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May 21, 2004




The Peace Process: Who wants what? And when?


International efforts to mediate a settlement of the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh were becalmed by domestic considerations in 2003, with presidential elections in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The New Year promises fresh attempts to resolve the conflict by the French, Russian, and American co-chairmen of the Minsk Group of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Now the “elder statesman” of the Caucasus, Robert Kocharian met Ilham Aliev in Geneva, soon after the junior Aliev succeeded his father in Azerbaijan..

President Robert Kocharian met briefly with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliev, in Geneva, Switzerland, in December, an occasion that amounted to little more than a get-to-know-you visit for the Armenian leader and the son of his former adversary Heidar Aliev. Their OSCE intermediaries believe the time is favorable for a settlement, but the question at issue is whether there are any new proposals on the table for achieving a breakthrough.

Rudolf Perina, the American co-chairman, has said he is encouraged by the fact that both presidents have a fresh mandate from their peoples to lead. The Russians are also optimistic. Nikolay Gribkov, the former Russian representative in the Minsk Group, went so far as to state: “We believe that recently prepared offers will certainly be accepted by the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan.”

There are not many points of agreement in the two sides’ positions. Armenia admits concessions can be made, but only by taking account of the reality on the ground of Armenian military successes during the war. Yerevan has not ruled out any possibility for Karabakh’s final status, provided it complies with three principles: there must be no vertical subordination of Karabakh to Azerbaijan; Karabakh cannot be an enclave, that is it must have a land frontier with Armenia; there must be international security guarantees.

Official Baku dismisses any suggestion that Karabakh is not a part of Azerbaijan and holds fast to the principle of territorial integrity. Formally, this norm of international law cannot be an obstacle to recognition of Karabakh’s independence, since the former autonomous region seceded from Azerbaijan in full accordance with Soviet legislation before the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, the United Nations recognized the Republic of Azerbaijan as consistent with the territory of former Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic within the Soviet Union. The war of legal arguments led i nternational intermediaries into deadlock. Most analysts believe that resolution of the conflict must be political rather than legal.

At the beginning of 2001 a formula was found, which seemed to take account of both Armenian and Azerbaijani concerns. Following negotiations in Paris under the auspices of French President Jacques Chirac, presidents Kocharian and Heidar Aliev achieved agreement on principles of a settlement . In April that year, in Key West, Florida, in the presence of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen, the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan confirmed their adherence to the agreements reached in Paris. Intermediaries started to prepare a historic memorandum, which the parties to the conflict were expected to sign in Moscow. However, the so-called “ Paris principles” never became the basis of a settlement because when Haydar Aliyev returned home he suddenly repudiated all the agreements. Thus, the best chance to end a confrontation that has killed tens of thousands of people was lost.

Armenia ’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vardan Oskanian to expect a “variant” of the Key West talks..

Unlike previous initiatives derailed by one or the other side, however, the “ Paris principles” proved to be more enduring. Peace negotiators have not given up trying to make the parties return to discussion of the model approved in 2001, arguing that negotiations should resume at the point where they stopped.

“We proceed from three agreements which were achieved by the presidents of the two countries. I don’t know anything about other agreements,” said the Russian Minsk Group co-chairman Yuri Merzliakov, commenting on the prospect of returning to the “ Paris principles”. Vardan Oskanian, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, spoke in the same vein, saying that a “changed variant of the model on which negotiations were held during the meeting in Key West” should be expected from the intermediaries.

Thus, it may be assumed that a “glossed” version of the same scheme approved by Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh but dismissed by Azerbaijan remains on the agenda. It assumes horizontal relations between Stepanakert and Baku. Oskanian is sure that if Ilham Aliev agrees to continue the process begun by his father then “there will be a real possibility to make serious changes in the short term.”Oskanian believes that “the results of the meetings in Paris and Key West can serve as a serious basis for continuation of negotiations”.

The question of communications between Azerbaijan and its autonomous region of Nakhichevan, separated by the Meghri region of Armenia, will certainly have a special place in any upcoming negotiations. An exchange of territories has been raised from time to time, a solution rejected by Yerevan on geopolitical grounds because it cuts Armenia off from the Iranian border. However, the leadership of Armenia is ready to discuss different forms of international guarantees for the security of cargo and passengers if the railroad connecting Nakhichevan with Azerbaijan through Meghri resumes operations. There are suggestions that stress will be laid on the question of communications in any new package of proposals offered by intermediaries.

Another issue for the peacemakers is the involvement of Karabakh as a negotiating party. Official Baku has been afraid that the international community would view the conflict in a different light if it consented to sit around a table with the representatives of Stepanakert: instead of an inter-state conflict, it would become a struggle between former colony and ex-master. However, just before the elections, Azerbaijan’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vilayat Guliev, made a statement that was taken as a sign that Baku is ready to review its approach. Guliev gave to understand that he did not exclude the possibility of dialogue with the Stepanakert leadership on condition that Armenia “moves aside and doesn’t interfere with negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh”. One can surmise that his surprising statement was the work of the intermediaries, who have been insisting on the recognition of Karabakh as a party to the conflict for some time. They can be expected to return to this question.

The former special representative of Russia on the Karabakh issue, Vladimir Kazimirov, who was the first co-chairman of OSCE Minsk Group, used to speak out about this particularly. He said: “The objections of Aliev against recognition of Stepanakert as a conflict party and its participation in negotiations didn’t have intelligible grounds. How many times when things were bad on the frontline was Baku seeking direct contact with representatives of Stepanakert and declaring a cease-fire while mentioning Stepanakert as a party in those documents.”

Kazimirov believes the Minsk co-chairmen’s tolerance of Baku’s unwillingness to restore negotiations to a three-sided format “dooms meetings between representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan to an imitation of negotiation activity”. He said: “Nagorno-Karabakh cannot become only the subject of negotiations even if someone would like it very much to be that way.”

OSCE co-chairman Rudolf Perina is among international intermediaries who believe the time is favorable for settlement,

In response to such pressures, Azerbaijan has sought to place Nizami Bahmanov, a former resident of Shushi, at the negotiating table. Bahmanov represents Azerbaijani refugees who left Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR) during military operations and is described in Baku as the “head of the Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh”. The OSCE’s
co-chairmen have met him and listened to his arguments. The leaderships of Armenia and NKR have not pressed the intermediaries to meet with representatives of Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan, though they could equally well press for the inclusion of a “leader of the Armenian community of Azerbaijan” in the peace negotiations. The notion of Karabakh being represented by separate communities, equal in status, lacks credibility in any case. NKR is the legal successor to the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region, which had its own elective bodies. The fact that Azerbaijanis from Karabakh didn’t participate in elections for the president of NKR does not mean that the president cannot be regarded as legitimate.

Official Yerevan is anxious that any change in the format of negotiations should not limit its role. The Guliev formula aroused no interest in Yerevan for this reason. The President’s press secretary, Ashot Kocharian, stated that although Karabakh’s participation in the negotiations was extremely desirable, Armenia’s presence added greater weight and effectiveness to the process. The Parliament of Armenia also doubts that direct negotiations between the leaderships of NKR and Azerbaijan would be effective. The political forces in the ruling coalition, particularly the Dashnaksutiun party, insist on Yerevan’s role as guarantor of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic’s security and independence.

The recent experience of another former Soviet republic, Moldovia, demonstrated that it is not enough to put leaders of conflicting parties around a table. The collapse of negotiations in November on the peaceful resolution of the Pridnestrovian conflict will have its impact on the Karabakh process, particularly since some of the principles set out for settling the problem had much in common with those being offered by the Minsk Group. Baku continues to express anxiety that the co-chairmen of the Minsk Group will present a “Pridnestrovian model” that would maintain Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity but redistribute powers to such an extent that Karabakh enjoyed rights beyond those even of a federal territory. The president’s head of external relations stated recently that Azerbaijan opposed any solution that would undermine its position as a unitary country.

In any case, such a “packaged” settlement of the conflict is rejected by Baku, which insists on a step-by-step process that would allow it to seek unilateral concessions from Karabakh without offering any reciprocal moves. Armenia’s authorities prefer to know more about the “Pridnestrovian model” before commenting on it.

However, it should be noted that diplomats from the major powers do not equate Karabakh with other conflicts in the post-Soviet territory. Perina, the Minsk Group’s American co-chairman, stated a year ago: “The international community is not ready to recognize the independence of Pridnestrovie, Southern Ossetia, Abkhazia. The issue of Nagorno-Karabakh differs a little.”

Perina, who is also the State Department’s special representative on conflicts in Eurasia, did not exclude the possibility that Washington could eventually recognize Nagorno Karabakh as an independent country, or as a part of Armenia. So why should Yerevan and Stepanakert?


According to Agnes
 

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