15 Jan 2011
Adopt a New Approach to the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Resolution or Prepare for Disaster
The OSCE summit in Astana in December 2010 did not help the conflicting sides to move closer towards the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as some observers had expected. The outcome of the summit proved that hopes for a resolution in the near future were futile. Moreover, the OSCE’s ability to solve the conflict within the Minsk Group framework has been questioned. Considering the statements made by the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as the war propaganda launched in both countries after the summit, the post-Astana situation is worse than it had been before.
So, the mediation efforts have not produced desired outcome, but rather led to the deterioration of the situation, quite in the same way as had happened with the attempts to normalize Armenian-Turkish relations, which are worse now than they had been before the signing of the protocols. Then, one may ask: What was wrong about those mediation efforts? And what may be expected to happen next, since the conflicting sides lack determination to make mutual concessions, as their militaristic rhetoric shows?
It may be argued that despite official optimism and politically correct posturing, the mediation efforts cannot lead to a solution to the conflict because of the mediators’ own contradicting interests. Practically any kind of resolution — be it a compromise, a successful military operation by Azerbaijan, or recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence — would result in Russia’s loss of the ability to exercise effective control over both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and thereby loss of influence in the entire South Caucasus. So, as I’ve argued before, if Azerbaijan signs a long-term contract to sell all produced natural gas to Russia, the latter would exercise pressure on Armenia, leading to a deal. Then Russian dominance in the South Caucasus would remain in place, and at the same time, the much-despised Nabucco project would be scrapped.
As the latter scenario remains unlikely, it is not surprising that the OSCE Minsk Group has been unable to solve the conflict. Sadly, in the current situation, refraining from large-scale military action may be considered progress as such. Supposedly, Azerbaijan’s authorities will not launch large-scale fighting if they remain a rational player. First, a sharp rise in hydrocarbons prices as a consequence of the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh would provoke the Western actors’ anger, not only because of the dire consequences for their economies not yet stabilized after the financial crisis, but also because of the strengthening of Russia’s and Iran’s influence. Second, Iran might try to use the period of instability and to spread the Islamist ideology in Azerbaijan, and such a possibility is viewed in Azerbaijan as a threat to national security. Third, regaining full control over Nagorno-Karabakh and the adjacent regions without Russia’s willingness would be unlikely, while the price of such willingness is practically prohibitive.
So, a military solution of the conflict is rather unlikely, despite the provocative statements by the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as open provocations by forces that are not interested in the conflict’s resolution. One example of such a provocation was an article published by the Russian Regnum News agency a few days before the Astana summit. That article alleged that the Armenian diaspora began to prepare lists of volunteers, who in the case of renewed fighting would be transferred to Nagorno-Karabakh via Iranian air space.
In the present situation, the perspective for a compromise solution and stable peace depends on the deepening cooperation between the actors that should be truly interested in resolution: the civil societies of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the United States and the European Union. The Western policies of engaging the authorities, despite any non-democratic practices, should be abandoned. The uselessness of such engagement has been proved, particularly by the present stance of Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan. Despite that his mock willingness to normalize Armenian-Turkish relations gave him an image of a progressive politician trying to put an end to an old enmity, the flawed presidential elections on February 19, 2008, the bloodshed that followed on March 1, 2008, the ongoing oppression against political opponents and the outrageous level of corruption have not been strongly condemned by the Western actors. Their approach needs to be amended, taking into consideration the reality that the authorities of both Armenia and Azerbaijan are opposed to compromise and cooperation through civil society, and are using all means of propaganda, especially state-controlled television, for spreading hatred rather than promoting trust. Besides, it should be considered that the authorities are interested primarily in staying in power, and the unsolved conflict is useful for that purpose, but the brinkmanship may at some point lead to large-scale fighting anyway, especially as there are external forces interested in such a development. Therefore, development of cooperation between civil societies and promotion of democratic development by available means would be indispensable.
Until now, a more intensive stimulation of democratic development, and suggesting a comprehensive deal for Armenia and Azerbaijan that would allow both to feel safe to settle their dispute and cooperate with the West and each other, has not been on the agenda. However, as the OSCE Minsk Group efforts have practically failed, the dangerous vacuum following the factual end of the negotiations should be filled urgently, before non-democratic entities (internal — nationalists and extremists —and external ones) do so, using the West’s current tendency to keep its involvement in the region relatively small.
Certainly, trust building and the strengthening of civil societies are gradual processes, and working in that direction will not result in a faster resolution to the conflict. However, such an approach might be more effective than the one applied until now. As a matter of fact, continuing in the present direction may at best keep the conflict in a frozen stage (if the deaths on the line of contact are not counted). Time and other resources should be used more effectively. Otherwise, they may be lost.