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Nagorno-Karabakh. The first 20 years

Most likely, the absence of NKR in the settlement process is the barrier preventing the parties from an agreement.

The Republic of Artsakh celebrates its 20th anniversary of declaration of independence. But the conflict is as far from being settled as it was in 1994, at the end of the national liberation war. Unfortunately, the Nagorno-Karabakh, or rather the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict has long been an instrument in the hands of the world powers to solve their own problems. And any expert or politician knowledgeable about the problem knows it perfectly well that no regulation is possible in the coming 2-3 years, or even more.

PanARMENIAN.Net - However, various mediators, with a persistence worthy of a better cause, speak of some Basic principles and preliminary agreements that are nothing but clichés, in which, under closer examination, no real desire of resolving the conflict can be detected. Strictly speaking, this conflict started back in 1918, when the Bolsheviks came to power and the Caucasian Tatars that later became “Azerbaijanis” claimed a right over the Armenian regions of Zangezur, Nakhichevan and Nagorno-Karabakh. Now it’s not even important what played a crucial role in the transfer of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan – the Baku oil, the agreement with the Kemalist Turkey, or the “world revolution” in the East. What matters is that the Bolsheviks came to dispose of the territories not belonging to them, ad libitum and against the people’s will. Bloodshed is always the result of such decisions. After the military phase of the conflict, it seemed that the signing of a peace treaty and settlement of all disputes was a matter of only a few months or, maybe, a year. However, Official Baku and Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev took the helm “in good time” and decided that oil would outweigh international law. Construction and commissioning of the pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) was only to confirm that, despite the fact that at times it stands idle and passes through a very troubled route. But such trifles are of no interest either to Azerbaijan, or to Turkey. Unenviable is the role of Georgia in this project: she was necessary only as a territory through which the pipeline was to be constructed.

The active phase of negotiations on the conflict settlement began in the mid-90s, when the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries decided that the conflict could be resolved, although it was already clear that the conflict ended with the victory of the NKR Defense Army, and any negotiations not directed towards a peace agreement were destined to naught.

Every lingering conflict has significances which are remembered every time negotiations reach a deadlock. This is sort of a reminder of lost opportunities and unfulfilled hopes of one of the parties. In this regard, we remember the decade of negotiations between Robert Kocharian and Heydar Aliyev in Key West, replaced by Serzh Sargsyan and Aliyev Jr. But the end of negotiations is still obscure. And in 2001, as now, they spoke of the unreadiness of the Armenian and Azerbaijani societies for compromise, the inability of the parties to show political will in resolving the conflict. Likewise, no one tried to listen to the main interested party – the people and government of Nagorno-Karabakh. Most likely, the absence of NKR in the settlement process is the main barrier preventing the parties from an agreement. And now no one thinks about a real peace treaty; the conflicting parties are focused on losing as little as possible, even at the cost of gaining nothing.

Speaking about the unreadiness of the parties and the efforts on confidence-building measures, it should be noted that the steadily growing anti-Armenian propaganda of Baku may one day lead to a surge of similar advocacy in Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. In the present situation the OSCE Minsk Group, as the key mediator and peacemaker, unfortunately confines itself to calls for restraint. There is no denying that the OSCE Minsk Group, for the period of its mandate, has managed to do only one, but very important thing: it has prevented war. Nonetheless, Baku requires the impossible from the OSCE and from the international community: to return the territories that make up the NKR security zone and take Azerbaijani refugees back to their residences. And for some reason, everyone has forgotten, or has never even remembered, about half a million Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan.

Currently, however, if the co-chair countries are really interested in resolving the conflict, a little more than mere prevention of war is necessary. International experience shows that no experience of resolving a conflict fits into another; this is the truth to remember and follow as much as possible. Suspended conflicts are dangerous in that it is sometimes difficult to determine the time of their transition into a hot phase. Unfortunately, the international community cannot, or probably, is reluctant to tell Ilham Aliyev that he is playing with fire. Or perhaps it tells, otherwise he would long have flown to arms. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan is hastily arming, purchasing everything possible: both defensive and offensive weapons. The question only is when and at whom this weapons will fire...

As for the settlement, the non-regional players have almost agreed that no one, except for Russia, can solve the problem. The basis of this rather controversial belief is still unclear. But it’s worth reminding participants of the negotiating process that the conflict was resolved by the NKR Defense Army still in 1994. Another question is whether Russia will really desire to resolve the conflict and, if so, on what terms. “Balkanization” of the Southern Caucasus is beneficial to no one, especially the co-chair countries. Despite the assertions of Baku that the “international community is tired of the Karabakh conflict and will resolve it very soon”, the fact is that the international community does not have either time or desire to manage this problem. Or rather, it does, but this is a matter of little importance to it. The U.S. has problems in Afghanistan and Iraq, and shares unknown affairs with Iran and Libya.

But most importantly, no conflict, especially that of the Nagorno-Karabakh, can be resolved on the basis of two mutually-exclusive principles: the principle of territorial integrity and the right of nations to self-determination. It is true that Nagorno Karabakh used to be part of the Azerbaijan SSR. And when the post-Soviet states joined the UN, the Organization was guided by the borders on the date of entry. However, NKR was not part of Azerbaijan by then; it was already an oblast that had left the metropolis in compliance with all the standards prescribed by the USSR Constitution. The only fundamental principle is the right of nations to self-determination. Everything else is ungrounded. Let us once again repeat: there is no conflict; there are only political and energy interests both in Russia and in the West. But the same Russia and the West cannot ignore the fact that Nagorno-Karabakh is an independent state and has been such for 20 years now.

Karine Ter-Sahakyan
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