Author: Rasim MUSABAYOV, MP, Political Scientist
Autumn is full of events concerning the settlement of the Karabakh conflict. In October, the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia met with the co-chairs of OSCE Minsk Group in Geneva. Before that, the mediators have visited the conflict zone several times to coordinate the proposals that could resume negotiations and break the deadlock in peaceful settlement.
The problem was related to Armenia’s position. After losing the April battle in 2016, Armenia refused to discuss the settlement substantively and put forward several demands including the strengthening of the ceasefire regime, expansion of the OSCE observer mission and introduction of an incident investigation mechanism on the contact line of the parties. Azerbaijan agreed to consider these demands only as part of the overall settlement process because otherwise this would only lead to the extension of existing and unacceptable status quo for Azerbaijan and international mediators. Apparently, under the influence of the mediators, Armenians have agreed to discuss the issues of mutual interest to the parties.
In November, Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers Edvard Nalbandian and Elmar Mammadyarov met with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in Moscow. A statement issued after the meeting indicated that both foreign ministers agreed to meet in Vienna in December on the margins of the OSCE Ministerial Council. The statement of co-chairs indicates that they will prepare the agenda of ministerial meeting, which will include "substantive issues".
Presidents and foreign ministers of neighboring countries, Turkey and Russia, supported the efforts of the co-chairs of OSCE Minsk Group. According to the Turkish Star, President Erdogan discussed with the Russian president Putin the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh during their meeting in Sochi. According to Erdogan, "Russia has an influence over Armenia. There are decisions taken earlier by the UN Security Council on five of the seven occupied districts. We agreed that these decisions need to be implemented. Mr. Putin is also positive on this, but, as I understand, he does not hold much hope. I think that his hopelessness is connected with the relations between the two sides."
President Erdogan said that he would reconsider the Karabakh settlement at the next meeting with the Russian leader. Turkey's efforts are determined by not only the fraternal attitude towards Azerbaijan, but also by the desire to protect the developing Russian-Turkish economic, political, and perhaps military-technical partnership against the risks. After all, Moscow and Ankara are seeking for mutual understanding on many international issues. Large-scale energy projects such as the gas Turkish Stream or the construction of four units of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant are designed for many decades. Under present conditions, the risks of resumed hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan are growing, which can draw Turkey and Russia into military confrontation. Therefore, it is so important to advance the Karabakh settlement at least to the point that excludes the resumption of hostilities.
The conversation between the Turkish and Russian presidents on this issue has had consequences. Immediately afterwards, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Baku and Yerevan, where he assessed a quarter-century-old bilateral diplomatic relations and discussed prospects for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. According to Lavrov, the contours of the resolution have already been outlined. "The conflict is not acceptable to any of the parties. We need to look for a solution, especially since many directions that should lead to results are already emerging. The whole set of steps, measures, agreements required to stimulate the Karabakh settlement process are available. We will continue to seek mutually acceptable peaceful solutions, as a member of the OSCE Minsk Group, taking into account the points voiced during the recent meeting of the co-chairs and the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Moscow," said Lavrov after his meeting with the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.
However, the tone and accents of Lavrov’s statements have often changed depending on where they were voiced, in Azerbaijan or Armenia. At a joint press conference with Armenian Foreign Minister Edvard Nalbandian in Yerevan, Sergei Lavrov said: "The problem is difficult, and from our experience, it will not be solved quickly." For Armenians, it means that if there is no solution, then the settlement process can remain frozen for another period. In this case, was the Russian Foreign Minister’s visit to the region worth to awaken certain hopes and cause deep disappointment? Lavrov said that the problem was difficult with no quick solution. But what does a quick solution stand for? If it means a quick and complete settlement of the conflict and its withdrawal from the current agenda then, of course, this is unrealistic. Perhaps, the 30-year-old conflict may require the same period from the beginning of the settlement process to full solution. But a real progress, at least in terms of the de-occupation of Azerbaijani territories outside the borders of the former Karabakh Autonomous Republic combined with peacekeeping operation and demilitarization, the opening of communications and the resumption of the Azerbaijani-Armenian relations, can be achieved if the intermediaries demonstrate proper perseverance in tempering Yerevan’s inflated demands.
The negotiation agenda should focus on discussions regarding the conditions and guarantees for the completion of the military conflict duly formulated in the well-known resolutions of the UN Security Council (822, 853, 874, 884) and resolution 62/243 of UN General Assembly. This is what President Ilham Aliyev said in Brussels at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council of NATO, and at the summit of the participants of the EU Eastern Partnership program. Obviously, Armenians do not enjoy an emphasis on the implementation of UN resolutions. Failing to find anything better, they brazenly misinterpret the essence of these fundamental international documents. At the same meeting in Brussels, Serzh Sargsyan said without embarrassment: "The United Nations has never adopted resolutions on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. The four resolutions adopted by the UN in 1993 concerned the cessation of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, which Azerbaijan refused." Earlier, Foreign Minister Edvard Nalbandian said that "the UN Security Council resolutions in its time were aimed at ending military operations in the region, rather than settling the conflict." Either way, these resolutions remain in force and cannot be brushed aside.
The presidents of the co-chair states publicly announced the impossibility and unacceptability of maintaining existing status quo indefinitely, that it is necessary to achieve progress in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict. But while there is not a lot of blood spilled on the line of contact and there are no significant risks of war, the co-chairing countries push this problem to the background and are engaged in other more important, in their opinion, world issues. They have nothing to push on Azerbaijan as our position is supported by international law and we demand our own lands back. Azerbaijan does not ask anyone for financial support, free weapons or various preferences. On the other hand, the mediators do not want to push on Armenians for the well-known reasons such as Christian solidarity and Armenian lobby. As a result, the current stalemate situation is maintained.
It is obvious that until now Russia was satisfied with the status quo in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, although politicians and diplomats of this neighboring state say that they are exerting every possible effort for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. I believe that until Moscow is convinced that the fact that the Karabakh conflict is not resolved yet inevitably leads to an Armenian-Azerbaijani war that may be devastating for the region and lead to confrontation between Russia and Turkey, and create serious problems for Iran, Russia will not take serious measures.
Azerbaijan cannot afford a confrontation with the powers traditionally protecting Armenians. But Baku can and must do everything to make the risks and costs associated with the existing status quo in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were higher for these powers than the advancement of the settlement process by means of coping the claims of Armenia that are contrary to international law.
If there is no compromise in the Karabakh settlement (which is possible only if there is no winner or loser), there are three ways to solve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, as in any confrontation: to win, to die or to surrender. It is not easy for Azerbaijan to win with the current balance of powers and the existing geopolitical balance, and it is completely impossible for Armenia. No one wants to surrender, nor is there a catastrophe that would have forced any of the parties to do so. Armenians do not want to agree on a draw. The last option is to die. This is not about the direct death of people, but about the death of the state as a result of depopulation, which is observed in Armenia.
The decline in the birth rate and the growth of emigration, which has turned into a mass exodus, plunge Armenia into a demographic hole. This problem has become the most alarming for the Armenian political class, but it is not going further than ranting and setting unrealistic tasks, such as increasing the Armenian population to four million by 2050. In practice, however, the authorities are forced to take unpopular measures such as the annulation of the delay in military drafting for students. Otherwise, it is not possible to staff the Armenian army. This may be followed by staffing the army with females, as in Israel. Although many analysts of Armenia predict that such actions of the authorities will only spur emigration.
According to the analytical report of ELK parliamentary faction, during the last three years of membership in EAEU, Armenian economy decreased by 8%, employment rate grew by 13%, international reserves decreased by 40%, and public debt grew by 10%. Investments in Armenian economy fell to ֏81 billion in 2016 compared to ֏167.4 billion in 2014. The economic growth shown on paper does not increase financial resources of the country, and the planned increase in military spending by 2018 is 17% still the more will deepen the already difficult social situation of the population.
Armenia's external donors also reduce their assistance. The following question was asked on information portal www.ru.1in.am in: "Why does the amount (up to $12.5 million in 2017) collected during the annual telethon held in Los Angeles decrease every year?" in fact, the vague explanations of Armenian politicians only disguise the real reason, namely the fatigue caused by irrational and unrealistic claims of Armenia and the Karabakh separatists accompanied by total corruption and squandering of donations collected by the diaspora.
International community, which has treated separatist movements with a certain indulgence, and in the case of the Armenians, encouraged and justified the occupation of Azerbaijani territories promoted under a false slogan of "self-determination of the Karabakh Armenians" gradually realizes their danger to peace, security and stability. This is largely due to the impact of illegal referendums on independence in Catalonia and Iraqi Kurdistan. The failure of separatists and the negative reaction to their actions by big and regional powers greatly impaired the mood of the Armenians.
In short, there are few reasons for optimistic expectations. Based on the statements of the parties, it may seems that the recently started negotiations are deliberately doomed to failure, as they are difficult to combine. But overstating declared positions is a common practice in diplomacy. It is important that Baku and Yerevan, with the participation of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, agreed to resume the negotiations and to discuss the whole range of issues related to strengthening the ceasefire regime, as well as the essential problems impeding the ending of military confrontation and the promotion of the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There is no certainty that the negotiations will inevitably end with the achievement of compromise agreements. Nevertheless, it is better to negotiate than to fight, and intensive negotiations increase the chances of their positive outcome.