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Can Azerbaijan and Georgia Recognize the Existing Status-quo?

By Karine TER-SAHAKYAN
Journalist
Yerevan

Each protracted conflict has landmarks, which are recollected when talks are deadlocked again. It is some sort of reminding about the lost opportunities, the hopes of one or another party that have not come true. In this connection we can remember the decade of talks between Robert Kocharian and Heydar Aliyev in Key-West.

Then Serj Sargsyan and Aliyev Jr. Came to substitute them, but the talks still have no end. They spoke about the unpreparedness of the Azerbaijani and Armenian societies to a compromise in 2001, just like now, mentioning the inability of the parties to display the political will in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict. The same way nobody has even tried to listen to the main party concerned: the Nagorno Karabakh people and authorities. Most probably that it is the NKR’s absence in the process is just the obstacle, not allowing the parties to come to an agreement. By the way, now no-one even thinks about the real peace treaty: the parties to the conflict are pre-occupied with the aim of losing as little as possible, even not getting anything. So let us see what is really going on.

The conflicts in the South Caucasus, having 20 year long history, are still in search for their resolution. It would be more correct to say that just one thing is required from the parties to the conflict: to recognize the established status-quo, despite various talks and Basic principles, which have turned to be a settlement with a one-sided movement. In particular, it is true with the Karabakh conflict, which since the 1994 has been an exchange card in the game of the Superpowers. If we judge it by the dynamics of the processes, this conflict is also as far from being settled as it was 15 years ago. We think that in this case a switch of notions has happened: the conflict settlement supposes achieving an agreement, and ideally the peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. However, Baku, despite the efforts of the mediators, does not accept the existing reality. Azerbaijan has already had the opportunity to settle the conflict and recognize the NKR independence. According to the information, leaked from diplomatic sources, such an opportunity happened during the talks of the Armenian President Robert Kocharyan and Azerbaijani leader Heydar Aliyev in the Key-West. It is quite difficult to say how reliable those “leakages” are: they were made in a very narrow circle. However, most probably, there was an arrangement in Key-West on something, but we know nothing about it.  And maybe there was nothing at all, but some possibility for agreement apparently existed.

After Heydar Aliyev’s death the conflict (in fact, there is no conflict at all, only Baku’s desire for a revanche and get back what does not belong to it) entered the “freezing” phase.  Now the countries of the region, first of all Turkey and Iran, expressed the desire of joining the attempts to settle the conflict. The ambitions of Turkey are quite understandable: this country wants to justify its assurances of the “fraternal love” to “Azerbaijani brothers.” Meanwhile, as for Iran, this country is very cautious in this issue, as expected: according to the Press-Secretary of the Iranian Foreign Ministry Ramin Mehmanparast, if Azerbaijan and Armenia would like it, Iran is ready to propose its solution of the Karabakh problem.

The nonparticipation of the Karabakh party in the negotiating process is the most serious mistake of the Armenian party, as far as Karabakh’s exclusion from the talks gave a trump card to Azerbaijan, using it very well: they speak about the Armenian troops, demand to withdraw from 7 regions, occupied by the “Armenian army,” and many other things.
Anyway, we should point out that the substitution of the party to a conflict by the country, interested in the settlement of the conflict, is a common occurrence in the South Caucasus. Such is the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The heads of the non-recognized states are simply not allowed to the talks; meanwhile it is they who should hold such negotiations. It is they who should agree on the new borders, recognition of the sovereignty and defense of their own territories. Naturally, the guarantor country (in our case, Armenia, and in the Georgian conflicts, Russia) has taken on the guarantees for security of the populations of the seceded former Soviet autonomies. But only the guarantees, which most probably would not suppose a direct participation in the hostilities, if such would resume. If the representatives of the elected powers of the Artsakh Republic, headed by the NKR President Bako Sahakyan,  would sit at the negotiating table, they would end much sooner. Azerbaijan understands very well, that NKR would represent itself as an independent entity, so none of Ilham Aliyev’s promises of “wide autonomy” would be taken into account. In principle, they are not taken into consideration seriously now as well, but we hear them. Most probably, it is one of the main mistakes in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict.

Probably, the lack of the so called “people’s diplomacy” and the definite unwillingness of the parties to listen to and to hear each other also can be indicated as one of the main lost opportunities in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, as well as in the other South Caucasian conflicts. Since the very outbreak of the Karabakh conflict there have been numerous attempts to get the Armenian and Azerbaijani intellectuals and representatives of the civil society together under aegis of various international organizations (International Alert, Friedrich Naumann and Friedrich Ebert funds, etc.) with the aim of coming to any agreement. Karabakh delegates have taken part in such meetings from time to time. However, all conversations had the same course: Azerbaijanis insisted that they have oil, so they would be able to achieve everything, and Armenians replied them that they would definitely fail.  During one of such meetings in 2008 in Brussels, organized by the International Alert with participation of the representatives of the Nagorno Karabakh civil society, nothing new was heard from Baku once again, except the statement that Armenia should return 7 regions. However, here the international community, at Azerbaijan’s suggestion, has a distorted perception of the parties to conflict, denying the Artsakh Republic’s right to make independent decisions. I think that it is one of the most important obstacles on the way to the settlement. The civil society in Azerbaijan, no matter how the official Baku says about it, is stricken with fear, and at the meetings with the Armenian party its representatives say only what is allowed. Naturally, there will be no dialog in such conditions.

Certainly, it would be incorrect not to mention the activity of the OSCE Minsk Group for the settlement of the conflict, which has almost done nothing during all these 20 years. The international community has never condemned the provocations and incidents along the contact line of the NKR Army of Defense and the Azerbaijani Armed Forces. Only in words, certainly, it was pointed out that such incidents damage the peace process, but nobody warned Ilham Aliyev to impose any tougher sanctions. His militarist rhetoric is absolutely ignored. If Aliyev was called to account for his almost weekly statements on providing Karabakh with the “status of wide autonomy” and “solution of the conflict by force,” an agreement between Azerbaijan and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic might have been reached.

It is hardly possible that the South-Caucasian conflicts are settled just as metropolitan republic would like it. Both Ilham Aliyev and Mikheil Saakashvili all the way will have to accept the reality sooner or later; new states have appeared on the map of the region, so nothing depends on whether the international community recognizes them or not.