Azerbaijan: War-Mongering Or Warning?

Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
Aug 2 2004

Azerbaijan: War-Mongering Or Warning?
By Liz Fuller

Over the past two weeks, one former and two current top Azerbaijani
officials have again affirmed their collective rejection of
international mediators’ insistence that the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict can be resolved only on the basis of mutual concessions.
Whether those Azerbaijani statements were intended primarily for
domestic consumption, or whether and to what extent they should be
construed as warnings to the international community not to pressure
Azerbaijan too forcefully to agree to concessions that might trigger
a major public backlash, is as yet unclear. Meanwhile, two senior
U.S. diplomats have made clear that Washington continues to hope for
a swift resolution of the conflict.

The first statement came on 15 July at a reception hosted by the U.S.
ambassador to Baku, Reno Harnish, in honor of the visiting OSCE Minsk
Group co-chairmen. Addressing the gathering, the three co-chairs each
stressed that no outsider is in a position to resolve the conflict,
and that the parties must themselves reach an agreement. In that
context, they welcomed the resumption of talks between senior
Armenian and Azerbaijani officials (see “RFE/RL Caucasus Report,” 9
July 2004). Vafa Guluzade, who resigned in October 1999 after serving
for years as President Heidar Aliyev’s foreign policy adviser (see
“RFE/RL Caucasus Report,” 14 October 1999), publicly rejected that
advice as “absolutely unacceptable and impermissible,” and as
intended to force Azerbaijan to come to terms with the loss of part
of its territory.

In an interview with published one week earlier, Guluzade
had said that any country whose territory is occupied but which fails
to prepare for a war of reconquest should be regarded as “criminal.”
He also suggested that both the U.S. and the “West Europeans” have
failed completely to grasp the essence of the Karabakh conflict,
otherwise they would realize the futility of trying to get Azerbaijan
to reconcile itself to the loss of its territories. In addition,
Guluzade disclosed that during his tenure as President Aliyev’s
adviser, “we discussed all variants” for resolving the conflict, and
they were all “still-born:” Baku immediately rejected them as every
single peace proposal unveiled to date entailed the loss of
Nagorno-Karabakh, Guluzade said.Any country whose territory is
occupied but which fails to prepare for a war of reconquest should be
regarded as “criminal.”

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, by contrast, opined
in a 28 July interview with that a new war “is not the
optimum way” to resolve the conflict. But at the same time he implied
that any compromise should come from Yerevan. A sensible compromise
with the Armenian side can be reached only if Armenia publicly
renounces the idea of independence for Nagorno-Karabakh, Mammadyarov
said. In that interview, Mammadyarov said he believes that each of
the co-chairs (France, Russia, and the U.S.) seeks to promote its own
interests in the South Caucasus. Several days earlier, however, he
sought to imply that Washington does understand that many
Azerbaijanis categorically reject the prospect of the loss of
sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Mammadyarov was quoted by on 22 July as saying that during his talks the previous
week in Washington with U.S. officials, U.S. Secretary of State Colin
Powell noted that it is imperative to take public opinion into
account when drafting a settlement proposal. The online daily further
quoted Mammadyarov as saying that it is not “realistic” to speak of
“resolving the conflict” until the displaced persons who fled during
the fighting (in 1992-1993) have returned to their homes. It is not
clear, however, whether by this Mammadyarov is advocating a “phased”
approach to a settlement, or whether Baku would accept a “package”
solution in which repatriation preceded the announcement of
Nagorno-Karabakh’s future status.

Finally, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told members of his
country’s diplomatic service on 27 July that “if the path of
negotiations leads us nowhere, Azerbaijan will use all other means
available, including the military option,” Turan reported. Referring
to the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs’ calls for “compromise,” Aliyev
said no compromises can be made over Azerbaijan’s territorial
integrity. Aliyev has made similar statements on numerous occasions
in recent months, most recently on a tour last week of northern
districts of Azerbaijan. Both Mammadyarov and Aliyev stressed that
international law favors Azerbaijan, which is the victim of “Armenian
aggression,” and the territory of which is partially occupied.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry reacted sharply to Aliyev’s 27 July
statement, RFE/RL’s Armenian Service reported on 28 July. Spokesman
Hamlet Gasparian said Aliyev’s comments show that “Azerbaijan has no
desire to settle the Karabakh conflict by peaceful means and is
laying its hopes on a solution by force.” He warned that the latter
course of action would have “disastrous consequences” for Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Minsk Group co-chairman, Ambassador Steven Mann,
told Russia’s Regnum news agency that he understands that the leaders
of both Armenia and Azerbaijan are in “a difficult position” because
passions are running high on both sides. But at the same time, he
argued that the two presidents should eschew emotion and try to reach
a compromise. On 28 July, quoted John Ordway, the outgoing
U.S. ambassador to Yerevan, as urging that the conflict be resolved
as soon as possible. The paper quoted him as saying that “the status
quo is acceptable to the U.S. only as the sole alternative to the
beginning of hostilities,” and as expressing the hope that a
settlement could be reached next year. That proposed timeframe
prompted Azerbaijani commentator Rauf Mirkadyrov to conclude that
Washington is trying to strong-arm Baku into a settlement lest the
commissioning of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, now
tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2005, be jeopardized by a
resumption of hostilities.