15 Mar 2011
PACE Subcommittee on Nagorno-Karabakh: An Opportunity for Multi-track Diplomacy
Since brokering a ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1994, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been the sole official platform for negotiations between the warring parties. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group — Russia, France, and the United States — have mediated the peace process for the past 17 years with no real progress in sight. The OSCE Minsk Group’s stated objectives are to provide an appropriate framework for conflict resolution; obtain an agreement on the cessation of the armed conflict; and promote the peace process by deploying OSCE multinational peacekeeping forces. Needless to say, the Minsk Group has not been successful in even getting the parties to agree on the basic principles.
The lack of success can be attributed to the intransigence of the conflicting parties as much as it can be attributed to the complex geopolitical interests of the mediators involved. Despite its shortcomings, however, the OSCE Minsk Group still remains the best option for official negotiations for several reasons. It is recognized by both parties to be fairly balanced and, therefore, has legitimacy. It has been there almost since day one (1992, then as CSCE) and this ensures continuity and cohesion of the process. Finally, the individuals involved are closely familiar with the conflict’s history and dynamics, which is an important prerequisite for a successful mediation.
This does not mean, however, that peace process cannot benefit from dialogue on more sub-official levels. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, like any other protracted conflict, has affected every segment of Azerbaijani and Armenian societies, including domestic and foreign policies, commerce and development, human security, education, media, and so on. As a result, finding a solution to this conflict cannot be limited to only high-level diplomacy. This article explores whether the Subcommittee on Nagorno-Karabakh, first established in 2005 and currently in the process of resumption, by the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) can serve as a launching pad for multi-track diplomacy.
There has long been recognition in the field of conflict resolution that protracted conflicts require a complex and multilayered approach. The concept of multi-track diplomacy — which builds on the original distinction made by Joseph Montville in 1982, between track I (official, governmental action) and track II (unofficial, nongovernmental action) approaches to conflict resolution — was developed by Louise Diamond and John W. McDonald (Notter & Diamond, 1996). The concept of multi-track diplomacy rests on the principle that different actors and different segments of society affected by violent conflict can and should play a role in the peace process. Different “tracks” identified by Diamond and McDonald are: 1. governments; 2. professional conflict resolution; 3.business; 4. private citizens; 5. research, training and education; 6. activism; 7. religious; 8. Funding; and 9. public opinion and communication. Each of these “tracks” has its own resources and values, and if coordinated and exploited simultaneously, together they can transform the entire social system from conflict to lasting peace.
The need for this kind of holistic approach to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is apparent, especially given the stalemate on the official governmental level of negotiations. Civil society groups and other nongovernmental entities have been excluded from the negotiation table and the peace process in general. Especially since the official talks have been taking place behind the closed doors, a gap has formed between public perception and the realities of what a peace agreement can or cannot achieve. As a result, the absence of these voices from the peace process can negatively impact the implementation of a peace agreement, even if it is achieved on paper. By surveying a variety of different peace processes, Wanis-St John and Kew (2008) have found a strong correlation between active civil society participation in peace processes and the sustainability of peace: “Cases in which civil society groups actively engaged in peace negotiations seemed to enjoy more sustained peace in the peacebuilding phase” (pp. 11–36).
There have been commendable efforts by organizations like Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation to bridge some of these gaps in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, by establishing human contact and bringing young people together from both sides to share their grievances and ideas. However, such people-to-people diplomacy is only one piece of the puzzle. To be successful in conflict transformation, people-to-people diplomacy should be supported by and coordinated with other levels of diplomacy. Only in this coordinated and linked fashion can the impact of such initiatives be amplified and meaningful. The impetus and encouragement for such multilayered approach to peacebuilding, however, should come from the top. Both the Azerbaijani and Armenian governments, therefore, should use the PACE Subcommittee on Nagorno-Karabakh as an opportunity to involve a wider range of actors in the peace process and facilitate coordination and linkages among these different segments of society.
PACE Subcommittee on Nagorno-Karabakh and Its Potential
PACE has numerous standing committees and subcommittees dealing with a range of issues, such as legal affairs and human rights, conflict prevention, economic affairs and development, refugees and migration, gender equality, and so on. The Subcommittee on Nagorno-Karabakh was set up under PACE Resolution 1416, approved in 2005. In this resolution, the Assembly asked its Bureau to create an ad hoc committee comprising, inter alia, the heads of national delegations of the Minsk Group countries, with the intent of stepping up the efforts in achieving a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The Subcommittee was led by former chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly, British parliamentarian Lord Russell Johnston and functioned until 2008, when it was suspended due to Lord Russell Johnston’s death (Ghazinyan, 2011).The efforts to revive the committee began in early 2010. On January 28, 2001, the PACE Bureau agreed on reforming the subcommittee and elected Spanish parliamentarian Jordi Xuclа i Costa as the subcommittee chairman. Mr. Costa has said he intended to “establish cooperation with politicians, ambassadors and academic circles” in Armenian and Azerbaijan before formally launching the activities of the subcommittee this April (News.am, 2011).
Reactions to reviving the subcommittee have been mixed. Armenian officials, including the head of the Armenian delegation to PACE David Harutyunyan, have expressed concern that the subcommittee will “thwart the peace process” and become a “platform for recriminations” (News.am, 2011). This negative reaction has been partly due to the perception that the subcommittee was revived under the leadership of PACE’s current President Mevlut Cavusoglu, a Turkish parliamentarian, which Armenian officials claim indicates the subcommittee will be biased in favor of Azerbaijan (Ghazinyan, 2011). Cavusoglu, however, has pointed out that the decision to resume the subcommittee’s activities was made by PACE months before he was elected and there was no Turk involved in the initiative (Huriyyet, 2010). The Armenian officials have also expressed their discontent with PACE as a platform for Nagorno-Karabakh talks, because of PACE’s refusal to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent side in the talks (News.am, 2011).
Azerbaijani officials have welcomed the initiative, stating that the resumption of the subcommittee’s activities “will play an important role in settling the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict… [and]… presenting to the world the truth about Azerbaijan” (Maharramli , 2011). The OSCE Minsk Group has not issued an official statement in response to the resumption of the subcommittee.
The concerns expressed about the subcommittee potentially becoming a platform for recriminations and interfering with the official OSCE negotiations are not ungrounded. However, this in itself should not stop the resumption of the subcommittee and its activities. The subcommittee chair can set clear objectives and ground rules to prevent this subcommittee from becoming another stage for rhetoric wars and hindering the overall peace process. First and foremost, the subcommittee should clearly state that it recognizes the OSCE Minsk Group negotiations as the official track of the peace process and that subcommittee’s activities will complement, not rival or attempt to substitute those efforts.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the subcommittee should set itself apart from the already existing channel of official negotiations and bring fresh ideas to the table. In the Action Plan adopted at the 3rd Summit (2005), the Council of Europe expressed its commitment to “enhance the participation of NGOs in Council of Europe activities,” while recognizing that civil society organizations, “especially those that focus on issues that most concern citizens,” can play an important role in policymaking. The PACE Subcommittee on Nagorno-Karabakh should uphold this commitment by involving a wide range of actors, including NGOs and other civil society groups from Azerbaijan and Armenia in its activities. This format of the subcommittee will provide a platform not only for government officials to interact with educators, researchers, conflict resolution professionals, members of the business community and engage in discussions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but it will also help connect those actors among themselves, thus contributing to the coordination of efforts. As a result, the subcommittee would act as a testing ground or a model for fostering multi-track diplomacy and opening a way to the voices and ideas that have so far been sidelined in the peace process.
Ghazinyan, A. (2011, January 31). Premeditated mission: PACE subcommittee on Karabakh to resume its work, to detriment of Armenian position. Armenia Now. Retrieved from. http://www.armenianow.com/commentary/analysis/27305/pace_karabakh_subcommittee
Huriyyet Daily News & Economic Review (2010, May 14). EU body chief criticized for partiality in Armenia-Turkey issue. Retrieved from http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=eu-body-head-criticized-for-partiality-in-armenia-turkey-issue-2010-05-14
Maharramli, A. (2011, January 28). Resuming activities of PACE ad hoc committee on Nagorno-Karabakh will play important role in settling conflict.” Trend News Agency. Retrieved from http://en.trend.az/news/karabakh/1819645.html
News.am (2011, February 3). Jordi Xuclà i Costa to thoroughly study Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Retrieved from http://news.am/eng/news/46741.html
News.am (2011, February 21). PACE subcommittee on Nagorno-Karabakh not PACE President’s initiative? Retrieved from http://news.am/eng/news/48738.html
Notter, J & Diamond, L. (1996). Building peace and transforming conflict: Multi-track diplomacy in practice. Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy. Occasional Paper No. 7. Retrieved from http://www.imtd.org/publications/occasional-papers/building-peace-and-transforming-conflict-multi-track-diplomacy-in-practice/
PACE (2007). Resolution 1589, Co-operation between the Parliamentary Assembly and the Conference of INGOs. Retrieved from http://assembly.coe.int/main.asp?Link=/documents/adoptedtext/ta07/eres1589.htm
PACE (2005). Resolution 1456, The conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region dealt with by the OSCE Minsk Conference. Retrieved from http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/AdoptedText/ta05/ERES1416.htm
Tert.am (2011, February 3). Co-Chair countries are ‘discontent’ with re-establishment of sub-committee on Karabakh. Retrieved from http://www.tert.am/en/news/2011/02/03/pace/
Wanis-St John, A. & Kew, D. (2008). Civil society and peace negotiations. International Negotiation, 13, 11–36.