Dec 092016

The report released by the Human Rights Defender (Ombudsman) of Artsakh Republic highlights the war crimes committed by Azerbaijan during the 4-day war in April, 2016 (torture, execution and mutilation of dead bodies). The findings are based on the results of Ombudsman’s fact-finding mission and the publicly available information.

The conclusions of the report are as follows:

  1. During the 2016 April war, the Azerbaijani AF committed war crimes of torture, execution, and mutilation. The war crimes had a systemic and well-organized nature, as they were committed in all three areas by all the regiments of the Azerbaijani armed forces that established control over the NKR civilians or NKDA servicemen on April 2, 2016.
  2. None of the 3 civilians and, presumably, the 4 combatants hors de combats survived the control of the Azerbaijani armed forces. Their murders seem to be executions merely for being Armenian.
  3. 27 out of the 31 NKR civilians and NKDA servicemen (about 90%), who fell under control of the Azerbaijani armed forces as a result of the Azerbaijani military aggression against NKR, were tortured, executed, or mutilated.
  4. All the NKR civilians under Azerbaijani control were executed and mutilated. One of them, a 92 year old woman, was also tortured.
  5. Three NKDA servicemen were beheaded. Two of them were beheaded postmortem, and one was executed by ISIS-style decapitation.
  6. The most widespread war crime was mutilation (24 cases), including 21 cases of ear cuts-offs. There were 5 cases of torture (including hands cut off, and throats cut). There were 7 cases of execution, mostly by gun-shots.
  7. Under the IHL, Azerbaijan bears State Responsibility for the war crimes of its armed forces, and has an obligation to investigate and properly prosecute the perpetrators and others who bear responsibility. The perpetrators and their commanders are also individually responsible.

File: Second Interim Report on Atrocities committed by Azerbaijan during the 2016 April War
Source: Artsakh Ombudsman (Human Rights Defender) Continue reading »

Dec 082016

HAMBURG, Germany, 8 December 2016 – We, the Heads of Delegation of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries – Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State of the United States John Kerry, and Foreign Minister of France Jean-Marc Ayrault – remain fully committed to a negotiated settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

In light of the dramatic escalation in violence along the Line of Contact in April, we express concern over continuing armed incidents, including reports on the use of heavy weapons, and strongly condemn the use of force or the threat of the use of force. There is no military solution to this conflict and no justification for the death and injury of civilians. We are also aware of allegations of atrocities committed on the field of battle in April, which we condemn in the strongest terms. We appeal to the sides to confirm their commitment to the peaceful resolution of the conflict as the only way to bring real reconciliation to the peoples of the region. We also urge them to adhere strictly to the 1994/95 ceasefire agreements that make up the foundation of the cessation of hostilities in the conflict zone.

We call on Baku and Yerevan to honor the agreements reflected in the Joint Statements of the 16 May Summit in Vienna and the 20 June Summit in St. Petersburg. We welcome the sides’ progress in implementing the exchange of data on missing persons under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross. We urge the parties to remove all remaining obstacles to expanding the mission of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and to make progress on a proposal to establish an OSCE investigative mechanism. The proposals should be implemented together with the immediate resumption of negotiations on a settlement. We would like to reiterate our call to the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to demonstrate flexibility and to return to the negotiation table with the firm aim of moving toward a sustainable peace on the basis of the current working proposals. Unless progress can be made on negotiations, the prospects for renewed violence will only increase, and the parties will bear full responsibility.

We remind the sides that the settlement must be based on the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act, namely: non-use of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and additional elements as proposed by the Presidents of the Co-Chair countries, including return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control; an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance; a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh; future determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will; the right of all internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their former places of residence; and international security guarantees that would include a peacekeeping operation. Our countries will continue to work closely with the sides, and we call upon them to make full use of the assistance of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs as mediators.

The Co-Chair countries are prepared to host a meeting of the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan when they are ready. We firmly believe that the Presidents need to engage in negotiations in good faith at the earliest opportunity. Continuous and direct dialogue between the Presidents, conducted under the auspices of the Co-Chairs, remains an essential element in building confidence and moving the peace process forward.

Source: OSCE Minsk Group page

Jul 072016

For almost three decades, the most dangerous unresolved conflict in wider Europe has lain in the mountains of the South Caucasus, in a small territory known as Nagorno-Karabakh. In the late 1980s, the region confounded the last Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev. In the early 1990s, the conflict there created more than a million refugees and killed around 20,000 people. In 1994, after Armenia defeated Azerbaijan in a fight over the territory, the two countries signed a truce — but no peace agreement.

Nagorno-Karabakh erupted again last weekend. It seems one of the players — most likely Azerbaijan — decided to change the facts on the ground. Dozens of soldiers from both sides were killed before a cease-fire was proclaimed on Tuesday. It could fall apart at any moment. The situation is volatile, and there is a danger that the conflict could escalate further unless the international community stops it.

A new all-out Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the stuff of nightmares. Given the sophisticated weaponry both sides now possess, tens of thousands of young men would most likely lose their lives. Russia and Turkey, already at loggerheads and with military obligations to Armenia and Azerbaijan, respectively, could be sucked into a proxy war. Fighting in the area would also destabilize Georgia, Iran and the Russian North Caucasus. Oil and gas pipeline routes from the Caspian Sea could be threatened, too.

At the heart of the issue is the status of the Armenian-majority highland enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was part of Soviet Azerbaijan. As the Soviet Union crumbled, ethnic Armenians in the territory campaigned to join Armenia. This became a full-scale war, and the Armenians have maintained control of the territory since.

Nagorno-Karabakh has been mostly quiet, save for occasional skirmishes. Most international diplomats pay little attention to this protracted conflict in the Caucasus, giving the impression that Nagorno-Karabakh is intractable but not especially dangerous, like Cyprus. The hope among the international community has been that the problem can be left alone.

That notion was shaken over the past week. More than 20 years on, nationalist hatreds have not abated. In fact, they’ve been fed over the years by official propaganda on both sides. Meanwhile, the very geography of the conflict makes it inherently dangerous.

The 1994 truce left the Armenian side in control not just of the disputed province, but also of a section of Azerbaijani territory around Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian side has no legal claim on these lands, regarding them as a protective buffer zone, but they were home to more than half a million Azerbaijanis, who were made refugees. That occupation is unsustainable and unjust, but the use of force will not deliver justice.

Azerbaijan has wasted years in denunciations of “Armenian aggression” without ever offering the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh credible guarantees that it respects their rights and does not merely wish to destroy them. A just solution of the conflict will require a serious commitment by both sides to make compromises and live together.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, has blamed France, Russia and the United States, the countries charged with mediating the conflict by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, for failing to clean up the mess. This is wrong, too. Yes, more could have been done over the years to resolve the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, but mediators mediate — they cannot alone solve conflicts between intransigent parties.

The bitter truth is that leaders in Armenia and Azerbaijan have become trapped by their own rhetoric, promising their publics total victory that can never be achieved. They have employed the status quo as a weapon to shirk hard questions about their own legitimacy or to divert people’s attention from socioeconomic problems.

A similar temptation is to identify Russia as the real villain. For sure, the Kremlin has played a role in manipulating the ethno-territorial conflicts that emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union. And Russia continues to sell weapons to both Armenia and Azerbaijan. But Russia’s role in Nagorno-Karabakh is much weaker than it is in Georgia’s frozen conflict, let alone in Ukraine. Russia shares no border with the conflict zone, has no troops on the ground and, in different ways, supports both sides. Its ability to control what happens in Nagorno-Karabakh is limited.

If there is one ray of hope in this bleak landscape it is that there is a peace process — albeit a faltering one — in place already. A draft of a sophisticated peace plan, dating from 2005, promises both sides much of what they want: a return of Azerbaijani displaced persons and restoration of lost Azerbaijani lands in exchange for security for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and a promise of self-determination and perhaps, eventually, independence.

What is missing in the South Caucasus is the political will to engage with a plan that involves doing a deal with the enemy. What is missing internationally is the admission that there is no low-cost option to resolve the conflict. Over the past week, mediators helped to broker a new cease-fire. But Nagorno-Karabakh requires more than just shuttle diplomacy. A resolution requires a complex multination peacekeeping operation and coordination between the United States, Russia and France to be joint guarantors of a peace deal.

That is a big challenge, but one dwarfed by the prospect of a new catastrophic war in the Caucasus. The big powers could start by convening a peace conference in Minsk, Belarus, first called for in 1992, but never even attempted. That would send the message that the world finally takes this conflict seriously — before it is too late.

Source: The New York Times

Jun 242016

VIENNA, 24 June 2016 – The Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Ambassadors Igor Popov of the Russian Federation, James Warlick of the United States of America, and Pierre Andrieu of France) call on the sides to honour the agreements which were reflected in the Joint Statements of the 16 May summit in Vienna and the 20 June summit in St. Petersburg.

We urge Azerbaijan and Armenia to remove all remaining obstacles to expanding the mission of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk. We also urge progress in substantive talks and on a proposal to establish an OSCE investigative mechanism. We will continue our engagement with the sides to advance all of these outcomes from the last two meetings between the Presidents.

Source: SOCE Minsk Group page

Jun 202016

At the invitation of the President of the Russian Federation, the Presidents of the Republic of Armenia, Russian Federation and Republic of Azerbaijan met in Saint Petersburg on June 20, 2016 and discussed issues pertaining to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.

The Presidents of the Republic of Armenia and Republic of Azerbaijan reiterated agreements reached at the May 16 Armenian-Azerbaijani Summit in Vienna aimed at the stabilization of the situation in the conflict area and creation of an atmosphere conducive for moving the peace process forward. Towards that end, they agreed in particular to increase the number of international observers. They expressed satisfaction with the fact that recently the ceasefire regime at the line of contact has been upheld.

A substantial exchange of opinions took place regarding the pivotal issues related to the settlement. The Heads of State took note of mutual understanding on a number of issues, the resolution of which will allow to create conditions for a progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.

The Presidents stressed the importance of their regular meetings and reached an agreement to continue them in the same format, in addition to the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, which were invited to the concluding part of the St. Petersburg meeting.

Original source: Official website of the President of Russia [in Russian]
Armenian source: Official website of the President of Armenia

Jun 162016

A Four-Day War in April

In four days of bloodshed in the South Caucasus from April 2 to 5, Armenian and Azerbaijani forces went back to war, unfreezing their conflict around the disputed territory of Nagorny Karabakh.

Moscow negotiated a verbal truce between the chiefs of staff of the armies of Armenia and Azerbaijan, but by then, according to the most reliable estimates, almost 200 people had died, many of them civilians. The Armenian side admitted to 88 casualties and reported that some of them were victims of atrocities. A nongovernmental Azerbaijani media organization counted more than 100 Azerbaijani dead.

The April fighting was the worst outbreak of violence since 1994. But it was not a full-scale military offensive by Azerbaijan, which has periodically said it does not rule out the use of force to reconquer territory it lost in the conflict in the 1990s. More likely, it was a limited operation staged by Baku to shake the status quo, put the conflict back on the international agenda, and put the Armenian side under pressure. The Azerbaijani army recovered two hills, one of which, Lele Tepe, lies about 3 miles north of the Iranian border and has some strategic significance. The fighting also rallied the Azerbaijani public around the flag and distracted them from economic woes caused by falling oil prices and a devalued currency.

The violence opened up a new security vacuum around Nagorny Karabakh. On May 16, the three mediators in the conflict, France, Russia, and the United States, moved to fill the vacuum in a meeting in Vienna between the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents, Ilham Aliev and Serzh Sargsyan, led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. A statement issued by the mediators afterward announced that both the Armenians and Azerbaijanis had acceded to long-standing demands. There will be a strengthening of the ceasefire regime and a mechanism to investigate ceasefire violations (an Armenian demand), and new comprehensive peace talks in June (the key Azerbaijani demand).

The basis for the new talks will be proposals drafted in 2015 by Lavrov, which modified a document put to Aliev and Sargsyan in 2011. The document sets out a phased plan in which transport communications would be restored and the Armenians would give up some territories in return for security guarantees for the Armenians of Karabakh.
The fighting and the new diplomacy make this a moment of opportunity and danger for the conflict. The parties still aspire to very different things, and the recent violence has only accentuated maximalist positions in Armenian and Azerbaijani societies. Despite the promise of fresh talks, many on both sides expect a new all-out conflict. Even though almost everyone involved believes such a conflict would be extremely bloody and destructive, some are keen to fight it. The security situation on the so-called line of contact that divides the two armies has remained volatile since April 5, with both sides reporting more exchanges of fire and casualties.

The April combat and ongoing tensions have raised the stakes for international actors who want a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Doing nothing or seeking to manage the decades-old ceasefire is no longer an option. Even those who would prefer to ignore this protracted dispute must face the prospect that the main choice now is between a more serious negotiation process and the risk of a dangerous conflict that could spill over into the wider region.

A Security Dilemma

Perceptions of mutual insecurity lie at the root of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict. Indeed, in the Caucasus, a region where small ethnic groups live side by side in a complex highland geography and fear for their survival, the concepts of identity and security are almost synonymous.

The Karabakh conflict dates back to 1988, although it has roots in the early twentieth century. In 1923, Nagorny (or Mountainous) Karabakh was created as an autonomous highland region within Soviet Azerbaijan, with an Armenian majority—94 percent when the region was formed, 75 percent in 1989. (The lowland part of the region is technically Lower Karabakh, but this term is seldom used.) In 1988, in the context of then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalization of the Soviet Union, the Armenians of Karabakh campaigned for their region to leave Azerbaijan and join Armenia.

Each side was driven into violence by fear: for the Armenians of Karabakh, that they would be swallowed up or driven from their homeland by Azerbaijan; for the Azerbaijanis, that Armenian-led Karabakh constituted a fifth column threatening the integrity of their republic. As the Soviet Union broke up and the two republics became independent states, the dispute escalated into full-scale war. By the time the 1994 ceasefire agreements were signed, around 20,000 people had died and more than 1 million had been displaced. The Armenians won control not only of Nagorny Karabakh but also of all the Azerbaijani land around it, amounting to 13.6 percent of the de jure territory of Azerbaijan. Negotiations led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have not yielded a resolution to the dispute.

Since the 1994 ceasefire accords were signed, the most thorny issue concerns the so-called occupied territories. The end of fighting left the Armenian side in control, in whole or in part, of the seven Azerbaijani territories around the Armenian-majority enclave of Nagorny Karabakh. In Soviet times, these regions were regular parts of Azerbaijan with no autonomous status, home to more than 500,000 Azerbaijanis. Armenian forces captured these areas in 1992–1994, calling them a buffer zone that protected the Armenians of Nagorny Karabakh from destruction. For Azerbaijan, the continued occupation of these regions, twenty-two years after the ceasefire deals, is an egregious injustice. They point to four UN resolutions from 1993 and 1994 that call for Armenian troops to withdraw from these territories.

Political scientists have called an impasse such as the one in Nagorny Karabakh a security dilemma. This is defined as a situation in which one side in a conflict seeks to strengthen its own security vis-à-vis its opponent by taking steps that the other sees as threatening, leading to an escalation of tensions that undermines the security of both.

The crux of the security dilemma here is that any effort by Azerbaijan to reverse the status quo by recapturing the occupied territories by force only reinforces Armenians’ determination to hang on to the territories to protect their own security interests. This polarizing dynamic lay behind the small war in early April.

The basis of the OSCE draft peace plans is the idea that the Armenians will give up these occupied territories (with the exception of a corridor through the town of Lachin linking Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh) in return for guarantees of self-rule for the Armenians of Karabakh and perhaps eventual independence. Unfortunately, the worsening conflict dynamics are leading to a hardening of positions on both sides. Increasingly, many ordinary Armenians refer to these seven territories as being liberated rather than occupied. Speaking after the recent fighting, Antranig Kasbarian, a diaspora Armenian journalist, said, “These liberated territories are strategically crucial as security zones: They maintain Azerbaijan’s distance from Karabagh’s main population centers, while creating an integral, territorial bond between Karabagh and Armenia. At the same time, many of these territories have a historically Armenian pedigree.” In Baku, meanwhile, there is less talk of giving autonomy to the Armenians of Karabakh and more of reconquest. At the end of 2015, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov warned that in 2016 “the Karabakh land will burn under the feet of the Armenian invaders.”

A robust international security arrangement is needed to unlock this dilemma. Yet the only mechanism in place is the set of ceasefire agreements signed in 1994, which were supposed to be temporary arrangements and did not provide for peacekeepers. In an accord signed on July 27, 1994, the military commanders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorny Karabakh pledged to work within thirty days on a political agreement that would contain “technical military issues, including the interaction of international peacekeepers and a CSCE observer mission.” Yet, no document has been agreed on since then. The OSCE’s predecessor, the CSCE or Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a relatively young multilateral organization, was unable or unwilling to step in decisively, especially as the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was commanding far more international attention.

At that time, crucially, none of the actors in the process could reach agreement on the role of Russia. Then Russian defense minister Pavel Grachev was keen to follow up on the truce of May 12, 1994, by deploying a Russian-led peacekeeping mission to the occupied territories around Nagorny Karabakh. This mission, analogous to the one that would be sent to the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia in the same year, would have given Russia a pivotal role in the conflict zone.

However, the Russian initiative was thwarted—and the story of how this happened should give pause to those who believe that Moscow pulls the strings in this conflict. In his book Green and Black, the Armenian journalist Tatul Hakobyan relates how Azerbaijani officials, who had only recently seen the last Russian military base withdrawn from their territory, strongly opposed the return of Russian soldiers in the guise of peacekeepers. Significantly, the Armenians did not trust the Russians either. Hakobyan quotes Karabakh Armenian official Manvel Sarkisian as saying he worked with Azerbaijani negotiator Tofik Zulfugarov to keep the Russians out. Hakobyan writes, “It was a period when the Armenians and Azerbaijanis basically worked together against the Russians. And if that had not happened, then Russian peacekeepers would long ago have been sent to the Karabakh conflict zone, with say a [Commonwealth of Independent States] mandate, as happened in Abkhazia.”

As a result, no peacekeeping force was created, the lightly armed Karabakh Armenians stayed in the occupied territories, and just six CSCE (later OSCE) observers were deployed to monitor the ceasefire. The line dividing the two armies gradually became more established and known as the line of contact. It turned into a steadily more fortified network of trenches stretching across the territory of Azerbaijan to the border with Iran.

The Peace Process Under Strain

Twenty years ago, the Nagorny Karabakh conflict was a much greater international priority than it is today. Great hopes were placed on the OSCE as the emerging European security organization that would handle it. At one of its earliest meetings in 1992, the organization called for a conference to resolve the conflict, to take place in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. The conference was never convened, but a Minsk group was formed to mediate between the warring parties. Following the 1994 ceasefire, a new framework for the Minsk process was formalized. Russia’s failure to become the unilateral mediator gave the responsibility to the OSCE as a whole—an arrangement that also allowed the conflict parties to play the mediators off against one another.

At a summit in Budapest in December 1994, the OSCE set up a framework with three main elements, which have been likened to three legs of a stool. First, at the high political level, the OSCE Minsk group had co-chairs responsible for mediating between the conflict parties. Since 1997, these co-chairs have been France, Russia, and the United States.

Second, the OSCE chairman in office nominated a personal representative on the ground whose mandate is to represent the OSCE in the region. Andrzej Kasprzyk of Poland has filled this role since 1997.

The third leg of the stool is the so-called high-level planning group (HLPG), which is mandated “to make recommendations for the Chairman-in-Office on developing as soon as possible a plan for the establishment, force structure requirements and operation of a multinational OSCE peacekeeping force.” The HLPG was extremely active in its first year of operation, making fact-finding visits to the region. In July 1995, the group presented a plan for a peacekeeping operation to the chairman in office. As the OSCE reported in 2007, “it included four options, of which three were a mixture of armed peacekeeping troops and unarmed military observers, their strength varying from 1,500 to 4,500 personnel, the fourth being an unarmed military observer mission.”

All three of these OSCE structures have lost power and prestige in the last twenty years. The international actors have seen Karabakh slip down their agendas and have increasingly focused on managing the conflict rather than resolving it. The rotating one-year chairmanship structure of the OSCE means that the chairman in office lacks institutional memory on the issue. Gradually, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, for whom the conflict remains the number one national priority, have become the chief conductors of the process and found ways to manipulate the OSCE mechanisms.

The main mediation track led by the three co-chairs has stalled in the face of objections from the two leaders. The co-chairs devised a sophisticated framework document centered on six basic principles, a draft of which was filed with the OSCE in 2007. However, since 2014, there has been a growing consensus that a package agreement tackling these issues all at once is unattainable, and the co-chairs have focused on a less ambitious, phased approach.
In the meantime, the ceasefire-maintenance mechanisms of 1994 have been inadequate in the face of a mass military buildup. Kasprzyk leads a six-man monitoring team that, incredibly, is supposed to observe the ceasefire not only along the 160-mile line of contact but also along the Armenian-Azerbaijani international border, where there are now frequent clashes. A 2011 initiative by the foreign ministers of France, Russia, and the United States to build confidence between the parties by having snipers withdrawn from the frontline was rejected by Azerbaijan. Baku has had no interest in strengthening a ceasefire regime that entrenches the status quo and in giving up almost its only leverage over the Armenians: the pressure of military force.

The HLPG has not been able to update its four options of 1995 for a peacekeeping force with proposals that would reflect either the more menacing situation on the ground or innovations in thinking on the use of peacekeepers in conflict zones. Both parties to the conflict have blocked the HLPG from making observation missions to the region—the last time the group visited the conflict zone was in 2006.

In this vacuum, both sides have purchased modern destructive weaponry, with Russia acting as the main supplier of arms.

Azerbaijan has used massive oil revenues to increase its military budget to more than $4 billion a year. In the recent round of fighting, Baku was able to use tanks, heavy artillery, and attack helicopters, as well as Israeli-produced military drones. One reason why the Azerbaijani government may have been tempted to use force in April was that it was a moment when the military balance was most in Baku’s favor, as the military budget is being cut under pressure of falling oil revenues.

The Armenians cannot afford the same level of military expenditure, but they have the advantage of defending higher ground. At the same time, as a member of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, Armenia can buy Russian weapons at reduced prices.

The situation on the ground has become more volatile as both sides make contingency plans for more fighting. In February 2016, Armenia’s First Deputy Defense Minister David Tonoyan announced that his country was moving from a “static” to a more proactive “deterrence” defense doctrine. In line with that approach, Yerevan secured a $200 million loan to buy new weapons from Russia, including Smerch rockets and TOS-1A flamethrower systems. These were not delivered before the April fighting began. During that recent bloodshed, an Armenian commander said anonymously that his army possessed Russian-made Iskander cruise missiles and that they were targeted at Azerbaijan’s oil and gas infrastructure.

A rhetorical arms race has kept pace with the actual one, especially on the Azerbaijani side. Aliev has called Armenia a “criminal and dictatorial regime” that is guilty of “genocide” and asserted that “the current state of Armenia was established on historical Azerbaijani lands.” The Armenians do not employ such extreme rhetoric, but as the victors in the 1991–1994 conflict, they do not need to. Armenians fuel the conflict by quietly reinforcing their grip on the territory they control—a stance that could be termed passive-aggressive. For example, a new road is being built across the Armenian-occupied Kelbajar region. In 2010, the Karabakh Armenian authorities announced they were giving the ruined Azerbaijani town of Aghdam the Armenian name of Akna.

Prisoners of the Caucasus

After the violence in April, it is hard to conceive how the Karabakh conflict can return to its semiquiet state of the last few years. Either a new political process will deliver results, or there will be more violence. Emotions are too high in the region, and the 1994 ceasefire regime has been shown to be inadequate. The whole OSCE framework to contain the conflict has been pushed to breaking point.

War is a risky adventure that few people want. Yet, if they do not agree to political compromise and resolve their extreme security dilemma, the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan risk becoming trapped by their own rhetoric and public expectations on a path that could take them to war by miscalculation or misadventure.

Several scenarios could lead to this outcome. There could be a particularly egregious violation of the ceasefire. Seeing no prospect of a new political process, the Azerbaijani side could launch an operation to capture more land and change the facts on the ground in its favor. Armenia’s parliament could carry through on a threat to pass a bill recognizing Nagorny Karabakh as an independent state, a move that would effectively end Yerevan’s mandate to negotiate and would kill off the Minsk process.

One thing is certain: a new round of fighting would be harder to contain than previous conflicts. It is likely that the geographical range would be bigger, the weaponry more destructive, and the bloodshed much greater. Both Baku and Yerevan would be under pressure to invoke the security assistance treaties they have signed with Turkey and Russia respectively and to try to drag Ankara and Moscow into a proxy war. These security dynamics make both local and international actors prisoners of the Caucasus, to use the phrase of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.

The security vacuum can be filled only by a sustained international push to resolve the conflict. In particular, that requires more proactive planning about the nature, size, and composition of the international peacekeeping force that is supposed to underpin a political agreement. Without this, it will be hard for the Armenian side to agree to withdraw its troops from the occupied territories and for Azerbaijani internally displaced persons to begin to go home. Asking the two presidents to agree to the political elements of a deal without a proper understanding of its security component is akin to building a house without a floor.

Since 1995, work on the security part of an OSCE-mediated deal has lagged behind the political dimensions. The complex geography of the conflict zone and the new weaponry deployed in it mean that the need for an international peacekeeping force with a strong mandate is greater than ever. However, planning such a mission is complicated by at least three problems.

The first of these problems is Karabakh fatigue. The major powers of the world have many other preoccupations and commitments, and it will be hard to find 4,000 armed peacekeepers to be deployed to an old conflict zone in the South Caucasus—let alone the larger number that the militarized conflict zone probably now requires. Such a force needs to be constructed to satisfy the claims of both Armenians and Azerbaijanis, both of whom would prefer to keep their own forces in large numbers in the conflict zone.

Second, the OSCE has no experience leading peacekeeping operations, as the 1994 Budapest summit mandated the organization to do for Nagorny Karabakh—nor does it have the budget for it. The final declaration in Budapest acknowledged this by asking the chairman in office to seek the “technical advice and expertise” and “political support” of the UN. This means that a Karabakh peacekeeping operation would likely be delegated to the UN following a Chapter 7 Security Council resolution—or perhaps to the European Union. That is not so much a technical challenge as a political one: it requires delicate navigation of international diplomacy that the parties to the conflict may seek to exploit to their own advantage.

The third issue that will complicate plans for any peacekeeping arrangement is Russia. Moscow made an aggressive but unsuccessful bid to lead a peacekeeping operation in 1994, a move to which the Azerbaijani side in particular objected. In a draft peace deal discussed in Key West in 2001, Russia made a gentleman’s agreement under which a peacekeeping force would include “no neighbors and no co-chair countries,” as former mediators have confirmed, a formula that would exclude both Russia and Turkey. However, there are indications that the Russians have not given up on their earlier ambition. In 2006, then Russian defense minister Sergey Ivanov predicted that Russian peacekeepers would be deployed to the Karabakh conflict zone “in the foreseeable future.”

There is a common view, both in the region and in some circles in the West, that Russia’s only interest in the conflict is in sustaining the status quo of no peace, no war. The reality is more complicated. During the 1991–1994 war, Russian servicemen fought on both sides. Russia has a military alliance with Armenia and a fairly close relationship with Azerbaijan. Russia mediated the ceasefire and has, since the late 1990s, worked in fairly effective coordination with its Minsk group co-chairs, France and the United States. In his push to resolve the conflict in 2009–2011, then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev cooperated closely with his French and U.S. counterparts. Russia certainly has an interest in preserving its influence in the region, but it cannot afford the risk of a new war in which it would be forced to support its military ally, Armenia, and lose everything that it has built with Azerbaijan. Moscow can also preserve its influence by promoting a phased peace plan that will take many years to implement and will reopen North-South communications between Russia and Iran via Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Some analysts also speculate that in the new international environment of competition between Russia and the West that has followed the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Moscow is seeking again the kind of unilateral role it tried to play in Karabakh in the mid-1990s and to use the conflict to establish a new military presence in the South Caucasus. Whether that is the case is a moot question. The key point is that if that is the Russian ambition, it is not matched by Russian capacities. In 1994, in 2011, and at other times, Armenia, Azerbaijan, or both have blocked Russian initiatives. The other two co-chairs of the Minsk group, though less visible, have a de facto veto over any plans Moscow may have to shape a peace deal to its own agenda.


Following the breakdown of the ceasefire around Nagorny Karabakh in April 2016, the formidable challenge ahead for international actors is to upgrade the faltering peace process to prevent a slide into full-scale war. That means getting the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan (as well as the Armenians of Karabakh) to agree to a package of political and security measures that they can accept and then sell at home. The only viable mechanism for doing this is the current OSCE Minsk group co-chair format—dismantling it would be an exercise of questionable merit that would take up valuable time. France, Russia, and the United States have the experience, the international weight, and the institutional memory to stay at the vanguard of the process.

However, it is important that other international players with a genuine interest in resolving the conflict are allowed to contribute more to the process. The EU, for example, has extremely valuable postconflict experience from the Western Balkans and a profile in the Caucasus that is much higher than it was twenty years ago. Other interested actors include Georgia, which was alarmed by how the recent fighting between its two neighbors threatened its own stability; Iran, which borders the conflict zone and has fewer obligations to either side than does Russia or Turkey; and even China, which is becoming a major investor in a region it sees as an East-West transit route.

On the security side, the OSCE chairman in office (held by Germany in 2016) also has a mandate to do more. It can use its political weight to invigorate the OSCE monitoring mission and the HLPG and enable them to carry out their mandates.

More broadly, high-level (and confidential) diplomacy by the Minsk group co-chairs and the chairman in office is needed to work out both the political and technical aspects of a draft security package and peacekeeping force. This means prior consultations with the UN and the EU and with nations that are perceived as neutral and could potentially provide peacekeepers. It means Moscow would clarify to the other mediators whether it still aspires to deploy Russian peacekeepers.

Once a draft document is agreed on internationally, it could be put to the conflict parties as a pledge of seriousness by the mediators. It would provide the floor for a new political and security deal to be presented to Armenians and Azerbaijanis at the OSCE Minsk conference, finally convened more than twenty-three years after it was first proposed.

These recommendations are made in the full knowledge that the Nagorny Karabakh conflict is still lower on the agenda than other international issues, such as Syria and Ukraine, and remains a matter in which many are still reluctant to engage more fully. However, a stronger investment in conflict resolution in this dangerous region of the Caucasus now is surely a better option than the much more costly alternative of dealing with a new conflict, with all its strategic and economic repercussions and terrible toll in human lives.

Source: Carnegie Europe

May 162016

VIENNA, 16 May 2016 – The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State of the United States of America John Kerry, and State Secretary for European Affairs of France Harlem Desir, representing the co-chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group, met today with President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev to advance a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

They reiterated that there can be no military solution to the conflict. The Co-Chairs insisted on the importance of respecting the 1994 and 1995 ceasefire agreements.

The Presidents reiterated their commitment to the ceasefire and the peaceful settlement of the conflict. To reduce the risk of further violence, they agreed to finalize in the shortest possible time an OSCE investigative mechanism. The Presidents also agreed to the expansion of the existing Office of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson in Office. Finally, they agreed to continue the exchange of data on missing persons under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to which the Presidents committed during the Paris summit of October 2014.

The Presidents agreed on a next round of talks, to be held in June at a place to be mutually agreed, with an aim to resuming negotiations on a comprehensive settlement.

Source: OSCE Minsk Group page

Apr 262016

STEPANAKERT, Nagorno-Karabakh

The military commander of this breakaway Armenian republic predicted in an interview here Monday that a fragile cease-fire could collapse within days. By that night, Azerbaijani shelling had killed two Armenian soldiers in a northern border town, amid accusations by each side that the other had violated the truce.

The “frozen conflict” here, stalemated for 22 years, exploded on April 2, when Azerbaijani forces attacked across the 200-kilometer front line. The Azerbaijanis seized ground for the first time since the previous war ended in 1994. Russia negotiated a quick truce that began April 5, but as Monday’s fighting showed, another all-out conflict seems perilously close.

Karabakh is one of the world’s least-discussed and most intractable quarrels. The mostly Armenian population violently seceded from Azerbaijan in a two-year war. Since then, Russia, France and the United States have sponsored a mediation effort, but it has been fruitless: Azerbaijan demands that land once inside its borders be returned; the Armenians insist they aren’t leaving. Rather than softening over time, anger seems to be hardening on both sides.

Russia is opportunistically in the middle. Moscow says it wants to broker a lasting peace deal, but it has also been arming both sides. The United States also hopes to prevent a wider conflict but has little diplomatic leverage. The Azerbaijanis, judging by their strident social media, feel emboldened by their recent offensive; the Armenians feel isolated and increasingly reconciled to what one former peace activist here described to me as a state of “permanent war.”

I visited Karabakh with several other foreign journalists and a member of the European Parliament on a trip organized by the Armenian government. The 90-minute helicopter flight took us over stunning mountainous terrain to this lush, isolated enclave whose name means “black garden.” During my brief visit, the place seemed a bit like Switzerland in the Caucasus — not just the mountains but also the tidy streets, hillside farms and fiercely independent people.

Lt. Gen. Levon Mnatsakanyan, the defense minister of this self-declared republic, said his forces hadn’t expected the broad attack on April 2. But he said there had been warning signs: Since August, 21 Armenian soldiers had been killed and 113 wounded in attacks along the so-called “line of control.” And Azerbaijan had been restocking its arsenal with new Russian tanks, Israeli drones and Turkish missiles. The Armenian side, reassured by a supposed “strategic alliance” with Russia, didn’t expect a big Azerbaijani offensive.

“Tactically, maybe they have registered some successes,” Mnatsakanyan conceded. “But I would say that considering all the force they used, it’s rather a defeat for them.” He claims the Azerbaijanis had lost 24 tanks in the four-day battle in early April. The two sides have radically different casualty counts, and it’s impossible to independently verify the numbers. But Azerbaijani commentary has treated the campaign as a major victory after the smoldering defeat of the 1992-1994 war.

Mnatsakanyan insisted that Armenian troops could defend the enclave, without Russian help: “The result of the four-day war shows that the equipment we have and our combat readiness is okay for stopping any adversaries.” If the war resumes, he says, “we will not only repel them but advance ourselves.”

Talking to Armenian residents of Karabakh, I came away with a sense of growing militancy here, as in Azerbaijan.

Garen Ohanjanyan, the former peace activist, says this latest war has changed his view about the possibility for reconciliation. After the last war ended, he helped foster dialogue with Azerbaijanis. Now, he says, he has given up on peace and wants Armenian forces to destroy Azerbaijani economic targets. In the past month, he explains, “our nation lost its illusions.”

“Maybe my generation became too relaxed in these past years,” says Ashot Sarkissyan, a 27-year-old who works with a local nongovernmental organization and also serves in an antiaircraft defense unit. “Why didn’t we use this time to become strong enough to deter them from a war?”

Anahit Danielyan, who heads the Stepanakert Press Club, says she used to try to stay in touch online with Azerbaijani journalists. Now, she says, “I’m starting to feel this hatred from my colleagues in Azerbaijan. . . . This new war has somehow changed our perceptions of each other.”

On the road to the airport, a visitor can see the national monument, a huge stone statue of an old man and woman — heads only, the bodies seemingly buried in the hillside. The official name is “We Are Our Mountains.” The implicit message is: We aren’t moving. What seems ahead is a long, unyielding conflict.

Source: The Washington Post

Apr 092016

WITH so many conflicts in the world, Nagorno-Karabakh gets little attention. The bloody fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the mountainous enclave this week was a reminder that it should. Tanks and artillery traded fire; at least 50 people were killed in four days. The spectre loomed of a wider war, one that could draw in Russia, Turkey and Iran. A ceasefire brokered in Moscow on April 5th appears to be holding for now. But it brought the two foes no closer to peace.

The fighting dates back to 1988, when Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenians attempted to secede from Azerbaijan. (At the time, both Armenia and Azerbaijan were republics of the Soviet Union.) As the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, the conflict grew into a full-scale war. By 1994 some 30,000 people were dead and Nagorno-Karabakh was under Armenian control. Russia, America and France brokered a ceasefire, but sporadic shooting continued. Rather than time healing old wounds, it deepened them.

On April 2nd the frustration spilled over. Azerbaijani forces seized settlements and strategic heights along the front. (Both sides accuse each other of starting the fighting.) The campaign to capture territory marked a departure from an earlier Azeri strategy of attacks aimed at “pressure and posturing”, says Richard Giragosian, head of the Regional Studies Centre, a think-tank in Yerevan. Armenian and Karabakhi officials say they retook the captured land, but their claims have not been independently verified. The outburst demonstrates that the 1994 ceasefire framework, with no peacekeepers and only a handful of unarmed monitors, “no longer fits”, says Thomas de Waal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The fact that the assault began with both the Azeri and Armenian presidents in Washington for a security summit suggests that it was no accident. Discontent with the stalled diplomacy may have pushed Azerbaijan to try to change facts on the ground. “This is about bringing Armenia to the negotiating table,” says Zaur Shiriyev of Chatham House, a British think-tank.

At home, the political dividends were immediate. The brief war “created euphoria”, says Anar Valiyev, a Baku-based analyst. The government boasted of newfound military superiority, the result of the oil-rich state’s expansion of defence spending (from $177m in 2003 to $3 billion in 2015). Casualties were seen as justified. “The people are hungry for victories,” says Mr Valiyev.

That may help Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, cushion the pain of falling oil prices. Oil and gas accounted for 94% of the country’s exports in 2013. As prices dropped over the past two years, the Azeri central bank burned up more than two-thirds of its reserves supporting the currency before allowing it to devalue sharply. In January 2016 the government imposed a 20% tax on foreign-exchange transactions and sounded out the International Monetary Fund about a possible loan. Rising prices and unemployment prompted protests in several smaller towns earlier this year, a rarity under Mr Aliev’s tight watch.

Some on the Armenian side suggested that Turkey, a longtime ally of Azerbaijan and new foe of Russia, helped provoke the violence. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fueled the speculation by declaring that he would stand by Azerbaijan “to the end”. Yet the Turkish role is a red herring, says Laurence Broers of Chatham House: “The motives are local and not about great-power competition.”

Nonetheless, peacemaking will require a push from powers such as Russia. Moscow has closer ties with Armenia: it has a military base there and a treaty obligation to defend the country against attacks on its territory (excluding Nagorno-Karabakh). But Russia also sells large quantities of arms to Baku. Any peace plan depends on external pressure overcoming local resistance. The stakes of diplomatic failure have never been clearer: little is left to prevent a repeat, or worse, of last week’s clashes. “Now there is no excuse for the outside powers to say the situation can just be managed,” says Mr de Waal.

Source: The Economist

Apr 052016

VIENNA, 5 April 2016 – We, the representatives of the OSCE Minsk Group countries (Russian Federation, the United States of America, France, Belarus, Finland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Turkey), as well as the incoming Austrian OSCE Chair (2017) and the Serbian OSCE Chair (2015), strongly condemn the outbreak of unprecedented violence along the Line of Contact. We extend our condolences to all affected families. We urge the sides to cease using force immediately. There is no military solution to the conflict.

The deterioration of the situation on the ground demonstrates the need for an immediate negotiation, under the auspices of the Co-chairs, on a comprehensive settlement.

The representatives of the Minsk Group member states affirm their support for the Russian, American, and French Co-Chairs’ mediation efforts and welcome their plans to undertake direct consultations with the sides as soon as possible.

Source: OSCE Minsk Group page