THE KARABAKH CONFLICT: A LONG-TERM TRUCE
Tigran Balaian, Ph.D. (Hist.), Attaché, Information and Public Relations Department, Foreign Ministry of Armenia (Erevan, Armenia)
The intermediaries managed to negotiate a cease-fire despite active hostilities in 1993 in the course of which the armed forces of Nagorny Karabakh had established their control over the neighboring Azerbaijanian areas. The cease-fire came into force on 12 May, 1994; for the rest of the year the short truces that lasted on the whole for 60 days convinced the sides and the intermediaries that similar agreements were absolutely viable.1
Early in 1994, after several serious defeats of the Azerbaijanian army, the following situation became obvious along the entire perimeter of the theater of war. In mid-January the Azerbaijanian leaders launched a large-scale operation in the north of Karabakh to recapture the Omar Gorge and the Kelbajary District. At first it was going on smoothly; Azerbaijanian troops recaptured part of the district. Experts believe that Baku’s military successes were caused, among other things, by obviously cooler relations between Moscow and Erevan that followed the shelling of the motorcade of Vladimir Kazimirov, head of the Russian intermediary mission, at the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan (late in 1993).2 I am convinced that because of the Russian-Armenian crisis Baku refused to accept the truce the Russian side offered back in December 1993. In this context the statements by President Aliev of Azerbaijan about his intention to resolve the problem through talks looked strange.3
In January the talks between the foreign ministers of Armenia (Vaan Papazian), Azerbaijan (Gasan Gasanov) and the Republic of Nagorny Karabakh (Arkadi Gukasian) mediated by Foreign Minister of Russia Andrey Kozyrev and head of the Russian intermediary mission Vladimir Kazimirov failed because the differences proved too deep. At that time Azerbaijan would have profited from a truce: its counteroffensive stalled, therefore Baku wanted to preserve what had been already gained.
When the Russian Foreign Ministry had failed to reach a truce, the Defense Ministry of Russia headed at that time by Pavel Grachev undertook the task. According to Vladimir Stupishin, the first ambassador of Russia to Armenia, it was back in 1993 that the Russian military had planned an intermediary mission without the RF Foreign Ministry.4
Talks between the defense ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan and plenipotentiary representative of the Defense Army of the Republic of Nagorny Karabakh took place in Moscow on 18 February, 1994 on Grachev’s initiative. The sides signed a cease-fire protocol to come into force on 1 March, 1994 and established a buffer zone between the sides from which the troops had to be removed out of artillery range. Mixed mobile groups (made up of representatives of the three sides and RF) had to be set up to monitor the cease-fire regime. The protocol also envisaged the withdrawal of troops from occupied territories (no date was specified), which meant that the protocol was to be fulfilled stage by stage. Under Point 7 the RF defense minister could interfere (up to and including the use of force) to remedy all possible violations of the protocol.5 According to the former U.S. representative in the Minsk OSCE Group John Maresca, the protocol was an ultimatum rather than an agreement.6 Still, later the document served as the starting point that the sides of the Bishkek protocol of 5 May, 1994 referred to. The document signed in Moscow by the defense ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia and the head of the Nagorny Karabakh armed forces presupposed a cease-fire and a discussion of stationing the interposition forces in the hostilities zone.
Grachev’s initiative caused concern (and jealousy) among the OSCE partners of the Russian Federation and in the Russian Foreign Ministry, the latter being indirectly confirmed by the then Foreign Minister Kozyrev. He wrote that the country should pursue a uniform policy in conflict settlement across the post-Soviet expanse and not allow statesmen and officials to show too much independence in this sphere.7 According to Maresca, the Foreign Ministry of Russia was kept in the dark about the Defense Ministry’s peacekeeping efforts; Russian diplomats were not allowed to attend sittings where the top military discussed the settlement prospects with American diplomats—in fact, the leaders of Russian diplomacy learned about such sittings from American newspapers.8
As soon as the protocol was signed Baku refused to abide by it for rather serious foreign policy considerations. While the protocol was being discussed in Moscow President Aliev visited Turkey and Great Britain and signed a number of documents under which his country was promised considerable aid in exchange for oil-related privileges. Speaking at the Royal Institute of International Relations of Great Britain, President Aliev said that the oil-related agreements would entail greater British support for Azerbaijan on the international arena.9 One can say that President Aliev launched his “oil diplomacy” in the hope of exchanging oil for international support. Baku’s refusal to abide by the Grachev protocol under the pretext that sovereign Azerbaijan could not tolerate interposition forces on its territory was one of the most glaring examples of the new course.10
In the middle of March of the same year two sides met in Moscow on an initiative of the Foreign Ministry of Russia; the meetings were also attended by representatives of Armenia and the Minsk OSCE Group. The attempt ended in another failure because Azerbaijan stubbornly refused to let the interposition forces to its territory.
The Moscow failures coincided with statements in the West that Russia should not be allowed to “privatize” the intermediary efforts, that there was a rivalry between its defense and foreign ministries and that the Western diplomatic and political circles were very much concerned with this.11 Late in March the heads of the Russian defense and foreign ministries issued a joint statement worded in strong terms that said that Moscow needed no approval of its peace efforts neither from the U.N. nor OSCE, though it was prepared to cooperate with both. By that time peace in the conflict zone had become an aim in itself for Russia. In his article quoted above Foreign Minister Kozyrev admitted this by saying: “Conflict settlement on the former Soviet territory is the main aim of Russia’s foreign policies.”12
On 15 April, 1994 the Council of the CIS Heads of State passed a statement which said, in particular, that the conflict in Karabakh could not be settled without a preliminary cease-fire, a truce and a reliable agreement on the progress thus achieved. The document concluded that this alone could lead to overcoming the aftermaths of the tragic confrontation.13 The document called on the CIS countries (in fact, it called on Russia that alone was engaged in intermediation) to go on with the settlement efforts.
On 3-5 May of the same year the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly, the parliament of Kirghizia and the Foreign Ministry of Russia arranged a meeting between the parliamentary delegations of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorny Karabakh in Bishkek to implement the statement’s propositions. Speaker of the Armenian parliament Babken Ararktsian headed the Armenian delegation; the delegation of Nagorny Karabakh was headed by the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Karen Baburian; the delegation of Azerbaijan was headed by Deputy Chairman of the Milli Mejlis Afiaddin Djalilov. It should be said that the preliminary events had not promised success: during his visit to Brussels, Heydar Aliev in his speech in the NATO headquarters expressed his hope that the alliance would help Azerbaijan rebuff the “Armenian aggression;” he also accused Russia of encouraging Armenia.14 This was an obvious hint at Baku’s intention to carry on fighting—as such it went against the statement that Aliev had signed earlier and promised no positive developments.
The final document—the Bishkek protocol—had been worded by Kazimirov in advance in Moscow. The draft supported the Statement by the CIS Heads of State of 15 April, 1994, called on the sides to start a cease-fire in small hours of 9 May, 1994 and, on the strength of the protocol of 18 February, 1994, to sign a legally binding document to make the cease-fire obligatory. The document invited the CIS parliaments to discuss a possibility of the CIS peacekeeping forces.15 The draft triggered a long and stubborn discussion.
By the end of the meeting the two Armenian sides and the intermediaries signed the document while the head of the Azerbaijanian delegation refused to do this on the strength that a representative of the so-called Azerbaijanian community of Nagorny Karabakh Nizami Bakhmanov was not invited to sign. (He was not among those who signed the document because he represented a community, not a parliament.) This obviously was a pretext—later it became known that Djalilov had been instructed not to sign anything without the president’s consent.16 As a result it was decided to keep the document open to the Azerbaijanian side if it decided to sign it.
In the small hours of 9 May the Azerbaijanian leaders after long discussions decided to join the protocol under condition that certain changes be introduced in it: the word “observers” should have been specified as “international observers;” the above-mentioned Nizami Bakhmanov should have been invited to sign the document. According to Kazimirov, Bakhmanov could not be found—his signature was absent from the document. As soon as speaker of the Azerbaijanian parliament Rasul Guliev signed the protocol the sides confirmed their readiness to a cease-fire. At the same time, there were apprehensions that even though signed by second top officials of all countries (and by the top official of Nagorny Karabakh) it might share the sad fate of all previous documents. It was decided to immediately take specific steps to implement the cease-fire.
In Baku the opposition actively campaigned against the document that did nothing more than called to a cease-fire, something that, according to Kazimirov, Azerbaijan badly needed.17 The opposition demanded that the speaker of the parliament who had signed the document be removed from his post. A crisis of power was in sight—at that moment President Aliev interfered with an approval of what Guliev had done. The storm subsided.
The document’s significance cannot be overestimated: this was the first step toward a conflict settlement the sides made in earnest. Even though the Bishkek protocol did nothing but conveyed to the executive power of the conflicting sides the call of the legislative branch to stop fighting, it can be interpreted as a mandate to the governments to put an end to the war, something of which all sober-minded politicians related to the problem and exerting certain influence on the developments had become convinced.
As soon as Guliev signed the Bishkek protocol President Aliev instructed Defense Minister Mamedov to ensure the cease-fire. Since the Armenian sides had already agreed to the cease-fire, Kazimirov started drawing a corresponding document. At this stage he came against an opposition of the Azerbaijanian side that wanted Bakhmanov to sign the protocol in the capacity of the “leader of the Azerbaijanian community of Nagorny Karabakh.” I have already written that this demand went against the logic: he had no armed forces under him that he could have instructed to cease fire.
The Russian intermediary found a solution to the intricate problem: he asked the heads of the armed forces of Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Republic of Nagorny Karabakh to write individual letters to the defense and foreign ministers of Russia and to himself with a statement of their readiness to halt hostilities along the front in small hours of 12 May.
Three identical letters reached Moscow on 9 May (from Baku), on 10 May from Erevan, and on 11 May from Stepanakert. Contrary to pessimistic forecasts, the cease-fire came into force on time. Calm finally came to the conflict zone after many delays. The leaders of Azerbaijan and President Aliev personally finally abandoned their desire to resolve the problem with the use of force; they accepted the political decision to move the settlement process into the sphere of politics and diplomacy. The following factors forced Aliev to revise his approach:
– It was finally recognized in Baku that the morally and physically impotent army could not resolve the crisis by force and its further application would lead to serious setbacks.
– The army of Nagorny Karabakh was pressing to the north; the loss of Ganja looked imminent; this would have spelt a catastrophe for Azerbaijan and personally for Aliev whose power would have been questioned.
– President Aliev was well aware that continued hostilities would interfere with oil diplomacy: no state and no company would invest in a warring country.
On 16 May, 1994 the heads of the military departments of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorny Karabakh met in Moscow under chairmanship of RF Defense Minister Grachev to draw and sign a document that would confirm their intention to maintain the truce. The American press wrote at the time that at the very beginning Grachev demanded that the sides agree on a prepared text that was virtually identical with the protocol of 18 February, 1994.18 The sides discussed certain aspects, in particular, pulling back the troops starting with 25 May, 1994 to prepare ground for the interposition forces. It was planned to site 49 posts of observers protected by two motor rifle regiments; it was agreed that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorny Karabakh would contribute equal sums to cover 99 percent of the expense, while Russia was expected to contribute the remaining 1 percent. The sides agreed on the composition of the peacekeeping forces made up of CIS troops. In fact, the technical side of monitoring was agreed upon—this was a positive shift in the process of the conflict settlement and of the Karabakh problem as a whole.
At the same time, the agreements that remained on paper did not leave the OSCE and the Minsk Group any role to play (this was probably why the agreements were never implemented), although from the very beginning of the Moscow meeting President Aliev stated that OSCE should be invited to it. (It was the military alone who reached the agreements to which diplomats made no contribution at all.) Had Armenia or Azerbaijan agreed to implement the decisions reached without international structures, they would have been open to a strong Western pressure (the U.S. and other members of the Minsk Group in the first place) because it was Russia that was expected to form the backbone of the peacekeeping forces in the conflict zone. This contradicted the interests of the United States and Turkey. Foreign Minister of Turkey Hikmet Çetin openly said to the Main Presidential Advisor of Armenia Zhirayr Liparitian: “Turkey will do its best to interfere with the implementation of the Moscow agreements.”19
It was at that time that a new scandal flared up between the Defense and Foreign ministries of Russia. Defense Minister Grachev insisted that the interposition forces should be deployed even if the OSCE (that over time could have joined in) remained outside the process; Vladimir Kazimirov, on his part, said that Moscow was convinced that other countries should contribute to the interposition forces while Russia should not unilaterally shoulder the responsibility of monitoring the cease-fire regime.20
These contradictions, however, never affected the negotiation process because as soon as all the details had been agreed upon the defense minister of Azerbaijan refused to sign it and hastened to return to Baku. In this way the leaders of Azerbaijan cast doubt on its position on the continued truce and triggered another bout of tension. This meant that the truce (much needed by Baku, according to the intermediaries) remained without a legal basis. There was no mechanism of monitoring the cease-fire regime. In fact, Azerbaijan’s refusal to sign the document that would have obliged Karabakh not to resume hostilities could be regarded as strange, to say the least (even if OSCE remained outside its scope), had not further events revealed the causes of this.
– I have already written that the Moscow agreements evoked a negative response from Russia’s Western partners within the Minsk Group. One can say that the defense minister of Azerbaijan refused to sign the document under direct American and Turkish pressure.
– Baku negatively responded not only to the truce but also to the planned deployment of Russian troops on the republic’s territory. Speaker of the Azerbaijanian parliament Guliev who had signed the Bishkek protocol had been accused of treason while the act itself was described as aimed against the state’s independence and territorial integrity.21
– Baku and Stepanakert were dissatisfied with the vagueness of terms under which the troops should be withdrawn from the occupied territories and interposition forces deployed.
– The Azerbaijanian leaders could not agree on certain points: the foreign ministry objected to what the speaker of the parliament and the defense minister were saying and insisted that the troops moved to the region should act under the CSCE aegis; the president had to publicly refute information about possible deployment of the Russian troops.22
– In Armenia, too, there was no agreement about the deployment of Russian troops: there was an opinion that the peacekeepers could have easily become occupation force and Karabakh could have been returned to Azerbaijan; the authorities believed that without deployment of the Russian forces the truce would have never become a reality. There was an opinion that the Russian troops alone could have acted as an interposition force though OSCE involvement was never doubted.23 The leaders of Nagorny Karabakh stated that the truce was not so much a product of the intermediary process as of the balance of forces.24
Other members of the Minsk Group were of divided opinions about the Russia-negotiated truce. Its chairman Jan Eliason approved of the cease-fire while Maresca who represented the United States doubted its success.25 Russia’s Western partners were obviously jealous of its success: it turned out that one state had more influence than an international organization responsible for the region’s security. Despite the fact that the OSCE did practically nothing to negotiate the truce, it went out of its way to emphasize the role the Minsk Group played in the process so that to restore its influence. In his letter to the foreign minister of Armenia U.S. State Secretary Warren Christopher wrote about the main role of the OSCE and Minsk Group in the process. He hinted that Russia (that played an important role) had no exclusive rights in this sphere and informed that Azerbaijan had assured him that it would never agree on stationing Russian troops in the conflict zone outside the OSCE aegis and called on Erevan to make a similar statement.26 As soon as the Moscow meeting was over the U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan stated that any plan of the Karabakh settlement, the Russian variant included, should be carried out within the Minsk Group while the interposition forces should be deployed under international control.27
Probably in view of the shaky nature of the truce and with an aim of making its group more actively involved in the process, the chairman of the Minsk Group invited the sides to extend the truce for 30 days and set up a permanent OSCE mission in the conflict zone to observe the truce regime. At the same time, neither the letter from the defense minister of Armenia, nor the letters from the defense minister of Azerbaijan and commander of the Defense Army of Karabakh (of 9-11 May) contained any exact date of the truce. In fact, had the sides accepted Eliason’s suggestion, in a month they could have refused to extend the cease-fire agreement. Moscow interpreted this suggestion as an attempt to snatch the initiative from Russia.28
Despite pessimistic forecasts the truce held even without a legally binding document. This showed that the sides finally “listened to the voice of reason,” as the Bishkek protocol put it.
On 19 May the OSCE Permanent Committee met in Vienna for its 20th sitting; it listened to Eliason’s report about the situation in the zone of conflict. The MG chairman stated that according to the sides peace had never been closer, that movement in this direction should be continued through common efforts; he also voiced his concern about the fact that the Minsk Group had not been invited to the Moscow meeting and emphasized that no lasting peace was possible without cooperation between Russia and the OSCE. The Permanent Committee adopted a statement that greeted the truce, supported the sides and the intermediaries in their desire to sign a final peace treaty and approved of a plan to place OSCE observers within three days after the truce treaty would be signed.29
Late in July Defense Minister of Armenia S. Sarkisian, Defense Minister of Azerbaijan M. Mamedov and Commander of the Defense Army of the Nagorny Karabakh Republic S. Babaian sent a joint letter to the defense and foreign ministers of Russia, the Chairman of the Minsk Group Eliason and representative of the Russian president Kazimirov in which they expressed their intention to maintain the May truce. According to the then presidential advisor of Armenia Liparitian, the document was agreed upon and signed without intermediaries. I am convinced that this was a sign of stronger trust among the conflicting sides that helped preserve the truce in future. Both the intermediaries and the sides looked at the letter as the highest point of the cease-fire process; it remains a unique document in the present context as well.
In this way the truce established on 12 May, 1994 has been preserved for over nine years; it is unique for many reasons: first, there is not a single legally binding document related to it; second, the truce is maintained by the sides themselves, without observers and interposition forces, though the OSCE regularly monitors the line dividing the armed forces of Azerbaijan and Nagorny Karabakh; third, it is the first step toward a lasting peace.
Regrettably, the regime is being more and more frequently violated against the background of belligerent statements about the need to resume hostilities coming from the Azerbaijanian leaders. It seems that those who make such statements are fully aware that resumed hostilities will bear no fruit: there is a vast and bitter experience of resolving the Karabakh problem with the use of force.
1 See: V. Kazimirov, “Kak eto bylo?” Mezhdunarodnaia zhizn, No. 5, 1996.
2 See: A. Iskandarian, “Vse dorogi vedut v Karabakh,” Novoe vremia, No. 50, 1993.
3 See: Diplomaticheskiy vestnik MID RF, No. 3-4, 1994.
4 See: V. Stupishin, Karabakhskiy konflikt, Moscow, 1998, p. 121.
5 See: Ibid., p. 123.
6 See: J. Maresca, The International Community’s Efforts to Resolve the Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh: A Case Study in Lost Opportunities for Conflict Resolution, Paris, 1995, p. 18.
7 See: A. Kozyrev, “Rossiiskoe mirotvorchestvo: legkikh resheniy ne byvaet,” Novoe vremya, No. 4, 1994.
8 See: J. Maresca, op. cit.
9 See: Armenia: problemy nezavisimogo razvitia, ed. by E. Kozhokin, Russian Institute of Strategic Research, Moscow, 1998, p. 517.
10 See: V. Stupishin, op. cit., p. 124.
11 See: E. Fuller, RFE/RL Research Report, Vol. 3, No. 23, 10 June, 1994.
12 A. Kozyrev, op. cit.
13 See: “Zaiavlenie Soveta glav gosudarstv SNG po konfliktu v Nagornom Karabakhe i vokrug nego ot 15 aprelia 1994 g.,” in: Sbornik dokumentov po mirotvorcheskoy deiatel’nosti, priniatykh v ramkakh SNG, Minsk, 2001, p. 233.
14 See: Armenia: Problemy nezavisimogo razvitia, p. 521.
15 See: Bishkekskiy protokol ot 5 maia 1994 g., Archives of the Foreign Ministry of Russia.
16 See: Ibidem.
17 See: V. Kazimirov, op. cit.
18 See: E. Fuller, op. cit.
19 V. Stupishin, op. cit., p. 124.
20 See: Nezavisimaia gazeta, 17 May, 1994.
21 See: Armenia: Problemy nezavisimogo razvitia, p. 524.
22 See: Nezavisimaia gazeta, 19 May, 1994.
23 See: Ayastani Anrapetutiun (the Republic of Armenia newspaper), 6 May, 1994.
24 See: V. Kazimirov, op. cit.
25 See: Christian Science Monitor, 3 June, 1994.
26 See: U.S. State Secretary W. Christopher’s letter to Minister Papazian on Cease-fire, 2 June, 1994, Archives of the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Armenia.
27 See: Nezavisimaia gazeta, 24 May, 1994.
28 See: V. Kazimirov, op. cit.
29 See: CSCE Documents, 20th Plenary Meeting of the Permanent Committee of the CSCE, 19 May 1994, OSCE Documents 1973-1997 on CD.