Author: Rasim MUSABAYOV Political Analyst, MP
In early 2016, many foreign and local analysts, including myself, indicated that the absence of meaningful and substantive negotiations on peaceful settlement of Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict bears increasingly dangerous war risks. Indeed, frequent skirmishes occurred on the contact line, and often both sides have not limited themselves to light weapons only using grenade launchers and mortars. We have received reports on dead and wounded almost daily. Armenian politicians, the military and intelligence confidently reassured the population with assurances about the inability of Azerbaijani armed forces for a successful attack, offered to put some kind of pre-emptive strikes, called for "punishment" of Azerbaijan. Some of them have made delusional arguments about the need to occupy a few more areas up until the Kura River and Baku to be able to announce Armenian dictate of surrender.
However, the April fighting in Karabakh in response to numerous provocations of Armenian propaganda dispelled the myth of invincibility of the Armenian armed forces. It turned out that the Azerbaijani army has a superiority in weapons and soldiers and officers demonstrated good training. Re-taking of 14 posts and regimental fortified enemy positions near the village of Talish and the Lalatepe Hill, from which Azerbaijani villages were systematically shelled, took a couple days. The warning statements of co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk group and primarily the address of the Russian President Vladimir Putin prevented a full-scale war as a result of the escalation of situation in April. The chiefs of staff of the Armed Forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan were invited to Moscow as a matter of urgency. They have agreed the time to stop all military actions.
Having recovered from the fright, Armenian politicians and the military began to rant about the fact that Moscow's intervention stopped the alleged counterattack of the Armenian army, which would not only recapture the lost positions and more than 2,000 hectares of areas that have fallen under the control of the Azerbaijani armed forces but would also advance forward. However, the Armenian propaganda tricks cannot change the actual result of the April fighting. The dismissal of many higher-ranking officers from the Armenian army, as well as the resignation of Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian leaves no room for doubt with regard to the winning and losing sides.
Presidents Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan had an urgent meeting in Vienna in the spring to consolidate the cease-fire regime and resume the peace talks with the participation of heads of foreign policy departments of the United States, France, Russia and the European Union. Subsequent shuttle visits of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Yerevan and Baku, and then the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit, initiated by Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg gave rise to hopes for progress in the process of peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, as it happened many times before, the talks have stalled in the summer. It was obvious that President Serzh Sargsyan and his government, as well as the whole of the ruling elite were not willing to resist radical groups influenced by nationalist myths, who do not even accept a slightest thought of withdrawal of Armenian forces from at least part of the occupied Azerbaijani territories.
Armenians were later encouraged after receiving tactical missile complexes Iskander from Russia. They have been demonstrated with fanfares at a military parade in Yerevan, although there are still doubts if the missiles were real rather than a demonstration of transmission of Russian missiles to its ally. Officially, none of the international register of the deal has not yet been fixed, as required by the rules of the transfer of missile systems applicable international conventions. Russia has started deliveries of arms under the 200 million military concessional loan to Armenia. An agreement was signed to establish a joint military grouping comprising the 102nd Russian military base in Gumri and the 4th Army Corps in Armenia, stationed on the perimeter of the border with Nakhchivan.
No wonder that having increasing its military potential thanks to Russia, Armenia evades meaningful negotiations despite the insistent recommendations of international mediators and tries to implement only measures to strengthen the ceasefire regime, secure the status quo, that is the open-ended occupation of Azerbaijani territories. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov stated unequivocally at the 23rd OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting in Hamburg: "Armenia's attempts to put forward preconditions to talks is nothing but undermining of Vienna and St. Petersburg agreements of the presidents".
Strengthening the truce is important but not for the preservation of the situation, as well as a necessary condition for constructive and meaningful negotiations to end the conflict and the elimination of the effects of hostilities. In this regard, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov at the OSCE Ministerial Council stressed the need to confirm the agreement on compliance with the ceasefire. According to him, there is general agreement that the number of observers in the OSCE monitoring mission should be increased but there is no consensus as to where they will be deployed. The interpretation of this diplomatic language usually means that the Armenians are making the deployment of international observers to the existing line of contact while Baku agreed to allow their continued presence only in parallel with the withdrawal of Armenian occupying forces. As for the negotiating agenda, that, contrary to the subterfuges of the Armenians, it remains the same. Foreign Ministers of the Head - the OSCE Minsk Group confirmed at the summit in Hamburg certain provisions of the Madrid principles, calling on the parties to resume negotiations without delay.
Apparently, if the negotiation process resumes, this will happen in 2017. In the meantime, both Armenia and Azerbaijan continue accumulating weapons, conducting large-scale military exercises, strengthening their international position.
The visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Baku and Iran's President Rouhani to Yerevan in December attracted attention of world media. But if the subject of negotiations between Israel and Azerbaijan was trade relations for many hundreds of millions of dollars, large-scale joint plans in the energy sector and military-technical cooperation, the Iranian-Armenian negotiations were symbolic, as the parties, in fact, offered each other nothing. According to President Ilham Aliyev, the volume of military equipment and arms that Azerbaijan is going to buy from Israel will reach an impressive $5 billion. This is ten times more than the entire volume of trade and economic relations between Armenia and Iran.
If Azerbaijan and Armenia continued to witness negative trend in military area during the passing year, and the negotiations stagnated, then there have been some positive developments on part of public diplomacy and peace-building initiatives. Thus, in November, a conference was held in Baku, which, together with Azerbaijani civil society activists took part and their Armenian colleagues Vahan Martirosian, Susan Jaghinian and Vahe Avetian. The outcome of the discussion was the adoption of the Baku Declaration on the establishment of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Peace Platform on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Although both the Armenian participants of the platform and those who joined the initiative later suffered defamation in Armenian media and direct pressure from law enforcement agencies of Armenia, the number of signatories is growing. In December, it was approved by the well-known Soviet writer and the existing Chief Editor of the anthology Literary Canada, member of the Union of Armenian Writers, member of the Union of British Writers, member of the Ukrainian Union of Journalists Vahan Karapetian; the correspondent of information agency News Georgia Artem Avakimov, human rights defenders and civil society activists of Armenian origin living in Ukraine, USA, etc.
Another noteworthy event of the passing 2016 was the address of the first president of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosian at the congress of the opposition Armenian National Congress, in which he identified terrible corruption in the country and the unresolved Karabakh conflict as the roots of all problems. He sharply criticized the current regime, which stuffed Armenian society with ridiculous ideology of the establishment of "nation-army", like the one implemented in Israel, instead of taking rational steps.
Levon Ter-Petrosian pointed out the inconsistency of this ideological concept. According to him, unlike Israel, whose population since the beginning of independence was constantly growing and today reaches almost 7 million vs 600 thousand, the population of Armenia has been steadily declining because of migration and declining fertility. The same situation is in material resources. Israel has a highly developed economy, while Armenia is experiencing a recovery after a terrible decline in 1994-2008 without any prospects for improvement.
Ter-Petrosian also indicated that Armenia is facing the only challenge: the solution of the Karabakh problem, after which the Armenian-Turkish relations will be solved in a natural way. There is no other way to resolve the Karabakh conflict but the gradual settlement. "The Armenian National Congress, like its predecessor the Armenian National Movement, is the only party of Armenia, which has repeatedly and publicly stated its belief in compromise and peace. Consequently, because of the existing situation, the ANC should participate with a constructive program in the upcoming parliamentary elections supporting the cessation of the arms race and elimination of new war threats, the solution of the Karabakh issue, the normalization of relations with Turkey, which stems from vital interests of Armenia and the people of Karabakh ", said Ter-Petrosian.
It is noteworthy to highlight the words of Levon Ter-Petrosian on the Azerbaijani leader: "In spite of his belligerent rhetoric, I think Ilham Aliyev is a rationally-thinking statesman able to make a proportionate step towards the establishment of peace much needed for his people, as reacted his father, the late Heydar Aliyev, to my extensive article "War or Peace?". The Armenian politician has stressed the role of Russian mediation in the peaceful settlement of the conflict: "I have said that the key to the solution of the Karabakh issue is in the hands of Russia. Its efforts prove this once again. The Karabakh problem is not the priority of the West. However, the West appreciates the special role of Russia in this matter." The leader of the ANC has also announced the slogan of his party in the upcoming parliamentary elections: "Peace, reconciliation, good-neighborliness".
As expected, Levon Ter-Petrosian received an ambivalent response at the ANC congress. In general, the response was dominated by negative assessments including accusations of cowardice and betrayal. But that did not bother his party. The head of the ANC faction Levon Zurabian stated that the call for a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict could ensure the victory of ANC in the upcoming parliamentary elections. "Until now, we have only seen how the current authorities were trying to maintain the status quo through looting national wealth and corruption undermining our security. We have a different position: if the authorities, whoever they may be, are for a peaceful settlement on terms that do not imply the defeat, it is necessary to support this process. Ter-Petrosian calls for a peaceful settlement. This is our program if we win the election. If we have the power, we will do it", said Levon Zurabian. According to the Armenian analyst Ashot Safarian, evaluations and suggestions of Ter-Petrosian do not contradict but perhaps are in parallel with the aspirations and intentions of the authorities. They just check the public reaction.
Wrapping up, we can say that if the authorities in Yerevan do not listen to appeals of international mediators, as well as their own people tired of historic phobia, hostility and territorial claims to its neighbors, if they continue inhibiting the negotiations then 2017 will bring not peace but war. Azerbaijan will never agree to convey Armenia even a slight portion of its territory and will not allow the establishment of a second Armenian state. This was clearly and repeatedly stated by President Ilham Aliyev. Even if the situation does not allow a large-scale military action to expel the enemy occupation forces, no Armenian well-wishers in the world will be able to prevent permanent military, diplomatic, economic, informational pressure on Armenia. Azerbaijani armed forces will return the territories occupied by Armenian forces.
War is not our choice but it may be a harsh necessity. Nobody needs new lost and destruction of lives of hundreds of young men. Therefore, we only hope that the joint efforts of prudent politicians working in public favor and with the assistance of international mediators, it will be possible to prevent a negative scenario and achieve the long-awaited progress towards a lasting and durable peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia.