BAKU: A Suitcase Without A Handle: Is It Easier For Armenia To Lose


Nov 27 2009

The details of the talks between the Azerbaijani and Armenian
presidents in Munich are withheld for obvious reasons. Official
sources, including the OSCE Minsk Group and Azerbaijan’s Foreign
Ministry, cautiously confirm that the sides have achieved progress.

But neither the mediators nor the parties are going to disclose
details and the essence of the progress.

It is no secret that Armenia was expected to make a breakthrough in
this matter such as liberating the occupied Azerbaijani regions. The
talks focused precisely on this issue. Before leaving the post of the
OSCE Minsk Group U.S co-chair, Matthew Bryza stated outright that
Armenia will have to leave these regions. The U.S co-chair has now
been replaced, but as a rule positions in such negotiations do not
change with the swapping of chairs.

One knows progress in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is
impossible without liberating the occupied regions. Unfortunately,
for more than a dozen years, this fact did not prevent mediators,
specifically the Minsk Group, from switching to a more active mediation
model. Real results and real progress in this dialogue should start
first and foremost with returning the IDPs to the region.

Another bit of progress occurred when mediators began cautiously
talking about "progress" and "shifts" in the negotiations. The world,
especially Europe and the U.S., already have a different vision of
security in the South Caucasus. However, in the early stages when
the Minsk Group was just expanding its activities only Azerbaijan
was concerned about repatriating IDPs.

Meanwhile, the "shift" was caused by transit countries experiencing
regular gas supply problems and the August events in Georgia. Suddenly
it became clear that frozen conflicts could easily be defrosted,
and source-countries of oil and gas reserves should be diversified
so as not to wind up without heating in the dead of winter.

Although little has changed on the frontline in Nagorno-Karabakh,
major and revolutionary changes have taken place elsewhere. Addressing
security issues in the South Caucasus suddenly became much more
important for Europe than ever because "alternative transport
communications," and above all else, oil and gas pipelines, pass
through the region.

Azerbaijan remains the principle, and, in fact, only uncontrolled
gateway from Europe to Central Asia. Nabucco, TRACECA and many other
projects that the EU values cannot be implemented in the long-term
without solving security issues. Most importantly, Europe will not
get the same alternative energy, of which it enjoys an increased
demand after earlier gas supply problems.

To put it simply, the negotiations saw a kind of "wind shear." Armenia
has been called to withdraw its troops from the occupied Azerbaijani
territories since long ago. The relevant U.N. Security Council
resolution was adopted in 1993-1994. Now, many indirect signs
indicate that diplomatic pressure on Armenia has increased many
fold in recent months. Armenia’s opposition and pro-government media
already say Armenia is "under pressure" today as never before. The
media mercilessly criticizes the foreign minister as a result, which
allegedly does not provide effective resistance.

But how can the Foreign Ministry of a poor and hungry country, which
has also captured foreign lands, tackle this kind of situation? This
is the question Armenia continues to sidestep. It is rather difficult
to withstand increased diplomatic pressure.

The Armenian government likely understands that the economy crushes
stronger than any type of pressure. They boast a simple and prosaic
economy, and Armenia has broken all records in terms of declines. One
of the local pro-government newspapers described the economy as
having hit "rock bottom." It is impossible to revive the economy
without resolving Nagorno-Karabakh.

Even the old "last valve" no longer works. According to Armenian
economists, remittances from family members working abroad have
declined 50-60 percent in recent months, leaving two-thirds of
the families dependent on these funds without their primary source
of income.

Although more recently Armenia pinned great hopes on opening the
border with Turkey, Ankara has bluntly confirmed at all levels that
there will be no progress without resolving Nagorno-Karabakh.

It becomes clear that the regions, the occupation of which Yerevan
regarded as a major military success until recently, today have turned
into the classic "suitcase without a handle," which you are too sorry
to throw away, but no longer have the strength to carry. More likely,
Armenia will fail to change the balance of power in the talks to
its favor.

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s supporters could promise to
"make Azerbaijan more tractable, to continue the offensive until
Yevlax and Mingachevir" during the election campaign, but Armenia is
now unlikely to be mistaken.

Such statements could go without reactions during the campaign. But
if one tries to apply them in practice, it is unclear what will happen.

Azerbaijan’s military budget has surpassed the entire state budget
of Armenia in recent years. Claims that "Armenia has an army, while
Azerbaijan has armed groups" cannot be admitted either.

The Munich meeting was accompanied by a storm of bustle in the
Armenian political and quasi-political circles under the slogan of
"We Will Not Surrender" the liberated, that is, occupied, territories,
to Azerbaijan, specifically those surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.

Politicians who dared to remind the Armenian audience that no matter
what temporary status Karabakh will have in the end, Horadiz and
Agdam will remain within Azerbaijan encounter obstacles and are
accused of treason.

Armenian opposition parties maintaining close ties with the diaspora
already seek to push through parliament a law or a statement depriving
the authorities even of a theoretical way to retreat both in a literal
and figurative sense.

Moreover, almost the entire Armenian political elite are people who
have amassed political capital on the so-called "Karabakh Movement,"
namely, territorial claims against Azerbaijan. This is equally
true of both the ruling team and the opposition. The situation in
this respect becomes clear since the opposition, which is by and
large not responsible for the situation in the country, especially
economy and diplomacy, has far more opportunities to score points on
pseudo-patriotic rhetoric.

This arises another question – even if the negotiation process marks
the necessary progress and the sides reach mutually acceptable
agreements, will the current Armenian leaders have the political
credibility to "impose" the necessary concessions on their own country?

Apparently, Azerbaijan is right not to exclude other ways to restore
its territorial integrity outside peace talks. In the end, it would
be easier for the Armenian authorities to lose a war than to sign a
peace treaty in the current situation.

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