Author: Rasim MUSABAYOV, Member of Parliament, political scientist
Unfortunately, the passing year will not remain memorable for a breakthrough in the peaceful settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which lasts almost three decades. The reason was the non-constructive approach of Armenians to reduce the entire negotiations agenda solely to measures on strengthening the ceasefire and "the introduction of mechanisms for investigating incidents" on the contact line. After all, the military balance, which has shifted towards Azerbaijan, destroyed Armenian hopes to demand territorial concessions from us in terms of legalizing the secession of Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, Yerevan has focused all efforts on the preservation of the existing status quo trying to keep and use the occupied Azerbaijani regions as an advantage for bargaining in the future.
Thanks to the firm position of Azerbaijan, as well as to certain international pressure, Yerevan had to resume the negotiation on a set of various issues, including the substantive ones. In October, presidents Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan met in Geneva, Switzerland. Before the event, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs visited the conflict zone several times and agreed on proposals for the resumption of the negotiation process. In November, Armenian Foreign Minister Edvard Nalbandian and Elmar Mammadyarov met with the co-chairs in Moscow.
Presidents and foreign ministers of Turkey and Russia have joined the efforts of the mediators. The idea was not only to strengthen traditionally close relations with the countries of the South Caucasus, but also to prevent the developing Russian-Turkish economic and political partnership, and possibly military-technical cooperation, against excessive risks. Today, Moscow and Ankara have more points of mutual interest and understanding on many international issues than before. Both countries are actively discussing contracts for the implementation of large-scale energy projects, such as the Turkish Stream gas pipeline or the construction of four nuclear power plants in Akkuyu. These projects are designed for many decades and need a favorable military-political background. The unresolved Karabakh conflict may result in the resumption of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which may put Turkey in military confrontation with Russia, which is supporting both sides of the conflict. Therefore, it is so important to advance the Karabakh settlement at least to the point that excludes the resumption of large-scale military operations in the South Caucasus.
On December 7-8 in Vienna, foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia held a meeting under the 24th meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council. According to the parties, the talks were positive and constructive. Heads of delegations of countries co-chairing the Minsk Group, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and France's permanent representative to the OSCE Veronica Roger distributed a statement: "We declare our joint commitment to negotiations on the peaceful settlement of this conflict as the only way to bring reconciliation to the peoples of the region." The united position of the mediation mission on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by peaceful means was reiterated on the basis of the Helsinki Final Act and the principles mentioned in it on the non-use of force, the non-use of the threat of violence, territorial integrity, equality and the right of peoples to self-determination. Expressing satisfaction with the intensification of the talks and urging the parties to concentrate their efforts on finding compromise solutions to the main issues of the political settlement, they noted that "further delays will only complicate the situation and may call into question the commitment of the parties to reach a lasting agreement. We instructed the co-chairs to continue their mediation efforts to facilitate compromises regarding the working proposals submitted to the parties, but we emphasize that the main responsibility for ending the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict lies with the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia. "
According to the speeches of the foreign ministers of conflicting parties at the plenary meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council demonstrated that the positions of the parties are far from each other. As before, Nalbandian's speech consisted of a repetition of lying theses, the essence of which is that Armenians behave allegedly in peace and in full accordance with international law, but Azerbaijan is aggressive and uncompromising. In reality, however, everything is exactly the opposite. In his speech, the Azerbaijani minister bluntly said: "If Armenia is really interested in a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it must participate constructively in the negotiations. In the following months we will see how serious partner Armenia is for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, making progress in the negotiations, and constructive participation in substantive negotiations." He stressed that putting forward preconditions for the resumption of substantive negotiations is doomed to failure. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister did not hide his concern over the attempts of Yerevan to strengthen the status quo in the conflict zone in defiance of international norms and the requirements of the mediators. "Official Yerevan continues to take illegal actions to change the demographic, cultural and physical image on the occupied Azerbaijani territories and continues the policy of strengthening military occupation and creating a situation of fait accompli," said the minister. Mammadyarov added that Armenia constantly resorts to provocations on the contact line, recently conducted military exercises in the occupied Azerbaijani territories and thereby nullifies the efforts for a peaceful settlement.
In fact, we have a paradox here. The mediators argue that a quick resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is impossible because of the parties' unwillingness to reach a mutually acceptable compromise. However, the general conclusion does not support the phased and gradual advance of the settlement process, as Baku insists. On the contrary, they indulge the Armenians in their striving to freeze the situation by strengthening the ceasefire on the contact line of the parties with the indefinite preservation of the occupation of Azerbaijani territories outside the borders of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region. They have nothing to press on Azerbaijan, because international law is supporting us and we demand the return of our own lands. Baku does not ask anyone for financial handouts, free weapons and other preferences. While the mediators do not want to push Armenians for known reasons (Christian solidarity and lobbying). As a result, the current stalemate situation remains as is.
The tough position of Azerbaijan expressed by president Aliyev in Brussels about the inadmissibility of double standards regarding conflicts and violation of the territorial integrity of the countries participating in the EU Eastern Partnership program had its effect and was reflected in the summit resolution. Separatist sentiments in the EU have turned many European politicians from complacent connivance to violent actions aimed at changing the borders and territorial integrity of sovereign states. This is evidenced by the adoption of the strategic Resolution on Foreign and Security Policy of the EU in December, where the European Parliament for the first time reaffirmed its commitment to the EU commitments to support the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of all the Eastern Partnership countries within their internationally recognized borders. A similar document was adopted at the end of the 50th PABSEC General Assembly in Kiev. Contrary to the efforts of the Armenian delegation, the final declaration reads: "We believe that these conflicts should be resolved on the basis of full respect for the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of the BSEC Member States and declare that it is necessary to facilitate the restoration of the territorial integrity of the BSEC states recognized by international organizations, such as the UN, OSCE, PACE and EP, as illegally annexed." In this regard, it can be stated that it is more difficult for Armenia to speculate on the principle of self-determination to disguise their policy of aggression and territorial claims against Azerbaijan.
In general, resumption of the Armenian-Azerbaijani dialogue seems to be a real chance for positive expectations in 2018. It has been announced that the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia will continue the talks in mid-January in one of the European cities. Currently, it is difficult to predict whether this leads to a breakthrough in a peaceful settlement. On the one hand, it seems that Yerevan will try to misguide the negotiation process focusing on the issue of strengthening the ceasefire regime and to some extent on actions that consolidate the existing status quo instead of discussing substantive issues. On the other hand, Baku has made it clear that in the absence of real progress in the settlement process, it will not be possible to maintain the situation under the condition of "neither peace nor war" forever. If the mediating powers do not want military complications in the region, they will make efforts to curb the appetites of Armenia, since the time for her exhortation has long since come.
If the talks of the foreign ministers in January 2018 are successful, we can expect the next presidential meetings. Perhaps, in order to create a positive information background, it will be necessary to resume the dialogue between parliamentarians and representatives of the intelligentsia. After all, both the countries and peoples of the region and neighboring countries will benefit from the strengthening of stability and security, as well as the resumption of cooperation in the South Caucasus.