17 January 2022

Monday, 04:58



Interview with Director of the Russian Institute for Political Studies Sergey MARKOV



Thousands of completely destroyed houses, ruins sticking out of the grass, reminiscent of a peaceful life that once flourished here...

“They look like the grave monuments of the families who lived in Aghdam for many centuries, who loved, made friends and worked here but were forced to leave their homes more than 25 years ago under the threat of ethnic cleansing and mass reprisals...” This is how Sergei MARKOV, Director of the Russian Institute for Political Studies describes what he saw in the Aghdam district of Azerbaijan liberated from the Armenian occupation.

As part of a delegation of Russian members of parliament and experts, he visited Aghdam in early May this year. Mr. Markov shared his impressions and his vision of the post-war situation in the region with Region Plus.


"What we saw in Aghdam had a strong emotional impact on all of us. Although the picture was expected, it was very sad to see this. In the silence of the destroyed city of Aghdam, there was a cry of thousands of people who were forced to leave their hometown along these overgrown with greenery. It was also shocking to see the conscious, inhuman attitude towards the graves in the cemetery, where all the tombstones were dumped and carried away, and the graves were barbarously excavated, with the remains of people unknown to date.

“When I was sharing this information in Moscow, many could not even believe that such a senseless and monstrous act was committed in Aghdam by the Armenian authorities.

“Those who captured Aghdam more than 25 years ago treated mosques shamefully and disgracefully by turning them into stables for cows and pigs. These people cannot be considered Christians, since they are real criminals rejected by any humanistic religion.

“Why they did this is open to question. But, apparently, the reason is ultranationalism, when one glorifies his nation, while considering other nations unworthy of human treatment. This ultranationalist sentiments were once popular in Germany and Italy causing them to commit monstrous crimes during the Second World War. Today's Aghdam is no doubt a monument to barbarism, vandalism and ultranationalism.”

"How would you describe what you saw in Aghdam in terms of international law?"

"Undoubtedly, this was an occupation of the sovereign territory of Azerbaijan, violation of the conventional norms of warfare coupled with mass destruction and plundering of territories. I cannot even find appropriate words to accurately describe this – as a war crime or a crime against humanity. It is up to lawyers to provide a relevant assessment of the situation. A special international group of lawyers should be created, including the representatives from Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, other leading powers of the world, as well as the UN and OSCE."

"How do you assess the progress of the post-war trilateral agreements between the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia?"

"I believe that the trilateral agreements will be implemented, albeit not as fast as we would expect, since it will be necessary to overcome certain obstacles. These agreements can be divided into three groups. The first is immediate humanitarian issues, the second is political and legal issues, and the third is strategic issues.

“Difficult negotiations are underway on the first block of humanitarian issues. Both sides are trying to maximise their position. This can cause very long delays. Therefore, the Russian side proposes to abandon the principle of parity in resolving humanitarian issues and solve them unilaterally, but in parallel courses, at approximately the same pace. In this case, there will be no need to conduct difficult negotiations on incomparable terms.

The second block concerns political and legal problems. The key point here is to clarify the status of the Russian peacekeepers, the zone of their coverage, since in many places the military positions of the Azerbaijani and Armenian armies are still not separated by the peacekeepers, hence leading to occasional clashes. It is also important to clarify the party responsible to enforce law and order in this territory. It is important to ensure the complete withdrawal of all Armenian troops from the entire territory of Azerbaijan, including from the Armenian populated settlements.

The third block of issues concern the issues of strategic significance, primarily the issue of unblocking communications. There are several types of communications. One of them is the communication between the Armenian populated region of Garabagh and the Republic of Armenia. These communications are fully functioning today, but the legal status of this corridor is not fully defined, since it is legally the territory of Azerbaijan, but the Azerbaijani authorities are not represented there yet. The second type of communications is communications between the Armenian populated region of Garabagh and the rest of Azerbaijan, that is, between Khankendi and Baku, Khankendi and Shusha. It is necessary to make gradual moves to ensure that the population can peacefully use transport communications, so that economic life is restored there and the population of all districts of Garabagh can gradually integrate into the general economic life of Azerbaijan. The third type is communications between Armenia and Russia through the territory of Azerbaijan. The route is currently under review, with a special commission established at the level of deputy prime ministers of the three states. The fourth communication line is the most powerful, politically and economically significant project, that is the so-called Zangezur corridor, a transport communication line between Nakhchivan and the mainland Azerbaijan. If implemented, the Zangezur corridor will also unite the powerful economies of Azerbaijan and Turkey, as well as Russia and Turkey through a railway. This is a powerful project that can boost economic growth in large areas, even in those beyond the reach of the railway line.”

"Can you comment on the results of Sergei Lavrov's visits to Yerevan and Baku in terms of the progress of trilateral statements?"

"Mr. Lavrov's visit to Yerevan and Baku is a classic example of the so-called shuttle diplomacy. This is absolutely necessary, since the implementation of the trilateral agreements, obviously, can be delayed. Primarily because the present Armenian leadership does not have a political will without relying on the will of its population, which was greatly shocked by the defeat in the Second Garabagh War.

The most important problem that Sergei Lavrov must now solve is the problem of maps of minefields, which Yerevan must hand over to Baku to ensure the accelerated demining of the liberated territories. It is still unclear why Yerevan refuses to hand over these maps to Azerbaijan. Some believe that some of the maps have been lost. But the general opinion is that Yerevan is simply bargaining and wants to get as much as possible in exchange. Obviously, the provision of minefield maps is part of the November trilateral agreements. This should be done as soon as possible. Pushing Yerevan to fulfil its obligation was one of the most important missions of Mr. Lavrov in Yerevan, and it seems that he is able to solve it.”

"Armenian authorities make many statements denying the agreements on unblocking communications, in particular, the opening of the Zangezur corridor. How can Yerevan hinder the implementation of this point of the agreement? How can this denial affect the positions of Armenia and the region as a whole?"

"The Zangezur transport corridor is one of the key issues. As far as I understand, Azerbaijan suggest that it be a real transport corridor with some principles of extraterritoriality, first of all, to protect the safety of the transported cargo and people along the transport corridor. Armenia, on the other hand, is afraid that this will lead to some extent to appropriation of its territory. By the way, in the past, the Zangezur region was also Azerbaijani.

“In addition, the Armenian leadership impedes the implementation of all agreements, because it feels too heavy a burden of defeat and the popular discontent after the defeat. Therefore, negotiations can take some time. But if the negotiations on the Zangezur corridor are unsuccessful, this will mean that the transport corridor between Armenia and Russia through Azerbaijan will not materialise either. Both of these communication lines should help not only the region, Azerbaijan, but also take Armenia out of the chronic economic crisis. Therefore, a failure to implement the Zangezur transport corridor project means a serious degradation of the opportunities for economic development in Armenia.”

"Armenia is preparing for early parliamentary and government elections. Can the outcome of these initiatives affect the future of the post-war agreements?"

"Parliamentary elections in Armenia can strongly undermine the implementation of the trilateral agreements. It is most likely that Nikol Pashinyan receives the majority of votes. And he, as a person who signed a peace treaty and is focused on creating better conditions for the economic development of Armenia, is ready to fulfil these trilateral agreements. But the percentage of votes received by Pashinyan will definitely be less than before. Therefore, there are three options.

“First: Nikol Pashinyan can still get a majority in parliament – either on his own or with small allies. This is the best option for implementing the trilateral agreements.

“Second: Pashinyan wins but has to form a coalition government including his opponents from the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) led by Robert Kocharian. As a result, Kocharian and other opponents of the trilateral agreements will be able to block the implementation of the agreements.

“Third: Nikol Pashinyan fails the elections and Robert Kocharian becomes the de facto leader of the country. This is a bad signal for trilateral agreements, since Kocharian and his supporters from the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia have now been reformatted but still remain largely a party of war. They will actively try to disrupt the implementation of the trilateral agreements.”

"How successful can be attempts to revive the OSCE Minsk Group, which has actually failed its mission?"

"There will be attempts to revive the Minsk Group, since it represents a very authoritative international organisation, OSCE, and since Russia, which is in conflict with the Western countries, would like to receive international support for its efforts to resolve the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Garabagh.

“Today we can hear passive statements by the members of the Minsk Group about support for the agreements, as well as secret and half-open efforts by France and the US to undermine the agreements. Leaderships of France and the US are under the great influence of the Armenian lobby and are largely implementing the pro-Armenian position. Therefore, they would like to replay the Noevmber 10 agreements in favour of Armenia. In addition, both the US and France do not enjoy the active role of Russia in this matter. They would like to reduce the role of Russia everywhere, including in the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

“At the same time, the crisis of the Minsk Group is quite obvious. It failed its mission, leading to the renewal of hostilities. The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs showed miracles of destructiveness. In fact, the role of France in the Minsk Group can well be described in diplomatic textbooks as yet another example of diplomatic sabotage. I think that Azerbaijan's proposal to withdraw France from the list of co-chairs is completely justified.

“In general, the idea that the Minsk Group should convene in full to elect new co-chairs is quite reasonable. If there is France among the co-chairs, then it is logical to have Turkey among them as well. If you do not bring Turkey there, as a direct ally of Azerbaijan, then it is logical to withdraw France from there as a direct ally of Armenia.

“Therefore, it is important to start building a six-sided format, which may include Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, as well as the big powers of the region – Russia, Turkey and Iran. This is very promising. Moreover, all these countries have a common interest in greater foreign policy and economic cooperation.”

"How do you see the future of the Azerbaijani regions and the Armenian population inhabiting them in the zone of temporary responsibility of Russian peacekeepers?"

"We can list several options for the future of the Armenian population in Garabagh, in the zone of responsibility of the Russian peacekeepers. But the most realistic option is the integration of the Armenian population into the economic, social, political and cultural life of Azerbaijan.

“This most likely will take a lot of time. First, Azerbaijan will fully develop the liberated territories that were previously seized by Armenia and create a zone of prosperity in these districts. At the same time, communications will be restored between the Azerbaijani and Armenian population of Garabagh, which will lead to the gradual economic integration of the region into the common life of Azerbaijan. Among other things, it requires the reconciliation of the two peoples probably via the meetings of expert communities, civil society activists, meetings of elders, some kind of conferences, round tables, discussions, etc. influenced by reconciling motives.”