ISTANBUL: A view from Yerevan

Sunday’s Zaman, Turkey
June 27 2010

A view from Yerevan

AMANDA PAUL [email protected] Columnists

I write this column from Armenia, where I have spent a week meeting
with representatives from the government, the opposition and civil
society. Two issues dominated the discussions: the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict and the failed rapprochement with Turkey. As one senior
official put it, `Things are really screwed up now.’
For Armenia the rapprochement with Turkey broke down because of
Ankara’s decision to link it to Nagorno-Karabakh. Yerevan considers
itself blameless, saying it made big concession, with one official
stating, `Armenia made Turkey a very generous offer, we did not even
ask them to recognize the genocide,’ but that, `once again,’ Turkey
cheated them. For Armenia this was the first time they had the
opportunity to be a regional player and Yerevan believes that Armenia
has proved to be a proactive rather than a reactive player and they
have gained from the experience, including now having a far higher
number of experts on Turkey.

Little hope was expressed at new life being breathed into the
rapprochement any time soon. First there will be parliamentary
elections in Turkey in 2011 which will be followed by elections
elsewhere in the region. While President Abdullah Gül is still viewed
positively, Recep Tayyip ErdoÄ?an is not. He is seen as becoming
increasing unreliable and racist. Ahmet DavutoÄ?lu’s policy of `zero
problems with neighbors’ is seen as being only partially successful,
with suggestions that Turkey has no idea where it is heading other
than that Turkey is trying to get the best of both worlds and
endeavoring to be the leader of the Muslim world.

The failed rapprochement also unhinged the Karabakh talks. On the one
side, Armenia’s leadership has felt unable to make progress in fear of
being seen as making concessions in order to get the border with
Turkey opened; on the other hand, it now seems that Azerbaijan feels
cheated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE) Minsk Group, which has resulted in Baku upping its war
rhetoric. In an apparent move to produce some progress in the Karabakh
talks, the OSCE Minsk group co-chairs (Russia, US, France) produced an
updated version of the Madrid Basic Principles in Sochi in January
2010. Azerbaijan accepted this document, Armenia did not.

Azerbaijan has since been insisting that this again shows Armenia’s
lack of interest in a settlement and that the international community
should do more to push Armenia into accepting. This has not happened.
Rather, the co-chairs re-jigged the document and represented it a few
days ago in St. Petersburg. Azerbaijan, not surprisingly, was not
happy. Armenia believes this led Azerbaijan to leave the meeting early
and to the subsequent violation of the cease-fire agreement and tragic
deaths of four Armenian and two Azerbaijani soldiers. They view this
as Azerbaijan displaying its readiness to resort to war to get back
the seven provinces that Armenia continues to occupy in addition to
Nagorno-Karabakh. They also believe that Aliyev has lost control of
his armed forces.

The increase in military clashes has left many believing that
Azerbaijan is planning a `short war’ in light of the forthcoming
Azerbaijani parliamentary elections. Apparently this would boost
President Ilham Aliyev’s popularity. This would be highly risky, not
least because once a war is in the offing it would be very difficult
(if not impossible) to limit it to a couple of days. It would escalate
into a full-fledged bloodbath with catastrophic consequences.

With both sides now having very advanced military technology, it is
possible for Armenia to hit Baku and the nearby Caspian oil fields as
well as quickly destroy pipeline infrastructure (the
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan [BTC] pipeline passes just 15 kilometers from the
line of contact) and important Azerbaijani cities, including Ganja. It
would also be easy for Azerbaijan to hit Armenia. Armenia also does
not rule out carrying a pre-emptive strike, which they consider fair
game if they are convinced Azerbaijan is on the verge of launching an
attack. I am skeptical Azerbaijan would do this. Implications for the
region would be massive, including reactions from both Russia and
Iran, not to mention the US. There is no guarantee Baku would win;
their international reputation would be in tatters and it could result
in Aliyev’s fall. As history has shown, all previous Azerbaijani
presidents have been brought down by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Armenia also believes the international community is too soft on
Azerbaijan and continues to contribute to its isolation. One
particular case they cite is the Nabucco gas pipeline, which would cut
out Armenia — as the BTC did before it. They believe that by backing
such projects the EU is simply supporting the isolationist policies of
Azerbaijan and Turkey. However, while Armenia continues to occupy
around 17 percent of its neighbor’s land, it is unthinkable that it
should be allowed to take part in such initiatives.

However, the EU, at the same time, disregards the realities on the
ground, which is very dangerous. The EU should stop limiting itself to
`balanced’ statements and seriously discuss with both countries the
deployment of a peacekeeping/monitoring mission in order to have
first-hand knowledge of what is happening on the ground. Presently,
the tiny OSCE monitoring mission is only allowed to monitor the line
of contact with the agreement of the Azerbaijanis and Armenians and
not on a daily basis. According to the Armenian side, this is
something they would welcome, but Azerbaijan does not. This region is
a time bomb waiting to explode. It is time to take action now before
it is too late.

27.06.2010

From: A. Papazian

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