1 Feb 2012
Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Resolution: A Prolonged Stagnation Period Ahead
The tenth trilateral meeting of the presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia has not produced any meaningful motion towards Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution. As Russian president Dmitry Medvedev is about to retire, the trilateral format should be expected to expire, and it does not matter whether an eleventh meeting takes place before Medvedev steps down in May or not — there will be no solution. It is hard to avoid being somewhat sarcastic about the trilateral format and calling it an imitation. Not only has Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan used that format to procrastinate and postpone moving towards a solution. Mr. Medvedev also has been engaged in imitation, pretending that he as a real decision maker might solve such a sensitive issue. No prolongation of the trilateral format should be expected after the end of Medvedev’s “regency” if Vladimir Putin returns to the Kremlin as planned.
Efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group will also be put off for a year or more. Put aside Azerbaijan’s mistrust for French mediation after adopting the legislation criminalizing genocide denial — there is a kind of vicious tradition: the international community does not push for a solution when there are elections approaching in either Armenia or Azerbaijan. The coming May 2012 parliamentary elections and February 2013 presidential elections in Armenia should not break that tradition, especially considering this year’s unique situation: during the year, there will be presidential elections in Russia, then in France, and later, in the U.S. In France and the U.S. the internal political and economic situation should dominate the agenda. And, as international affairs are concerned, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue may be left in a “no news is good news” condition, since there are hotter issues — the Iranian nuclear problem, for example, not to mention the ongoing crisis in Syria, possible radicalization in Egypt, and so forth.
The Armenian government seemingly does not plan to make concessions. If the government wanted that, it should have attempted to prepare public opinion. That would not be a difficult task for a government fully controlling broadcast media. However, there is no campaign aimed at forming a favorable public opinion. Quite the contrary — “patriotic” propaganda has been gaining more popularity. And President Sargsyan himself stated several times, particularly in an address on September 2, 2010, that a peaceful solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would be possible only through international recognition of the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The absence of an intention to reach a solution notwithstanding, the Karabakh issue will dominate Armenia’s internal political agenda during the prolonged election campaign. A twenty-year-old tradition will induce the opposition to blame the government for an intention to “sell” Karabakh. At the same time, the leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress, Levon Ter-Petrossian, is himself a traditional target of nationalist propaganda. The latter the latter claims, “in Baku and Ankara, they can’t wait for Ter-Petrossian to return to power.” As the parliamentary elections are predictably going to result in reproduction of the ruling regime, the general trend will remain there. The public will be continuously fed with the government’s version — that the current situation is beneficial for the Armenians and the Karabakh issue, as such, has been solved. Yet, despite all propaganda, people need to make a living. So, taken the economic situation and the diminishing hopes for seeing any change, the number of emigrants continues to grow. That tendency is further aggravated, as the opposition, despite all rhetoric, seems less and less capable of replacing the government.
Concerning Azerbaijan’s approach to the negotiations, it is obvious that a zero-sum way of thinking prevails there as well. It is not realistic to claim all possible concessions from the Armenian side without any meaningful reciprocal move. The ever-growing military spending, about which Azerbaijani officials love to boast, accompanied with threats to solve the issue by force, do not make the Armenian government afraid and more willing to compromise. On the contrary, Serzh Sargsyan’s standing is reinforced, as the threats from Azerbaijan induce the Armenian opposition to keep a relatively low profile and abstain from more radical actions. Most importantly, Azerbaijan is not likely to commence military action in the near future, despite all military posing. Endangering oil exports is not a feasible option given the galvanized situation around the Strait of Hormuz.
Since none of the conflicting sides shows a will to compromise and find a mutually agreeable solution, the current situation will be kept, and the outcome so far is lose/lose. More precisely, the common people are on the losing side, while the ruling clans keep flourishing. As civil society structures in both Armenia and Azerbaijan are underdeveloped, and most of the existing ones are cautious not to break away from the “patriotic” mainstream, bringing change would be a hard task.