Separatist leader says mutual mistrust hinders Karabakh settlement
12 Mar 05
The leader of Azerbaijan’s breakaway Nagornyy Karabakh region has said
that mutual mistrust is the main obstacle to a peaceful settlement to
the long-standing conflict. “We do not trust each other and expect
tricks. It is impossible to reach an agreement with an enemy, only
with an opponent,” Arkadiy Gukasyan said in an interview with
Baku-based Ekho newspaper. He said that Karabakh did not want a new
war, but should Azerbaijan choose a military solution to the problem,
the separatists are ready to parry the blow. Gukasyan once again
denied pursuing a state policy of settlement of an ethnic Armenian
population on the occupied territories. But he said as long as
refugees from other parts of Azerbaijan settled in Nagornyy Karabakh,
his government had to create normal living conditions for them and
build infrastructure. Gukasyan also denied plans to run for the third
term in office and said he might leave politics altogether soon. The
following is an excerpt from the interview by Eynulla Fatullayev as
published by Azerbaijani newspaper Ekho on 12 March and headlined
“Arkadiy Gukasyan: One can make a concession to a potential friend,
colleague, opponent, but not an enemy” and subheaded “In Karabakh,
they do not rule out the possibility that Lacin issue might become a
subject of negotiations”; subheadings have been inserted editorially:
There are always at least two parties to any conflict. The Azerbaijani
public has thus far been familiar with only one position – its
own. Why can we not listen to the other side? This is why we suggest
that our readers familiarize themselves with the position of Arkadiy
Gukasyan, leader of the Nagornyy Karabakh separatists.
OSCE monitoring mission
[Fatullayev] During my current visit to Nagornyy Karabakh, I have
gathered numerous facts of settlement on occupied territories. A
technical mission of the OSCE Minsk Group has recently carried out
monitoring of the facts of settlement. What is your assessment of the
results of the activity of the Minsk Group experts?
[Gukasyan] We have applied many times to different international
instances with the request to send a monitoring mission to Nagornyy
Karabakh. This issue has been actively discussed in Azerbaijan. On an
initiative by the Azerbaijani side, they have conducted careful
monitoring in Nagornyy Karabakh itself and around it. I hope that the
report and analysis of the situation will be objective. If the report
by the monitoring group reflects what they actually saw, I think that
they will be able to supply answers to many questions, including
those, in particular, that worry Azerbaijan.
I can say unequivocally that we do not implement a state policy of
settlement in the territories that we control. Azerbaijan claims that
the settlement policy is implemented by Yerevan. In this case,
Armenia’s involvement is out of the question. There are great many
refugees from different districts and towns of Azerbaijan, who
unfortunately have found themselves to be absolutely forgotten. It so
happened that people talk about Azerbaijani refugees all the time. It
is no secret that Azerbaijani propaganda has always been more active
in this regard. But it looks as if everyone has forgotten that
Armenian refugees, who lived in Baku, Sumqayit, Kirovabad [Ganca],
also exist. It seems to me that the monitoring group should include
this factor in its report too.
The refugee issue is one of the most painful issues of the settlement
of the Karabakh conflict. International standards have to be taken
into account here. No-one has the right to deny a person the right to
return to where he or she lived. But I do not think that this is the
issue from which we should start the process of conflict
settlement. Neither would it be reasonable to view the issue of
refugees, Armenian or Azerbaijani, out of context, as they most
probably have to be discussed in the same context.
The vast majority of the people who settled in the areas under our
control are refugees who have no other possibility to make their
living. Of course, we are creating infrastructure in these areas. If
children live there, they have to go to school. It is incumbent on us
to establish law and order there, so we create the local
administration, police, prosecutor’s office there. We do not stimulate
the settlement process, but as long as people already live there, we
must ensure normal living conditions there.
I made a request to both the monitoring group and the co-chairmen [of
the OSCE Minsk Group] to carry out monitoring of the territory to
determine the areas where nuclear waste is buried and drugs
trafficking takes place, which Azerbaijani politicians often talk
about. We are ready to receive any monitoring group in any area.
I think that the impartial monitoring of the situation, which the OSCE
will carry out, will defuse tension in Azerbaijan itself, where many
people perhaps sincerely believe that Karabakh is the area where the
policy of settlement in the [occupied] areas is implemented, nuclear
waste is buried, and drugs business flourishes.
Lacin corridor – matter of life and death
[Fatullayev] The initial results of the monitoring are already
available. The French co-chairman of the Minsk Group [Bernard Fassier]
has confirmed the facts of settlement in Lacin District, in
particular, by citizens of Armenia and other foreign countries.
[Gukasyan] I do not think that he meant Lacin District. Apparently,
talk is about the town of Lacin. We do not hide the fact that we are
building infrastructure there. A small number of Armenian citizens
reside there. It is in our interest that Lacin is inhabited, and our
reasoning on this issue is based on the premise that no matter how the
Karabakh problem is resolved, Lacin and the Lacin corridor, which
connects us with Armenia, must remain under Nagornyy Karabakh’s
control. The issue cannot be raised in any other way as far as we are
concerned. I understand that I might hurt the feelings of the
Azerbaijanis by saying this. But I also want to remind you that
Shaumyan District (Asagi Agcakand – editor’s note), Getashen (Cayli –
editor’s note), and villages of Nagornyy Karabakh are under occupation
at present. In other words, we do have subject for discussion. But I
think that handing back Lacin, or at least that section of the
district which links Nagornyy Karabakh with Armenia, is out of the
[Fatullayev] But how about Kalbacar? For instance, Dashnaks from
Karabakh deem that district as important as Lacin.
[Gukasyan] I think that this is how not only Dashnaks, but any
Armenian whom you will talk to is going to discuss this issue. They
will build their reasoning on the premise that Kalbacar is the
district which has a serious influence on the security of Nagornyy
Karabakh. If we trace back the chronology of combat operations (in
particular, the tactic of advancement of the Azerbaijani troops), the
Kalbacar bridgehead has played the decisive role in the destiny of
both Shaumyanovsk [as published; Shaumyan] (Asagi Agcakand – editor’s
note) and Mardakert (Agdara – editor’s note). I would rather not
answer this question now.
It has to be understood that the extent of our concessions depends on
the extent of concessions by Azerbaijan. If Azerbaijan has no
intention to discuss the Shaumyan or Getashen issue at all, should we
discuss the issue of Kalbacar or, say, Agdam? If we talk about
occupied territories, we should discuss our occupied territories too.
[Fatullayev] But the districts in question have never been part of the
Nagornyy Karabakh Autonomous Region.
[Gukasyan] Shaumyan was not part of it until 1991, when independence
of the “NKR” [quotation marks as published] was declared. We declared
that the republic included the territories of the Nagornyy Karabakh
Autonomous Region and Shaumyan [District]. Even if we assume that
Shaumyan was not part of the Nagornyy Karabakh Autonomous Region, that
district was the area with a predominantly ethnic Armenian population.
[Fatullayev] Has this issue been discussed within the framework of the
[Gukasyan] We have always been raising this issue within the framework
of the Minks process. I understand that these are difficult
issues. But recognition of the problem is the first step towards the
Karabakh settlement. Especially that the issue involves not only
Shaumyan District, but also parts of Mardakert and Martuni (Xocavand –
editor’s note) districts, which are currently under Azerbaijan’s
control. This is why it makes no sense to discuss in an interview what
territories we intend to hand back. In general, talking about all
these issues would be wrong and not too appropriate. These sorts of
issues should be discussed at the negotiating table. As for the extent
of our flexibility during the talks, it depends on the position of the
Everyone in Nagornyy Karabakh admits that the issue of Lacin and
Kalbacar is a particular one. But we have expressed our readiness on
more than one occasion to discuss all the issues that worry the
Azerbaijani side. We never speak the language of ultimatums. But when
it comes to Lacin, to the ground link between Karabakh and Armenia,
there can be no concessions here. I do not want to reminisce about
history, but I do want to say that our position is based on bitter
lessons from the past, when we found ourselves in the situation of a
humanitarian disaster because we were cut off from the rest of the
world. The Azerbaijani side would not let humanitarian cargo pass
through the Lacin road. This is why the Lacin problem is the matter of
life and death to us. However, I cannot rule out the possibility that
the Lacin issue too can become a subject for negotiations.
Mutual mistrust hinders settlement
[Fatullayev] In 1997 and 1999, the sides were said to be literally one
step away from signing a major political treaty. What, in your
opinion, hindered the implementation of the peace plan?
[Gukasyan] I do not think that the sides were one step away from a
settlement. Simply these were the critical periods when the positions
of the sides coincided on particular issues. At least there were
issues that were discussed, rather than spurned, by the sides. A
constructive dialogue was under way. I cannot describe the ongoing
negotiating process as constructive. Back then, we were closest to a
final settlement. But there is a very long way to go before we can
reach it. The main factor that hinders this process is mutual
mistrust. We do not trust each other and expect tricks. It is
impossible to reach an agreement with an enemy, only with an
opponent. Unfortunately, we are displeased with the current state of
our relations. The information war is under way and hatred for the
opposite side is cultivated. We do not hear and do not listen to each
other. Under these conditions, it is very difficult to talk about
A settlement is a risk. It is clear that you cannot get everything,
but only part of what you want, but at the same time you are supposed
to give up on that part. This applies to all the sides. Then a
question arises: Whom should you hand back the territories? To the
enemy which might attack you tomorrow? Where is the guarantee that
this will not happen? One can make a concession to a potential friend,
colleague, opponent, but not enemy.
The nightmares of war should have been forgotten, wounds should have
healed, and we should have learned to make concessions to each other
over these years. Unfortunately, this has not happened. It is getting
only worse. Look at the tone in your, our and Armenian mass
media. Until we learn to respect each other and create the atmosphere
of mutual trust, a settlement is out of the question altogether.
No subjugation to Azerbaijan
[Fatullayev] Are there any fundamental differences between the
approaches of the leaders of Armenia and Nagornyy Karabakh to the
settlement of the Karabakh conflict?
[Gukasyan] Even if there were some differences, it is clear that this
cannot be a subject of our interview. I cannot tell you about
them. There are different approaches, although there are no
differences on the most important matters. The main thesis that is
supported by all the forces is that Nagornyy Karabakh cannot be
subjugated to Azerbaijan. There are no differences on this issue.
Second, Nagornyy Karabakh should have a ground link with Armenia. Then
the military-political security of Nagornyy Karabakh should be
ensured. There are tactical differences on what has to be done, on
some particular issues, which it does not make sense to discuss
now. There are no differences that might lead to a conflict with
Armenia, though. In the recent past, there were such differences, but
not between Armenia and Nagornyy Karabakh, but between the Armenian
authorities and Armenian people.
[Fatullayev] You have said that you reject the possibility of
subjugation to Azerbaijan. Do you consider the model which is based on
coexistence within the same state and horizontal relations? During
some periods, this model was a subject for discussion between the
[Gukasyan] We have discussed this many times. I have already said,
though, that we refuse to hear each other. Azerbaijan says: Let us
restore the 1988 status quo, pretend that nothing happened, there was
no war, casualties and so on; give us back the territories, recognize
that Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan and that you are Azerbaijani
citizens… [ellipses as given] In other words, surrender! Azerbaijan
openly says that we should capitulate, or else it will exterminate us,
it will start a war and get back not only the occupied territories,
but Nagornyy Karabakh itself, Stepanakert [Xankandi] and other
Armenian [as published] districts. This is all we hear from
Azerbaijan. To us, there is nothing to discuss in this. What should we
discuss? Autonomous status within Azerbaijan? When, on the other hand,
we talk about Karabakh’s independence, I understand that there is
nothing to discuss in it to Azerbaijan.
This is why we have many times proposed to Azerbaijan not to mention
either of these points. Much as Azerbaijan might want to turn a blind
eye to the fact that Karabakh is a party to the conflict, it will be
ultimately forced to admit this. We are ready to discuss problems with
Azerbaijan. With or without Armenia – this does not matter at all to
us. We are ready to join the Minsk process. We propose a dialogue to
Azerbaijan in which terms that irritate either side would be avoided.
“We do not want a new war”
But as soon as we say that our independence should be recognized and
then negotiations should be held, the dialogue becomes
meaningless. Our side does the same when Azerbaijan addresses us as
the Nagornyy Karabakh Autonomous Region. We are willing to recognize
Azerbaijan’s participation in the determination of the status of
Nagornyy Karabakh. But we think that it would be impossible to do this
in the current terrible atmosphere. To begin with, we propose to
Azerbaijan to begin discussions on relations between Azerbaijan and
Nagornyy Karabakh. What we will agree on will become the status of
Nagornyy Karabakh. But unfortunately, no-one talks to us.
[Fatullayev] As a result, representatives of the Azerbaijani
leadership have started of late to lean towards a military, strong-arm
option of settlement in their statements.
[Gukasyan] Unfortunately, people who have no idea about the horrors of
war talk about war. We have first-hand experience of all the hardships
of hostilities. We do not want a new war, but if Azerbaijan chooses
this “way of settlement”, we are ready to parry the blow. This is
precisely what I told OSCE representatives. Azerbaijan does not
realize that we have moved the conflict to the enemy’s territory. Our
cannons are aimed at the civilian population of Barda, Tartar,
Goranboy, Ganca, whereas Azerbaijani shells will not reach even
Askaran. Can you imagine what price Azerbaijan will have to pay in
this war? How many victims will there be? This is not a threat, this
is a statement of the actual state of affairs, to which these people
do not even give a thought.
[Fatullayev] But you should understand that the position of the
international community on the separatist regimes in the CIS has
become firmer. Nagornyy Karabakh is no exception in this case. The
resolution by [Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
rapporteur on Nagornyy Karabakh David] Atkinson and statement by
Elizabeth Jones [US assistant secretary of state for European and
Eurasian affairs] show the Western attitude towards the Karabakh
settlement. Do you really believe that unrecognized states can come
[Gukasyan] It is difficult to draw conclusions. I would not talk about
an unambiguous toughening of their position. Jones included Karabakh
in the list of separatist states one day and excluded it from the list
on the next day. There is no universal model for resolving all
conflict situations. Many Western officials have on numerous occasions
highlighted the Karabakh problem, viewing it separately from other
conflicts. They think that democracy, civil society, diverse economy
are developing here, social problems are being resolved. And this has
been emphasized in the international press.
Of course, there are established standards in the world. The West is
afraid to destroy them. We understand that this is a difficult process
and nurture no illusions. The world is looking for a political
solution. I do not want to generalize, but there is no unconditional
rejection of the processes that unfold in Nagornyy Karabakh.
[Fatullayev] Now you are making preparations for adopting a new
constitution. Your opponents, the oppositionists, do not hide their
suspicions that this is linked with your attempt to run for the third
[Gukasyan] I am glad that there are several points of view and free
political rivalry in Nagornyy Karabakh. My actions are based on what
is more important to us at present – fears that Gukasyan might run for
the third time or the constitution. I have always supported the idea
of adopting the constitution.
[Fatullayev] Why was it not adopted earlier?
[Gukasyan] I did not want to complicate the negotiating process and be
accused of having an non-constructive position. Incidentally, although
I was a supporter of the constitution, the idea of its adoption
emanated from the opposition in recent years. The oppositionists who
told you about their fears insisted on their demands for the
constitution and pressed the authorities. They accused me of delaying
this process. It is strange and incomprehensible to me. If the
opposition thinks that we do not need the constitution, I am ready to
postpone this process for some time. As for my third term, it is up to
the people to decide. In addition, I have not announced my intention
to run for the third time yet. I doubt that I should. I think that 10
years is enough. The people want novelty because their expectations
are attached to something new. I am not going to go against the will
of the people – the presidential office is not an end in itself to me.
[Fatullayev] Is this connected with your intention to take part in the
Armenian political life? You are named among the likely successors to
Robert Kocharyan in the Armenian press.
[Gukasyan] This is yet another absurdity. I do not even think about
becoming Kocharyan’s successor. I do not think about my future
political career because it has already been too long. Perhaps people
are tired of me, and I am tired myself. I cannot rule out the
possibility that I will soon retire from politics.
[Fatullayev] One of your former rivals, Samvel Babayan, is perhaps
preparing for resuscitation of his political activity. He has founded
his own analytical centre in Yerevan recently. Many analysts deem his
joining forces with the opposition likely. What is your view of
intensification of his efforts in Karabakh?
[Gukasyan] I do not think that he is preparing for resuscitation. I
have no such information.
[Fatullayev] Analysts say that Babayan is not the kind of person who
will easily restrain his ambitions.
[Gukasyan] Every person has the right to have ambitions and to fulfil
[Fatullayev] Is it true that you granted him amnesty on the condition
that he will not get involved in politics in Nagornyy Karabakh for
[Gukasyan] Such an agreement has not taken place. He is free in his
[Fatullayev] In contrast to Armenia, Dashnaks in Nagornyy Karabakh
have irreconcilable position towards the authorities. Why is this?
[Gukasyan] There are things that are difficult to explain. Talk is not
about the Dashnaktsutyun party, but about the local officials of this
party. I think that their latest steps were simply unserious. This
does not become a party. Dashnaks from Karabakh go from one extreme
to the other. I cannot rule out the possibility that their position
will change again.
[Fatullayev] The opposition accuses the authorities of rampant
corruption. Newspapers in Karabakh often publish articles about abuse
of power by officials who build manors for themselves and are steeped
in criminal business dealings. How serious is the corruption problem
[Gukasyan] Compared to Azerbaijan and Armenia, there is no corruption
in Karabakh. The destructive opposition is playing on people’s
heartstrings and inciting them to rise against the authorities. Do you
talk about manors? I think that you know what sort of houses are built
in Baku, Moscow and other cities in the post-Soviet area. We are not
number one in this respect. I do not deny that there is bribery, but
it is not systemic. The opposition is wrong in this issue.
[Fatullayev] There is talk in Karabakh about friction between you and
[Prime Minister Anushavan] Daniyelyan. Is it true that relations
between you became particularly acute when, during the period of your
recovery from the terrorist attack, he started to become politically
active and prepare for assuming power himself?
[Gukasyan] I do not know who told you this and why they say this. The
prime minister cannot become the president of Nagornyy Karabakh no
matter what. He cannot lay claims to supreme power.
[Fatullayev] There is a lot of talk in Karabakh about foreign
investments into the economy. Can you name the major investors?
[Gukasyan] So that Azerbaijan can start a new wave of pressure on
those companies? Many US, French, Russian, Australian, Swiss and
German companies invest in Karabakh. But I will not name
them. Sometimes I get an impression anyway that your Foreign Ministry
has nothing else to do but to trace in Armenian newspapers the names
of the companies that cooperate with us and then flood their home
countries with protest notes.
[Fatullayev] Do Turkish businesses show their interest?
[Gukasyan] No, although we are ready for cooperation.
[Fatullayev] And what is the position of ethnic Azeri Iranian
[Gukasyan] They do not come. There are ethnic Armenians from Iran,
though, who run small and medium-sized businesses.
[Fatullayev] How is regional development proceeding? What is the
dynamic of development, say, in Xocavand, Hadrut, Agdara districts?
[Gukasyan] But Xocavand – what is this?
[Fatullayev] It is Martuni [Armenian name of the town].
[Gukasyan] Do you not find it strange that in Soviet times, our
[capital] city was called Stepanakert, whereas now Baku calls it
Xankandi. This alone betrays the attitude towards us. Would you like
if we called Baku some other name? How is it possible to talk about a
peaceful settlement on the one hand and use these kinds of methods to
irritate us on the other?