2011 is ending without any resolution on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, even though mediation efforts have continued to intense negotiations throughout the year.
Ultimately, the “momentum” for peace never gathered sufficient force. Hope for a peaceful solution increased after the May 2011 statement of the United States, Russian and French presidents at Deauville, held within the framework of the G8 Summit, which urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to finalize the Basic Principles for the Peaceful Settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. Unfortunately, the Kazan summit halted this progress. The failure of these negotiations suggests to the Azerbaijani public that the conflict is locked in a stagnation period. What they see is international powers pushing both parties to reach an agreement, but failing to produce any result, and so the population is beginning to look to military intervention as the inevitable next step. Following the recent meeting in Vilnius, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group released a statement saying that “the parties agreed on the need to continue the negotiation process in the format of OSCE Minsk Group and to improve the atmosphere for progressing towards a peaceful settlement.” Similar statements have come out of other meetings in Deauville, Helsinki, Astana, Athens and Sochi over recent years.
However, Armenia and all three of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries will enter an election period next year, and this will significantly restrict diplomatic activity in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. When there is a “diplomatic vacuum,” the risk of war is always greater. In the meantime, ceasefire violations have increased, fuelling mutual distrust and the growing frustration with the deadlocked peace talks. The current “frozen conflict” is ever more dangerous, for it is fraught with the underlying threat of renewed hostilities, and a likelihood that the sporadic violations of the ceasefire agreement may gather pace and intensify.
The history of the current peace process demonstrates that the key steps toward a lasting peace come not only from the negotiating table, but also from inside the societies themselves. From the perspective of the government in Baku, the public must be prepared for the realities of peace, and increased contact between the divided communities will help to achieve this. If the public can accept a framework agreement on basic principles, this could later serve as a basis for more in-depth negotiations on a comprehensive peace agreement.
First of all,
This marks a new step towards peace by Azerbaijan, envisaging negotiations on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and the two communities of Nagorno-Karabakh, once peace has been reached. While the realization of these inter-community negotiations would seem to characterize the final stage of the peace process, the whole strategy cannot become a reality until Azerbaijan’s sovereign rights over the occupied territories are restored, and the safe and dignified return of the expelled Azerbaijani population is assured. Both parties to the conflict are continuing negotiations on the basis of the Baker Rules, which were agreed to by all sides, and under which the two communities of Nagorno-Karabakh are recognized as “interested parties,” and Armenia and Azerbaijan as “principal parties.” For the most part, international media coverage refers only to the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, though there is also an Azerbaijani community there. It was established in accordance with Article 9 of the document signed at the first Helsinki meeting held by the OSCE Ministerial Council (March 24, 1992) and got legal status as Public Union Azerbaijani Community of Nagorno-Karabakh Region of Azerbaijan Republic in 2009.
For several years, Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh have been lobbying to take part in the negotiations. Last month, the Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh community attempted to meet with representatives of the Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh community in Berlin, via the “Dialogue-Nagorno-Karabakh” forum. The problem is that Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh are monopolizing the right to speak on behalf of the region, and are refusing to accept the Azerbaijani community as part of Nagorno-Karabakh region. In fact, there is not a single document adopted by an international organization since the start of the conflict that does not recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Moreover, the sovereign status of the so called “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” has not been recognized by a single country. This destabilizes the common view in Armenia that the frozen conflict is sustainable and that the dispute has been resolved. While Armenia’s removal of its snipers from the front line has been interpreted by the international media as an attempt to support peaceful resolution, in reality this maneuver seeks to prolong the status quo, by reducing violations of the ceasefire. The international community intensifies peace efforts when they see increasing violations.
Additionally, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue will feature prominently in Armenia’s forthcoming elections. Both the government and opposition will try to use the Nagorno-Karabakh as political cards in their campaigns. The moderate voices in Armenia remain marginalized. For example, Armenian human rights activist Georgi Vanyan, who is one of the few people in Armenia to have spoken out against the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territories, was insulted and threatened with physical violence when he organized screenings of Azerbaijani films in Yerevan.
Since 2007, peace talks have been guided by the “Basic Principles” or “Madrid Principles,” which propose that agreement on the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh must be put on hold, while other issues, such as the liberation of the surrounding territories, the return of Azerbaijani IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), the restoration of crucial social and transport infrastructure, the resumption of trade and other confidence building measures are dealt with first. In fact, these same principles were first accepted by former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian in 1997, but the bloodless coup in Armenia and Ter-Petrossian’s subsequent departure from office that year buried the chances of its realization. Now, the Armenian side sees the remaining controversial points as significant obstacles, while Azerbaijan deems them technical details. Azerbaijan Minister of Foreign Affairs Elmar Mammadyarov outlined his vision in a Dec. 6 statement on news.az. “The Azerbaijani side is aware of the failure to find final points of contact and knows that these principles are a good basis for moving forward and concluding the main peace agreement and, therefore, suggests the next step of beginning work on a major peace agreement.” It seems that Azerbaijan is demonstrating its readiness to work on peace agreements, while the Armenian side argues that “the devil is in the details.”
The prospects for peaceful resolution can be summed up in the words of Nelson Mandela: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” The Azerbaijani side has made demonstrated efforts, including community meetings and meetings of the PACE Subcommittee on Nagorno-Karabakh and civil society meetings, but these measures have been rejected by Armenia. The current situation does not offer hope for resolution. The Armenian leadership faces “a fateful dilemma” — to accept and work on peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and thereby risk angering the Armenian public, or to play for time by refusing to sign it, which will alienate the international community.