karabakh forces. Currently Azerbaijan continues exploiting the issue of Shusha in international organizations, exaggerating its significance and trying to turn it into a problem equivalent to the “Jerusalem question.” It is apparent that, on the one hand, Azerbaijan has made the issue of Shusha a component of domestic political struggles and anti-Armenian propaganda and, on the other hand, into an additional lever to further deepen the deadlock into which the peaceful resolution has been mired in. The U.N. Resolutions do not demand withdrawal of Karabakh troops from Shusha and Lachin. It is obvious that the future of the Azerbaijani refugees from Shusha cannot be handled separately and the solution to that problem should be sought within the larger political agreement, as part of the problem of the return to their homes of all refugees.
One of the most frequently pronounced preconditions by Azerbaijan for resumption of the negotiation process is the restoration of its sovereignty over the lost territories. However, Azerbaijan forgets that the today’s situation is the direct outcome of its policy of ethnic cleansing in and around Nagorno Karabakh and its refusal to accept a cease-fire during the hostilities. After a series of military defeats Azerbaijan had to agree to a truce, which had been insistently demanded by Armenia and international mediators throughout the military hostilities.
Using the recent geopolitical developments—the global campaign against international terrorism—Azerbaijan has adopted another propaganda tool. On the one hand, it accuses Nagorno Karabakh of harboring terrorists and making the country a transit route for drug traffickers; on the other hand, it has rudely rejected the proposal by the President of Nagorno Karabakh—who rejects those charges unequivocally—to accept monitoring missions from the OSCE and other international organizations in Karabakh for that purpose.
Having in mind the mounting wave of belligerent statements, incited by the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia, let us look at the possibility of a solution of the conflict through military actions. First, let us suppose that Azerbaijan gains victory, and exterminates or deports the Karabakh population. Second, let us suppose that Azerbaijan fails to achieve its goal in new military campaign, as a result of which it loses new territories or fails to bring major changes in the current front line.
In the case of the first scenario, it would not be difficult to predict the reaction that the international community will display, the disposition that will be created in Armenia and the Diaspora, and the kind of projects that will be designed there to counteract such a development. In addition, such a scenario will lead to the inevitable strengthening of the Russian factor in Armenia and as a result of geopolitical clashes the Southern Caucasus will turn into a region torn apart completely; projects aimed at bringing stability to the region and the idea of economic-political integration will be postponed by at least several decades.
In the case of the second scenario Azerbaijan will find itself in an unenviable situation, far from being regarded as enviable: it would have taken an unjustified risk only to lose all the possibilities for resolving the conflict through concessions and all the favorable diplomatic achievements it has made thus far: the conflict is now seen as an Azerbaijan-Armenia territorial dispute; just days prior to the Key West talks between Aliev and Kocharian the U.S. State Department labeled Armenia as an aggressor state; the U.S. Congress has given president Bush authority to waive Section 907, etc. Besides, the initiative of the Council of Europe to get involved in the Karabakh conflict regulation, which would guarantee Karabakh tangible superiority when the problem is seen as one self-determination, while the definition of the problem as a territorial dispute gives the advantage to Azerbaijan.
Consequently, we can argue that to maintain and strengthen the current situation stem from Azerbaijan’s interest, once again proving that the intensive calls of official Baku to solve the issue through the military actions or to resolve it on the basis of its national interests, as well as exploiting the issue of Shusha, are all tricks aimed to ensure the failure of negotiations. Armenian authorities too have not avoided such tricks: one of them is to present as a compromise the willingness of Karabakh to accept independence rather that union with Armenia.
A number of contradictions evident in the negotiating process reflect the inclination of the parties not to succeed. Particularly, Azerbaijan declares that it is ready to grant Nagorno Karabakh the highest degree of autonomy, but at the same time refuses to recognize the right of its population to self-determination. If Azerbaijan does not recognize the population of Nagorno Karabakh as a subject of self-determination, how can it speak about the highest degree of autonomy? The Azerbaijani authorities make demands from Nagorno Karabakh, but refuse to negotiate with it. And, finally, by demanding that Azerbaijan recognize the right of Nagorno Karabakh to self-determination, simultaneously making formal declarations that predetermine the status of Nagorno Karabakh, Armenian political parties represented in Parliament have transformed the conflict into a territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which deprives Karabakh from being a participant in the determination of its own status.
These kinds of discrepancies and contradictions indicate that in fact the authorities of Armenia and Azerbaijan have collaborated to transform the conflict into a territorial dispute and, in the process, have created a new context within which it is impossible to achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict. In this sense, the new approaches of the Minsk Group Co-chairmen—maintaining the view of the conflict as a territorial dispute and relying on the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia to resolve the conflict on that basis—cannot be regarded as realistic.
The resolution of the conflict at the expense of Armenia’s territorial integrity is unacceptable. The diminution of Armenia’s sovereignty over proposed corridors linking Azerbaijan and its Nakhichevan exclave would constitute such a solution.
However, I welcome the detectable disposition of the Minsk Group Co-Chairmen to return to the step-by-step approach following the collapse of the July 2001 meeting in Geneva. It appears that a basic truth is now being taken into consideration: Initiatives to find a solution to all the fundamental components in a “package deal” approach, including the efforts to reconcile the positions of all the sides regarding the status of Karabakh status, have dealt serious blows to the peace process.
As regards the step-by-step option, it is actually composed of small, sometimes asymmetric steps. Moreover, each successive step is built on the basis of what has been achieved in preceding steps, while negotiations on the status of Nagorno Karabakh are delayed until the first phase of steps are implemented, marking a decrease of tensions, the establishment of mutual confidence, the development of communications, and the start of a program aimed at regional integration. In the South Caucasian region this kind of progress will inevitably lead to development of democracy, the formation of legitimate authorities, which automatically become the only guarantors for seeking a mutually acceptable peace formula at the negotiations table.
To take the negotiation process out of the deadlock the following indisputable realities should be taken into consideration.
- The Karabakh conflict is a self-determination and human rights issue.
- All relevant principles of international laws should be respected during the conflict resolution process.
- No agreement on the status of Nagorno Karabakh can be reached without its full participation in the negotiations.
- Concessions on part of the main conflicting sides, Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh, should serve as the basis for the resolution of the conflict.
- Armenia and Azerbaijan have no territorial claims against each other.
- The OSCE Minsk Group is the only authorized body to broker the peace deal.
With the purpose of eliminating the obstacles to real progress in the negotiations and of making the peaceful process irreversible, it is necessary to take the following steps:
- To return immediately to the step-by-step approach. This approach will gradually accumulate elements of mutual confidence and will relieve the mounting tensions as well as reduce the possibility of resumption of hostilities.
- Negotiations should immediately move from the format of Kocharian-Aliev meetings to the OSCE Minsk Group.
- The future status of Nagorno Karabakh should be determined through negotiations, following the signing of the resolution agreement, not prior to it.
- The republic of Armenia must assume its share of responsibility within the context of substantial international guarantees for the security of Nagorno Karabakh security.
The recognition by all concerned of the above principles will open the way to the kind of negotiations that can lead to irreversible peace. Then it will be possible to find a mutually acceptable status for Nagorno Karabakh.
The resolution of the conflict requires the joint and clearly targeted efforts of all the parties involved. By revising the reciprocal biased opinions and giving up the deeply rooted prejudices the sides should be able to assure that the other’s vital interests and rights will be guaranteed, and that ending the conflict does not pose dangers, even if it requires making certain compromises. In this sense, the recognition of the other side’s interests and negotiations aimed at ensuring everyone’s security constitute the most important tool for mutual assurance.
The concept of common security stems from the idea that each of the sides’ security and prosperity is strengthened by the security and prosperity of the other.
The security of the South Caucasian region includes not only the need for defense against external threats, but also the need of the countries for political, economic and humanitarian development. The concept of regional security, built on these principles, will allow not only to overcome the conflict, but also will bring them together around common interests to further enhance their individual, regional and common security. All three states of the Southern Caucasus should realize that their common interests are larger than the contradictions between them. If they succeed in the coming few years to decide and specify their common, corporate geopolitical interests and make the region a united geopolitical factor, they can achieve stability and harmonious development, and become full partners in Europe.