Heiko Langner: "Armenian Territorial Claims Are The Basis Of The Nag


Vestnik Kavkazussia
Nov 29 2013

29 November 2013 – 11:42am

Interview by Orkhan Sattarov, head of the European Bureau of Vestnik

Heiko Langner, a German political analyst, specialist on the
post-Soviet space and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, has expressed
his point of view on the conflict in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.

– Mr. Langner, what has brought you to such intensive research of
the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

– The conflict drew my attention in the late 1980s when the situation
in the South Caucasus became tense. State mass media in the GDR was
actively describing the events, taking the political side of Moscow and
the Azerbaijani Soviet authorities. Actions of the Karabakh Armenians
were pictured as anti-Soviet and nationalistic-separatistic.

That time, I, as many other young people in the GDR, was having big
hopes for the persona and politics of Mikhail Gorbachev, so I was
shocked by the conflict in the Caucasus. It would not fit into the
image of the Soviet Union formed by the state education system of the
GDR. According to this image, the USSR was a voluntary state union
of interconnected Soviet nations. A violent conflict spoke about
the contrary.

After the unification of Germany and the collapse of real socialism,
the mass media of the FRG was dominated by a pro-Armenian outlook
on the conflict for a long time. So in early 1990s, I supposed that
mass media of the GDR gave false descriptions of the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict. In late 1990s, however, article with a pro-Azerbaijani
approach to the problem were initiated again.

Now, I cannot recall for sure when it happened but after a some
meetings with Armenians in Germany, I noticed that they were telling
the very same story very coherently. It seemed somewhat memorized
and even learnt by heart. It was always noted that Armenian were only
victims of the conflict but, nonetheless, they managed to win the war.

It gave me a sense of distrust because it cannot happen practically.

In the reality of war, the ones who fight actively cannot be only the
victims, they regularly get in situations where they are the offensive
side. And so the one who does not fight and always remains a victim
cannot win the war. I noticed that something just was not adding up,
so I got down to more intensive research of the conflict about 15
years ago. Since then, I got into details of the Karabakh problem.

Whether a person is an expert in this case or not is eventually decided
by others. This should be decided by readers of the interview, I will
accept that.

– What reasons for the conflict do you see?

– I can assure you that the first reason is not a competition between
different principles of the international law like territorial
integrity or the right for self-determination. These two principles
are in no way mutually exclusive and can instead complement each
other within the framework of a decision on granting autonomy from the
central government, on condition of will of the sides. There are many
examples in the world for this. The conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh
is based, in my opinion, first of all, on contradictory images of
the historic appurtenance of the region. Armenians consider it their
part of the ‘historic Armenia.’ It should be noted that the huge
space, which includes, besides Armenia, large territories of modern
Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and in maximum version even
Syria and Lebanon, has never seen Armenian statehood in over 700
years and the Armenian population lived under domination of other
states. We should add that the Armenian population in its historic
reality of settlement has never been a majority, and was forced to
share the territory with numerous other groups of the population that,
doubtlessly, had and have the same fundamental right to live there.

Throughout history, the Armenian population has been facing situations
of mass threat for its existence and banishment throughout history,
starting with the Mongol invasion, and this has deeply anchored in the
memory of the nation. For this reason, earlier strives for ‘national
rebirth’ and own statehood was closely connected to understanding of
ethnic homogenous state. Ethnic uniformity became a determinant for
existence of the Armenian, equally with the desire to consolidate all
territories inhabited by Armenians in a national state. No wonder
the Armenian SSR, which like other USSR republics, was founded as
a nationally-determined territory (because the socialist policy was
supposed to be presented in a national form), had a constant decline
of the non-Armenian population.

With all understanding of the tough history and sufferings of Armenian
people under domination of foreign states, there cannot be any excuse
for exile and displacement of other population groups. Today, Armenia
with its 98% of ethnic Armenian population is the only mono-ethnic
states in the South Caucasus. This can be explained by natural
development, especially in such historically multi-ethnic region as
the South Caucasus. The situation has become a result of focused
policy, realized with a different level of intensity for decades,
even despite communist dominance. And the goal of this policy is to
form an ethnically homogenous state.

– How do you think this policy has affected the situation around

– From 1918 to 1920, the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh belonged to
the first independent Azerbaijani Republic, though even then, there
were disputes about the ownership of the region. After sovietization
of both states, the ‘Caucasian Bureau’ decided to finally leave
Nagorno-Karabakh as an Armenian autonomous region, as part of the
Azerbaijani SSR, in 1921. Although three Armenian representatives
took part in the vote, Armenia has never given up its claims for
the territory. In the 1960s, a petition campaign was initiated for
the Moscow center to have the autonomous region transferred from the
Azerbaijani SSR to the Armenian SSR. Moscow was consistently against
it, rightly considering such pretensions as a precedent threatening
the existence of the Soviet Empire. I have an impression that many
young people of Azerbaijan do not know about this and often think that
Moscow has always been on Armenia’s side. But this is wrong. Armenia
initiated attempts to expand its national territory by merging
compact territories inhabited by Armenians beyond the republic. This
way, they tried to realize their national dream to form the united
‘Great Armenia.’

The same happened in the late 1980s. Back then, interethnic tensions
with violent acts and pogroms erupted, resulting in both nations
getting hurt. The current conflict has a long background rooting
from realization of Armenian territorial pretensions, for which the
principle of the right of people for self-determination is being
instrumentalized today. Perhaps, even now, the majority of Karabakh
Armenians, despite 20 years of de facto separation, do not want their
own state and would prefer joining Armenia.

In the Soviet times, Azerbaijan was territorially happy and interested
in protection of the then status quo, while Armenia wanted to
fundamentally change it for its benefit. This is why it is clear
who has more responsibility for escalation of the conflict. This
can even be seen from the chronology of events. The National Supreme
Council in Baku deprived Nagorno-Karabakh of the status of autonomy
in November 1991, two years after Nagorno-Karabakh had unilaterally
proclaimed its ‘independence.’ Moscow has always been the judge in this
conflict. In reality, the conflict has lived throughout all the time
of USSR’s existence, and Moscow only ‘froze’ it for some time. During
Perestroika, it was unfrozen again and after the collapse of the USSR,
it quickly grew into an interstate war. The burden of history should
not be underestimated. The key to settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict lies in the hands of the Kremlin

To be continued


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