TIME TO CHANGE OF ‘STATUS QUO’ IN KARABAKH CONFLICT
April 1 2010
Peace talks to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have been under
way for more than a decade with virtually no tangible progress. The
last few weeks looked like a crash course in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace
process, replete with the grandeur of talks and lofty speechmaking
by even those most committed to the peace process.
In Yerevan on Sunday, OSCE co-chairs met with Armenian President
Serge Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbadian to further
discuss the basic principles for the peaceful settlement of the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Armenia has so far declined to publicly
clarify its response to the still unpublicized changes made in
the so-called Madrid document. It seems strange that on one hand,
Armenia states it is ready to discuss the updated Madrid principles,
but on the other hand, it argues that the fundamental provisions of
this package are not suitable enough.
The Madrid principles were put forward by the foreign ministers of
the countries of the Minsk Group at the OSCE ministerial meeting in
Madrid in 2007. An updated version of the principles put forward in
late 2009 has been the subject of discussions between the mediators,
Armenia and Azerbaijan ever since. The Madrid principles include the
return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani
control, an interim status for Karabakh providing guarantees for
security and self-governance, and the future determination of the final
legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh though a legally binding expression
of will. Azerbaijan accepts the updated principles in general. But
there are two issues are important for the Azerbaijani side that
Armenia doesn’t accept.
Firstly, there are the relevant decisions of the OSCE to hold
negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. In the current stage, the
Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh cannot join the peace process
(according to a March 1992 decision by the at the Helsinki meeting
of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe: "Elected
and other representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh will be invited to the
[Peace] Conference as interested parties").
It should be noted that the controversy over the question of who
are direct parties to the conflict and who are "interested parties"
concerns not the substance of the conflict, but the strategic political
calculations of both the Armenian and Azerbaijani parties.
Most independent observers agree that the Karabakh conflict is an
inter-state conflict directly involving Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Secondly, the referendum (Madrid document does not explicitly mention
"referendum") on the status of the disputed territory is one of the
stages of peace settlement, as set out in the Madrid principles for
resolving the conflict. Holding a referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh
is considered "illegal," as under Azerbaijan’s constitution any
referendum in the country must cover the entire territory of the
country, not just one part.
Recent developments in the peace process have challenged the perception
that maintains the status quo is benefiting Armenia, for example
Armenia’s efforts to consolidate the status quo of occupation and
particularly its continued illegal settlement and drug trafficking
(according to the 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy
Report) in the occupied territories. Meanwhile, Armenia has not
yet implemented the U.N. Security Council’s four resolutions on the
liberation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region and the surrounding occupied
territories. Karabakh Azeris stand out as the most obvious losers from
the protraction of the current status quo. Karabakh Azeris believe
the status quo harms their interests by increasingly depriving them
of the opportunity to influence decisions directly affecting them
and diminishing their chances of returning to their homeland.
The three mediators of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process so far seem
successful in pushing Armenia and Azerbaijan toward a compromise. The
parties are expected to sign a framework document later this year as
an initial step of a long settlement process.
It’s clear that the final deal apparently is almost within reach
of the two sides. Nudged along by the international community, they
need to find the courage and political will to overcome the remaining
sticking points – including a formula on how to deal with defining
the eventual final status of Nagorno-Karabakh. The power sharing in
Karabakh in the initial post-conflict stage would most probably take
the form of extreme consociationalism, as in Bosnia from 1995-1997.
Considering the recent memories, low levels of trust, and weak
association of the parties’ interests, this arrangement would have
a strong inclination toward elements of self-rule.
Demographic separation of the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities
in the initial phases is also necessary for dampening the security
dilemma associated with intermingled settlement patterns. A middle
ground between the need for certain ethnic partition and the right
of the forcefully displaced Azerbaijani population to return to their
homes can be found in forming two ethnic Armenian and Azeri zones.
However, it is very important not to repeat mistakes of power sharing
in Cyprus (1960-1963) and Bosnia (esp. during 1995-1997).
The common negative feature of these power-sharing arrangements
was that they did not provide enough incentives for the conflicting
ethnic groups to cooperate in common governing structures. Despite
the seemingly irreconcilable position of Armenia, a solution to the
Karabakh problem does not necessarily imply win-lose outcomes. Common
ground can be found even in the sine qua non positions of the parties.
There is a historic chance of making real progress in the
Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, which is likely to make the Caucasus
a better place to live.
Finally, the international community needs to show it is ready to carry
more responsibility, by making a solution to the Karabakh conflict
a priority, and by offering continued support to the peace process.
Zaur Shiriyev is a foreign policy analyst from Azerbaijan.