Caucasus Edition


News.Az interview with Phil Gamaghelyan, on of the managing editor of the Caucasus Edition.

Karabakh settlement requires ‘transformation of stereotypes’

What is the likelihood of progress in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict in the near future?

Unfortunately, I do not think it is realistic to expect a resolution of this conflict in the near future. In the last 20 years the conflict has metastasized. Even if the governments sign an agreement tomorrow, implementation will not be easy and might lead to a new crisis and possibly violence: the problem is that the sides are not making any preparations for peace. In fact, they are actively preparing for war. Serious preparation is needed to successfully implement a peace accord. The difficulties will include the composition of peace-keeping forces, the reintegration of the two communities, the absence of infrastructure, the absence of any alternative to the hostile literature and mindset that have brainwashed entire generations into hating each other. So we need to make progress in a number of areas before we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

Having said this, I have some hope that there might be a solution, as there are, indeed, positive developments in a number of areas. The geopolitical environment today is more conducive to resolution than it ever was. All the major players in the region – Russia, the USA, Turkey, the EU – find a resolution to be in their interests (though for different reasons). The Track II work has visibly intensified following the Moscow declaration of 2008, which may lay a foundation for the future coexistence of the two peoples. The scholarship on the subject of a Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution has been gradually increasing, which can provide the necessary knowledge and become the foundation upon which policy makers can base their decisions and move toward a sustainable resolution to the conflict.

To summarize, I think there are some positive developments, but they are not enough to resolve the conflict in the near future. The resolution of the conflict requires a multi-track approach, and we need a longer-term and coordinated effort from our politicians and international actors, but also journalists, social scientists and educators, to settle this conflict.

The Azerbaijani and Armenian people suffer more than the politicians from the Karabakh conflict – the two nations lived side by side for many years. So how would you comment on former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan’s statement that Armenians and Azerbaijanis are not able to coexist in principle?

I think one of the major reasons we are not registering any serious progress is the very radical rhetoric from our leaders. The leaderships on both sides couch the conflict in exclusivist terms, which leads to the view that neither of the sides can possibly be safe, should it find itself a minority in the other side’s state. This is exactly what makes this conflict a zero sum game. It is, I believe, impossible to find a sustainable solution until our societies, the language we use when talking about one another, become more inclusive.

There are no two peoples that ‘are not able to coexist in principle’. The inability to work through the consequences of mutual violence, negative propaganda, brainwashing through the media and education create conditions when two peoples indeed are not able to live side by side until the relationship between the sides is transformed. French and Germans, Germans and Jews, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and many others had periods when they could not coexist. Some of these conflicts ran very deep and had a much longer history than the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But these conflicts have been resolved and reconciliation has been achieved (or at least they are on track for resolution). Armenians and Azerbaijanis most definitely can live side by side, but certainly not while our political and education systems and our media are doing everything possible to prevent it.

Might public diplomacy play its role in improving relations between Azerbaijanis and Armenians?

There cannot be a sustainable resolution without extensive public diplomacy, as relations between the Azerbaijani and Armenian societies cannot be improved without public diplomacy. At the same time, public diplomacy alone cannot resolve the conflict. Resolution of the conflict will require simultaneous progress on a number of levels, including on the level of people to people contacts.

What was the influence on the Karabakh settlement of the process of normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey?

I think the improvement of Turkish-Armenian relations can have a positive impact on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. A lot has been said and written about the geopolitical consequences of the improvement of Turkish-Armenian relations, so I want to look at it from another angle. I think the closing of the Turkish border with Armenia created divisions in the Caucasus that are not conducive to the improvement of relations or resolution of conflicts, and only reinforce the conflict lines. As I said before, I find the improvement of relations and breaking down of stereotypes extremely important for the sustainable resolution of this conflict and for creating conditions when the two sides can peacefully coexist.

As Tom de Waal noted in his book ‘Black Garden’, the negative attitudes between Azerbaijanis and Armenians developed against the background of two master narratives, the Armenian one focusing on a history of massacres and discrimination by the Turks, and their perceived local Azerbaijani proxies, and the Azerbaijani narrative focusing on discrimination and massacres by Russians and their perceived Armenian proxies. The improvement of Turkish-Armenian relations, supported by Russia, will lead to increased regional cooperation between Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and can help to alter these master narratives, challenging and transforming the major stereotypes and laying the ground for peaceful coexistence in the Caucasus.

Do you think that the USA and Russia are really interested in the Karabakh conflict and do their best to resolve it?

For a long time, the Karabakh conflict was characterized in the international relations literature as a ‘captive’, when the competing interests of great powers made it impossible to resolve it. I think right now, a quick resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is in the interests of both Russia and the US. The war in Georgia contributed to this dynamic. And this is a quite unusual situation not only in the Caucasus, but anywhere in the world. So for the first time, we, the sides of the conflict, are actually in a position to resolve this conflict without worrying that one or another superpower will sabotage the process. We had better use this opportunity. It will not last long. Any shift in the geopolitical arena might reverse this equation, and we might not have control over our destinies for an indefinite time again.

Iran recently offered to mediate  in the Karabakh settlement. What do you think about this rather unexpected offer and how can you explain Armenia’s rejection of it?

On your question about the Armenian position, I have made a number of inquiries; I saw the Russian official position, but was not able to find any confirmation that Yerevan rejected the proposal. It is, therefore, hard for me to answer the second half of the question. If, indeed, there was a rejection, I would assume it would be because the Minsk Group negotiations are on track and the sides might not see a need for an alternative.

On Iran, Iran was one of the countries that tried to mediate this conflict very early in the game, in 1992-93. It has a great interest in this conflict, and especially the consequence of its outcome. The composition of a potential peace keeping force, possibly consisting of a NATO country’s forces right on Iran’s border, the potential renewal of violence and potential effect it might have on the large Azerbaijani minority in Iran, and the potential consolidation of a pro-western orientation of the entire South Caucasus in case of a successful resolution of the conflict are all issues of great concern for Iran. So Iran has an interest in this conflict, and has been rather passive, not because it chooses to be, but because the USA-France-Russia mediation does not leave it much choice but to stay away. So I think it should be expected that Iran would want to play an active role in the process, if and when it becomes possible.

Phil Gamaghelyan is the managing editor of the Journal of Conflict Transformation: Caucasus Edition; co-director of the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation and a fellow at the International Center for Conciliation.


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