1 Jun 2010
The Fragile Ceasefire and the Prospect of Reconciliation in Nagorno-Karabakh
The August 2008 war in Georgia showed how dangerous and fatal frozen conflicts could become in just a few days. The outcome of the five-day war between Russia and Georgia made it necessary for the international community to pay more attention to the frozen conflicts in the South Caucasus. Along with Abkhazian-Georgian and South Ossetian-Georgia conflicts, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is one of the ethnic disputes that still wait to be reconciled.
The ceasefire agreement in 1994 ended an active war but has not been able to bring durable peace and reconciliation to the conflict. In the last fifteen years, both internal and external pressures could not make the adversaries agree on a peace agreement. The stalemate in the peace process still continues, despite the efforts of the Minsk Group and other international actors. On one hand, Armenia insists on self-determination rights for Nagorno-Karabakh and favors its secession from Azerbaijan, while keeping seven districts outside the region under Armenian control with the excuse of creating a buffer zone of security for Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians. On the other hand, the other party of the conflict, Azerbaijan, does not want to compromise its territorial integrity and demands immediate withdrawal of Armenian troops from those territories.
For now it seems pretty hard to reconcile the positions of the two sides. However, it does not mean that the efforts to reach a peace agreement should stop. Looking at the rapprochement process between Turkey and Armenia, despite the fact that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is not mentioned in the official protocols signed in October 2009, there has been intensification in meetings to reach a peace agreement on the conflict. Presidents Sarkisian and Aliyev have met seven times in different capitals with the participation of the Minsk Group to draft basic principles towards reconciliation. This shows that there is a positive trend in the peace process and there is possible ground (the Madrid principles constitutes the essential framework of peace talks) for ending hostilities.
Increased efforts from international actors also show reasonable understanding that without solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, there is no other way to achieve cooperation and stability in the South Caucasus. Thus, after fifteen years of inertia the international community and new geopolitical conjuncture urges both sides to move towards making efforts to reach a peace agreement. The status quo and shaky ceasefire do not serve any interests. As long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved, both Armenia and Azerbaijan cannot return to normalcy and live like any other European country. At this point, since no international power can dictate the terms of peace, both countries need to take necessary steps.
The continuity of a stalemate in Nagorno-Karabakh continues to put a durable stability and peace in the region at stake as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict did in the Middle East. There is no way to create democratic states and economic welfare in the Caucasus — “the biblical tower of languages and nations” — without reconciling ethnic disputes.
If there is continued lack of real progress, it will be quite possible to see another bloody war in the South Caucasus. Azerbaijan has increased its military expenditure (which equals almost $2 billion annually) and it is also speculated that the military balance between Azerbaijan and Armenia has changed. Azerbaijan may soon see war as the only solution to the problem given the recent statements by Azerbaijani officials. Another war in the region can lead to catastrophe and unavoidable results for the people of the region, since they are the ones who actually suffered (both Azerbaijanis and Armenians) for years from animosity. Thus, the international community and the leaderships of the conflicting states need to take the initiative before things get to the point of military engagement, as was the case in Georgia.