Negotiation without (due) Representation
by Afa Alizada
It is amusing seeing car plates in Washington, DC, where the residents do not have voting representatives in Congress. They boldly state, “Taxation without Representation.” I am not amused when I think of the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations and the fact that the parties most affected by the conflict – Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijanis – are grossly under-represented.
Reasons for under-representation are numerous, but it effectively boils down to the zero-sum mentality of the conflicting parties and how they see the process itself. Each side sees the inclusion of the other not as a means to reaching a peaceful solution, but as conceding to a solution they cannot accept. The government in Baku believes that including the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians in the talks would legitimize their de-facto independence and seal the fate of the negotiations. Meanwhile, Armenian officials (both in Yerevan and Nagorno-Karabakh) view the inclusion of Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijanis (as representatives on their own right) as legitimizing the claims that they have the right to return to their homes and have a say in determining the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The absence of Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijanis and Armenians at the negotiating table, however, presents a big problem. Whatever agreement Yerevan and Baku reaches runs the risk of failing in the implementation stage, because it isn’t truly reflective of the needs and concerns of the Nagorno-Karabakh people. Not surprisingly, for example, Georgi Petrosian – foreign minister of the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic – has said that Nagorno-Karabakh “bears no responsibility” for the Madrid Principles or any outcome based on that framework, since the process does not include Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians.
This also contributes to a bigger problem of deepening distrust between the parties. By refusing to include Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians, Azerbaijani officials solidify their belief that Armenians cannot live under Azerbaijani rule no matter what security and cultural and political freedoms that the Azerbaijani government may promise. If they are not allowed, while in a position of advantage, to participate in the process determining their future, how can they trust that Baku will allow them these freedoms under the greater autonomy as proposed by the Azerbaijani government? Similarly, how can Azerbaijanis accept living under Armenian rule in Nagorno-Karabakh when Yerevan and Nagorno-Karabakh officials signal – by their unwillingness to include them as representatives on their right – that they will not be able to safely return home and exercise their right to determine the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh?
As suggested by the International Crisis Group, to abate the fears associated with the inclusion of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the process, Baku and Yerevan officials can adopt a “multi-layered, issue-based” format. Issues pertaining to IDP returns and interim status of Nagorno-Karabakh would include Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijanis, while issues concerning refugees and withdrawal of Armenian forces from the seven Azerbaijani districts can be discussed bilaterally between Yerevan and Baku.
No matter the specific format the sides decide on, it is obvious that a productive dialogue cannot take place in the absence of the parties most affected by the conflict. Many Armenians as well as Azerbaijanis rightfully call Nagorno-Karabakh their home. Regardless of the final status of the region, Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijanis and Armenians will have to relearn to live together and “clean up the mess” left behind the prolonged and destructive conflict. To do so, they need to start talking and collaborating today – no matter how uncomfortable the thought might be.
 International Crisis Group (2009). Nagorno-Karabakh: Getting to a Breakthrough.
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