NK: A Decade Of Frustration In Search Of A Negotiated Peace

Nagorno-karabakh; A Decade Of Frustration In Search Of A Negotiated Peace

Eurasianet Organization
May 12 2004

On May 12, 1994, a ceasefire brought a halt to fighting over
Nagorno-Karabakh, a conflict that embroiled Armenia and Azerbaijan
and Karabakh Armenians. In the decade since then, the two countries,
along with representatives of the unrecognized Karabakh Republic,
have been unable to agree on a political settlement. Despite an
increased international interest in promoting lasting peace, the
near-term prospects for a Karabakh deal appear bleak. In early 2004,
international mediators, operating under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk
Group, took action to reinvigorate the peace process, facilitating
several top-level meetings of Armenian and Azerbaijani officials. In
late April, for instance Armenian President Robert Kocharian met with
his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Warsaw. And on May 12-13,
the foreign ministers of the two countries were scheduled to meet on
the sidelines of a Council of Europe gathering. [For background see
the Eurasia Insight archive].

Amid the flurry of recent diplomatic activity, both Armenian and
Azerbaijani officials have used terms such as “productive” to
characterize the discussions. The Russian news agency Itar-Tass on
April 30 quoted Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov as
saying the presidential meeting in Warsaw featured “a useful exchange
of opinion.” No one, however, sounds optimistic that the existing
deadlock will be broken any time soon.

Indeed, Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities in recent days have
stressed that while they remain open to talks, their respective
negotiating positions are unchanged: Yerevan will not accept any
settlement that leaves Karabakh a constituent part of Azerbaijan;
Baku will not consent to a deal in which Karabakh operates beyond
the control of Azerbaijani authorities. [For additional information
see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Baku also is pushing for Armenian
forces to withdraw from occupied Azerbaijani lands before addressing
a Karabakh settlement.

Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said on May 11 that
Yerevan is seeking a “comprehensive” Karabakh solution that attaches
no pre-conditions to peace talks. “We want this issue to be dealt
with comprehensively, instead of having to vacate the [occupied
Azerbaijani] lands and then discussing Nagorno-Karabakh’s status,”
the Russian Itar-Tass news agency quoted Markarian as saying while
on a visit to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has grown increasingly frustrated with
international mediation efforts. Aliyev said that the Minsk Group
co-chairs “have to stop just observing” peace talks and do more to
promote a settlement, the publication Baku Today reported on May
8. In recent months, Aliyev has repeatedly suggested that if the
negotiating stalemate was not broken soon, then Azerbaijan would
consider resorting again to force to resolve the Karabakh issue. Few
political observers believe Aliyev would follow through on his threat,
however, given that such action would likely prompt international
sanctions. Military analysts also believe that Armenia’s armed forces
retain the ability to repulse a potential Azerbaijani offensive.

The Karabakh conundrum has its roots in the late Soviet era, a time
when former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s efforts to restructure
the Communist system unleashed pent-up nationalist feelings among
ethnic minorities. Under the Communists, Karabakh existed as an
administrative entity within Azerbaijan that was inhabited mainly
by ethnic Armenians. In February 1988, the regional legislature
debated the issue of Karabakh’s transfer from Azerbaijani to Armenian
jurisdiction. The transfer question sparked a chain reaction in which
popular demonstrations in both Karabakh and Armenia were followed
by anti-Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan. In a flash, two peoples –
Armenians and Azerbaijanis – who had co-existed in peace for decades,
if not centuries, developed into mortal enemies.

In 1992, military operations engulfed Karabakh. At first, Azerbaijani
forces held the upper hand. But in 1993 Karabakh Armenian forces,
with considerable support from Yerevan, broke an Azerbaijani siege,
and went on to occupy about 15 percent of Azerbaijani territory before
the cease-fire brought military operations to a halt.

In trying to negotiate a permanent political solution, both Armenian
and Azerbaijani leaders have found that they have less room for
maneuver than expected. Attempts to forge Karabakh compromises have
more often than not proved politically dangerous. The first such
instance came in late 1997, when then-Armenian president Levon
Ter-Petrosian indicated that he might accept a political formula
that would allow Karabakh to remain a part of Azerbaijan with
strong security guarantees for the region’s Armenian population.
Ter-Petrosian immediately faced stiff opposition from hardliners
within his administration, and, ultimately, was forced to resign. His
successor, Robert Kocharian, was the political leader of Karabakh
who led regional forces in defeating the Azerbaijani army in the
early 1990s. Since assuming the Armenian presidency, Kocharian has
been unswerving in his efforts to secure a settlement that leaves
Karabakh outside of Azerbaijan.

So far, the closest the two countries have come to agreeing to a
deal appears to have occurred in April 2001 during a round peace
talks at the Florida resort island of Key West. Although nothing
was ever formally announced, Azerbaijan’s leader at the time, Heidar
Aliyev, the now deceased father of Azerbaijan’s incumbent president,
reportedly agreed in Key West to a deal that would have severed Baku’s
administrative ties to Karabakh. [For background see the Eurasia
Insight archive]. When the elder Aliyev returned to Baku, however, he
faced broad opposition to the proposed settlement terms. Accordingly,
Baku backed away from the supposed Key West settlement parameters.

The question of whether or not Heidar Aliyev tentatively agreed to a
deal in Key West remains politically sensitive for Baku. Azerbaijani
officials claim the former president never made any actual commitments
at Key West, while Armenian leaders insist that he did. Whatever the
case, little progress on Karabakh peace talks has occurred since the
Key West meeting, as the sides have been unable to set aside mutual
suspicion to restart a substantive dialogue.

Editor’s Note: Haroutiun Khachatrian is a Yerevan-based writer
specializing in economic and political affairs.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS