ISTANBUL: The Caucasian Winter

Hurriyet, Turkey
July 8 2011

The Caucasian Winter

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Middle East is at the top of the international community’s
political agenda: The `Arab Spring’ and developments in Libya remain
priorities. On June 24, however, the world was looking to the Russian
city of Kazan, where the Russian, Armenian and Azerbaijan presidents
were meeting to discuss the long-running Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Before the meeting, local analysts had
expressed anxiety about a new war. They spoke of a `Caucasus Winter,’
suggesting that political relations between regional countries were
becoming increasingly frosty and that the region might return to the
international spotlight. Other analysts have given exclusive focus to
the issues raised by the Arab Spring revolutions as they might be
transferred to the Caucasus, but the question of this possible
`Winter’ carries far more urgency.

Before the Kazan meeting, the international community shared these
fears about the re-opening of the conflict and Kazan was described as
the `last chance for peace.’ These hopes for the Kazan meeting
followed what many consider to be an unprecedented joint statement by
the United States, Russian and French presidents, at the G8 Summit in
Deauville, France on May 26. The presidents of Armenia, Russia and
Azerbaijan issued a joint statement after Kazan, to say the parties
have recorded progress on the Basic Principles of Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict resolution.

It seems the main unresolved and contentious issues between the
parties involved are the `basic principles’ of the `Madrid
Principles,’ proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group in 2007. After years of
debate between the relevant parties, there is still some way to go
before the `Madrid Principles’ are accepted as the basis for peaceful
political resolution. However, the procedural parameters for the
settlement as described in the Madrid Principles are clear. This is
the basic formula that has underpinned all previous attempts to
negotiate a deal and which has been publically accepted by the
Azerbaijani government, although Baku has attempted to compromise by
offering to give Nagorno-Karabakh the `highest level of autonomy’
within its territory (much as Tatarstan functions inside the Russian
Federation). There is certainly a feeling within government circles in
Azerbaijan that the current process is payback for the past years of
`failed hopes,’ and in the absence of pressure on Armenia by the
international community, the peace process has served only to support
and solidify the status quo. This is why Azerbaijan saw the Kazan
meeting as a key opportunity to establish a concrete peace process.
The fear was that if this discussion fails to provide any further
developments, as they have in the past, Azerbaijan may boycott future

In order to fully understand the dynamics of the peace negotiations
and the current stalemate, it is important to consider the underlying
basis of the Armenian position. On a practical level, Yerevan is under
pressure from both Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto authorities and the
Armenian Diasporas, notably in the U.S. These groups are more
nationalistic and less willing to compromise than opposition parties
within Armenia itself, due in the former instance to `frontier
spirit,’ in the latter, to the luxury of distance. These groups
exercise financial, political and ideological leverage over the
Armenian government and are certainly not beholden to its policies.
Any pledge by Armenia to withdraw from the districts surrounding
Karabakh will face staunch opposition in Khankendi (Stepanakert) and
could push the Nagorno-Karabakh separatist’s military to launch
attacks against Azerbaijan, as a means of disrupting the peace
process. The fact that Armenia is building an airport in the occupied
territories of Azerbaijan constitutes a real provocation; if
Azerbaijan responds with military action, then it will be easier for
Armenia to argue that Azerbaijan poses a threat to peace. The risk is
that that the resolution framework will be abandoned and replaced by
unilateral – and potentially military – approaches by both sides. This
was demonstrated in a recent BBC Russia interview with Ter-Petrosyan,
former president and the current leader of Armenia’s opposition. He
argued `the Karabakh conflict has not been resolved because the people
of Karabakh demonstrated a maximalist approach – they decided that
this was not enough, they could push harder and get more… And not
just people in Karabakh,’ said the ex-president, who was forced to
resign in February 1998, less than half a year after presenting his
vision for ending the conflict.

It might reasonably be asked: Is this process about delineating the
terms of a fair peace agreement, or is it about sustaining the status

Obviously, each time the peace process has been restarted, we have
heard the same kinds of hopeful statements from the OSCE Minsk Group
Co-chairs and the same counsel from political analysts. Each time we
have been told that those who criticize the Armenian position are
`opponents of peace.’ But each time, this flawed political process has
brought us no closer to a workable solution. Perhaps it is time to
imagine a different process, one that takes seriously both the
security concerns of Karabakh Armenians and the rights of Karabakh
Azerbaijanis, as seriously need be. In other words, the ultimate
objective of the settlement process is to elaborate and define a
political model and legal framework for the status of the
Nagorno-Karabakh region within the internationally recognized borders
of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan believes the process of defining any such
status shall take place in normal peaceful conditions with direct,
full and equal participation of the region’s entire population, namely
the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities, with constructive
interaction with the government of Azerbaijan and within the framework
of a lawful and democratic process.

Last but not least, what the peace process procedure needs is a change
in its `location’; it does not need to change its current format, only
strong support and innovation can lead to resolution. Otherwise, the
international political agenda will feature the war of the `Caucasus
Winter,’ war and chaos as seen in August 2008, or a continued silence
of `no war, no peace,’ as is seen internationally. The international
community must bring `Spring’ to the Caucasus and this means peace,
constructive discussion (as in the 2001 Key West and 2006 Rambue
talks). What we do not need is fruitless discussion based on
copy-pasting of the Arab demonstrations. In the near future, the
involvement of the international community in the peace process is a
source of optimism; that is to say, the U.S., and France as a
representative of the EU could bring a breath of `fresh air’ to the

* Zaur Shiriyev is a Foreign Policy Analyst at the Center for
Strategic Studies in Baku, Azerbaijan and the Executive Editor of
Caucasus International journal.

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