Author: Namig MAYILOV
No one had any specific illusions about the outcome of the Geneva meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. Not only because the group failed to settle the conflict between these two countries after 28 years of talks, but also because the antagonism between the parties has never been so obvious. On the other hand, the failure of previous agreements demonstrates Armenia's reluctance in the peaceful settlement. All the assurances of Yerevan's commitment to peace boil down only to preventing Azerbaijan's liberation of its territories, that is, to freeze the conflict again instead of settling it once and forever.
Yet the meeting of ministers took place in Geneva. In addition to the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, the meeting was attended by the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office Andrzej Kasprzyk, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Peter Maurer.
After six hours of negotiations, the parties agreed to exchange the lists of POWs and the bodies of the killed military personnel. This is indicated in the statement of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs. “Foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Jeyhun Bayramov, reached an agreement that the sides will not deliberately strike at civilians or non-military targets in accordance with international humanitarian law. The parties will be actively involved in the exchange of the bodies of the dead, as well as providing the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Office of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office with the necessary security guarantees for assistance. Within one week, the parties will hand over to the ICRC a list of prisoners of war currently held in custody to ensure access and possible exchange," Interfax-Azerbaijan quoted the text of the statement of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.
Mediators noted that the parties would submit written comments and questions regarding possible mechanisms for verifying the ceasefire in accordance with a joint statement issued in Moscow on October 10.
“The parties held an open and substantive exchange of views in order to clarify their negotiating positions on key elements of a comprehensive solution in accordance with paragraph 3 of the joint statement, dated October 10 (substantive negotiations based on the basic principles of the settlement with the aim of achieving a peaceful settlement as soon as possible, Interfax-Azerbaijan). Co-chairs will continue to work intensively with the parties to find a peaceful solution to the conflict,” mediators said in a statement.
Declarations and reality
Meanwhile, in practice immediately after each agreement, Armenia has resorted to various provocations to accuse Azerbaijan of destabilization of the situation. In particular, Yerevan is shelling peaceful Azerbaijani cities located far away from the front line. The geography of the attacks is extensive: Ganja, Mingachevir, Barda, Aghjabedi, Kurdamir, Gabala, Khizi, Siyazan. The target is civilians, civilian infrastructure and even international oil and gas pipelines in Azerbaijan.
Photo and video footage from Ganja and Barda after the missile attacks, which claimed the lives of dozens of civilians and injured more than a hundred people were disseminated worldwide. Among the victims are children and even volunteers of the International Red Crescent.
In total, 91 people became victims of Armenian rocket attacks in Azerbaijan during the past month after the start of the Second Karabakh War with 400 people injured. General Prosecutor of Azerbaijan Kamran Aliyev said that among the dead civilians there is one infant, 10 children and 27 women. Another 14 babies, 36 children and 101 women were wounded.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International confirmed the fact that Armenia used internationally banned cluster bombs in a rocket attack on the Azerbaijani city of Barda on October 28. “There is a reason why this cruel weapon is prohibited by an international treaty. Its use to attack the city center shows a blatant ignorance of the lives of citizens and international law,” HRW expert B. Ville said urging all countries of the world to condemn the use of cluster munitions in the Nagorno-Karabakh war.
The UN Secretariat, the Chairman of the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons Pierre-Alain Fridez, officials from various countries condemned the Armenian attack on civilians. However, Baku is not satisfied with condemnations alone.
According to the international law, Armenia's actions are classified as a war crime. Therefore, Azerbaijan plans to file a claim with the European Court, said the Aide to the President of Azerbaijan, Hikmet Hajiyev. He noted that the Armenian side commits war crimes using the Smerch, Skad, and Tochka-U missiles. Moreover, most of the missile attacks on the territory of Azerbaijan are carried out from the territory of Armenia. “Azerbaijan reserves the right to retaliate against military targets. Azerbaijan is not targeting the civilian population and will not do so in the future. That’s the difference between Azerbaijan and Armenia. We are fighting on the battlefield, not against the civilians” Hajiyev said.
Baku has repeatedly noted that it is conducting a counter-offensive operation in its internationally recognized territories and fulfills the UN Security Council resolutions of 1993.
During the last month, the Azerbaijani army deoccupied four cities, three settlements and about 190 villages. Among the liberated settlements are strategic heights in the Aghdere district and Murovdagh.
Azerbaijan also restored full control over the state border with the Islamic Republic of Iran with the liberation of the village of Aghbend in the Zangilan district.
The alignment of forces
Azerbaijan's achievements on the battlefield along with the strong positions based on international law and historical justice also actively contribute to the process of the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through diplomatic means. Russia’s position in this regard is remarkable. Armenia has been trying to involve Russia in the conflict by all means and even threatening it with the growing regional influence of Turkey, as well as the penetration of some pro-Turkish Syrian militants into the North Caucasus, who have allegedly sided with Azerbaijan in the Karabakh battles.
Immediately after the Geneva talks, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan found a new argument to ensure Russian military intervention to Karabakh. “Given the proximity of hostilities to the Armenian border, as well as the existing facts of encroachment on the territory of the Republic of Armenia, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia appealed to the President of the Russian Federation for immediate consultations in order to determine the type and volume of assistance that the Russian Federation could provide to the Republic of Armenia to ensure its security based on the allied relations between Armenia and Russia and Article 2 of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance dated August 29, 1997," the statement of the Armenian Foreign Ministry says.
Apparently, Moscow’s response, which followed soon, was not the one Pashinyan and his team was expecting in their attempt to convince the Kremlin. “We confirm the commitment of the Russian Federation to the allied obligations towards the Republic of Armenia, including those stemming from the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Armenia dated August 29, 1997. A number of articles of this Treaty presuppose concrete actions in the event of a threat of armed attack or an act of aggression against each other's territory. Pursuant to the above treaty, Russia will provide Yerevan with all the necessary assistance should the military clashes take place directly on the territory of Armenia,” Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Once again, since the start of the counteroffensive operation of Azerbaijan in Karabakh, Moscow made it clear to Yerevan that Armenia will have to rely on itself while Azerbaijan is conducting an operation on its internationally recognized territory. Experts note that the allied obligations of Russia assume that even a theoretical hit of stray missiles on the territory of Armenia cannot be regarded as an attack on its territory.
With regard to Russia's position on the settlement of the conflict, Vladimir Putin stated it very clearly. “From the very beginning, our position has been absolutely clear. We support the possibility of transferring five plus two districts to Azerbaijan followed by the establishment of a certain regime in Nagorno-Karabakh region, interaction with Armenia, etc. to make people feel safe, but at the same time to create opportunities for effective regional development possible through unblocking and development of all infrastructural opportunities, which would form the basis for the effective development of both Azerbaijan and Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabakh itself," President V. Putin said.
Unfortunately for Armenia, Mr. Putin also mentioned Turkey as a country that should be involved in the operation the OSCE Minsk Group on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict. “At the first stage, it is necessary to stop hostilities, stop the death of people, sit down at the negotiating table and reach a consensus and the balance of interests in accordance with the proposals formulated by the OSCE Minsk Group, co-chairs (Russia, the US, France), other member states of the Minsk Group–there are many countries, including Turkey and a number of European states,” Mr. Putin said.
Earlier the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev called the 2+2 formula for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable for Baku. This formula assumes the mediation of Russia and Turkey in the negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
“It would be acceptable for us because Turkey and Russia are our neighbors, countries with which we have close relations, countries that have good potential for cooperation among themselves,” Aliyev said in his interview with Interfax and Interfax-Azerbaijan.
According to Mr. Aliyev, it is enough to look at the history of recent years: Turkey and Russia have reached a high level of mutual understanding on many issues, both on the bilateral agenda and in terms of regional security.
As to mediation efforts, along with the countries co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group and Turkey, Iran also demonstrates noticeable activity in this direction. Special envoy of the President of the Islamic Republic, Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Arakchi visited Baku, Yerevan and Moscow with a special mission. He stated that the OSCE Minsk Group has shown its ineffectiveness, and Iran offers its own plan for the settlement of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“The crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh can be solved at the regional level with the participation of both Russia and Turkey,” Mr. Arakchi said in Moscow.
“The most important feature of Iran’s plan is a regional approach, which we can use to fight against the ongoing crisis, including with the participation of countries with influence in the region,” Mr. Arakchi said.
It is difficult to judge how realistic the implementation of the Iranian scenario is. It is clear though that the United States, for example, will hardly agree to see Iran in this initiative. Apparently, all regional countries have serious concerns about the unresolved Karabakh conflict, and the only way to sovle it is the de-occupation of Azerbaijani territories in accordance with international law. This is what the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan are currently doing.
Since the beginning of the counter-offensive, the Azerbaijani army de-occupied four cities, three settlements and about 190 villages. Among the liberated settlements are strategic heights in the Aghdere district and Murovdagh.