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 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

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

Mar 012016

“The Story of Nakhijevan”

ShushiBy Emanuele Aliprandi
MIA Publishers, Rome 2016

Historically, Nakhijevan has been one of the most prosperous regions under the rule of all Armenian kingdoms. Since the early history of the Armenian people until the 20th century, Nakhijevan was famous as a highly developed spiritual and cultural centre. In pre-Christian times the singers of Nakhijevan’s Goght’n province were very famous throughout Armenia. Then, in the early Christian period, the fi rst Armenian churches were founded in various areas of Nakhijevan. In this region, Mesrop Mashtots and his disciples preached and taught, gradually coming to the conclusion that Armenians needed their own alphabet. During the following centuries Nakhijevan became famous in one of the most signifi cant spheres of Medieval Armenian culture, that is. crafting stone crosses (khachkars).

After the collapse of Armenian statehood, the Nakhijevan region struggled to preserve its Armenian identity. In the late medieval period, the Armenian merchants of Agulis played an important role not only in regional trade deals, but also in the trade between the East and the West.

Nakhijevan has also continuously been subject to foreign invaders’ forays. Nevertheless, as much as they attempted, the geopolitical calculations of the Arab, Seljuk, Tartar, Turkmen, Ottoman and, later on, of Kemal-Bolshevik invaders, failed, and they were not able to remove the Armenian imprint from this region. The policy of the complete cleansing of Armenians and annihilation of all traces of Armenian culture and history from Nakhijevan was implemented after the region was annexed to a state created in the 20th century – Azerbaijan. Despite the fact that, according to the Moscow and Kars Treaties of 1921, Nakhijevan was to be a protectorate of Azerbaijan, the authorities of Soviet Azerbaijan initially took full control of the region and afterwards commenced to implement a policy of ethnic cleansing, whilst simultaneously conducting a fi erce campaign against the Armenian language. The authorities of the already independent Azerbaijan were not content with the complete ousting of the natives out of their homeland and took steps towards the full annihilation of all traces of the Armenian presence. Cemeteries, which were evidence of the physical existence of Armenians, as well as churches, which were part of the spiritual heritage in the area, were deliberately destroyed. The last stroke of this barbaric policy was the destruction of one of the last masterpieces of the Armenian culture in Nakhijevan – the stone crosses in Old Jugha Medieval cemetery.

Such was the fate of the Armenian autonomous region given to Azerbaijan by the will of the Bolsheviks. When nowadays in front of the whole world the authorities of Azerbaijan are promising high autonomy to another Armenian region – the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), it is the example of Nakhijevan that reveals the genuine motives of those promises to every reasonable human.


Feb 012016

“Why is the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict still not Resolved”

KocharyanBy Shavarsh Kocharyan
MIA Publishers, Yerevan 2016

The current phase of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue has started since the last years of the existence of the USSR and turned into a conflict as a result of the policy of power adopted by Azerbaijan in response to the implementation of the right to self-determination by the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict differs from other conflicts of the former Soviet area by the fact that the people of Nagorno- Karabakh impeccably implemented its right to self-determination within the legal frameworks before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was the bloodiest conflict of the post-Soviet area with tens of thousands of victims, hundreds of thousands of refugees and massive destruction. The military phase of the confl ict ended in May 1994 with an open-ended ceasefire agreement. Notably during the past 22 years the large-scale military operations have not been renewed, and the relative peace has been preserved without the involvement
of international peacekeeping forces.
The mediators in the negotiation process of the Nagorno-Karabakh confl ict resolution are the 3 out of the 5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – Russia, the USA and France. Despite the consistent efforts of the mediators, the Nagorno-Karabakh confl ict remains unresolved. The main reason is that Azerbaijan acts in contrary to the purposes of the United Nations.

The opinions presented below may differ from the opinions of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR).


Jan 012015

“Nagorno-Karabagh: Legal Aspects”

Legal-Aspects-CoverMIA Publishers, Fifth Edition, Moscow 2015
By Shahen Avakian
The study covers the legal aspects of Nagorno Karabagh problem. It examines the issues of Law as they affected the legal status of Nagorno Karabagh.

The author is an expert of International Law. He has graduated from the Paris Sorbonne University and is specialized in International Public Law and International Organizations law.

This study is the fi fth revised edition and contains additional information and updates. The publications of the earlier editions of this research are also availble in Armenian, French, Russian, Arabic, Greek and Spanish.


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Jan 012015

“Revival of Shushi”

ShushiBy James Bosbotinis
MIA Publishers, Moscow 2015

The South Caucasus has a rich and diverse history and cultural heritage, a product of the region’s position between Europe, Asia and the Middle East. This geographical position has seen the region subject to the influences of some of history’s most notable empires, including the Ottoman, Persian and Russian. Moreover, the region remains a scene of contemporary geopolitical competition and rivalry.

This book, based on the research by local experts, highlights the enduring history and distinct cultural heritage of the city of Shushi, in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Shushi’s history vividly illustrates the diverse range of influences, challenges and developments that form the wider history of the South Caucasus.

Shushi’s cultural heritage and identity also highlights a contemporary challenge relevant to both the South Caucasus and further afield: a national identity that transcends modern borders. The purpose of this book is to describe the fascinating heritage of a small city with a rich history.


Feb 052013

“Sponsored to Kill: Mercenaries and Terrorist Networks in Azerbaijan”

MIA Publishers, 2013
By Ioannis Charalampidis

This research is based on original testimonies, articles of reliable journals and newspapers and research of authoritative experts in the field. I would like to extend my gratitude to the Government of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh for providing copies of previously classified documents seized from the battlefield, which are published for the first time here.

Ioannis Charalampidis
Brussels, December 2012


Sep 042012

Viewpoint: Setback for peace in the Caucasus

By Thomas de Waal

This is a black week for those who are seeking a peaceful settlement of the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

On 31 August, in a deeply provocative move, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev pardoned convicted murderer Ramil Safarov on his return to Baku from a Hungarian prison.

Safarov had been attending a Nato training-course in 2004 when he killed Armenian fellow officer Gurgen Markarian with an axe while he slept.

Back in 2004, the brutal killing on ethnic grounds caused an inevitable upsurge of emotion in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have been waging a conflict in various forms over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh since 1988.

There was an upsurge in the war of words in the media, which generally goes further than what officials allow themselves to say.

Markarian was given a state funeral. In Azerbaijan a few members of parliament dared to call Safarov a “hero,” but many Azerbaijanis felt ashamed at how his action reflected on their country and, mercifully, government officials mostly kept silent.

Eight years on, that has all turned round.

This is now a full-blown state-to-state row, with as yet unknowable consequences. For reasons that have yet to be fully explained, the Hungarian government negotiated the extradition of Safarov to Baku having secured an agreement, they maintained, that he would only be eligible for parole after having served the remainder of a 25-year prison term in an Azerbaijani jail.

Hero’s welcome
Instead, Safarov was pardoned. Leaving him a free man without public comment would have been bad enough. The Azerbaijani government went much further than that, treating Safarov as a hero. He was given an apartment in Baku and personally promoted to the rank of major by the defence minister.

Every action has a reaction. Unsurprisingly, the US government and the Russian foreign ministry reacted to the news with strong disapproval.

The spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also expressed alarm but stopped short of directly criticising its own member state, Hungary. The EU already has enough problems with controversial Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

As for Armenia, it appears to be close to boiling over. It has suspended diplomatic relations with Hungary and observers of the Karabakh negotiating process – already on the verge of failure – are watching apprehensively for what it will do next.

The Armenian government was already telling all foreign interlocutors how unhappy it was with the state of the peace process. There were tough questions to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in June as to why there was not a sharper US response to violations of the Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire, which are widely perceived to come more from the Azerbaijani side.

Yerevan could now be tempted to suspend its participation in the peace talks.

Some Armenian commentators are calling for more extreme steps such as recognising breakaway Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state. There will also be the inevitable worry that a fanatical Armenian will try to commit a revenge attack.

From the political perspective, to call the Azerbaijani government’s actions a mistake is an understatement. It is a worrying indication of the quality of advice that President Ilham Aliev is receiving from his inner circle.

Over the past few years, the government in Baku has spent tens of millions of dollars of its new oil revenues promoting the image of Azerbaijan as a new, modernising, dynamic country. The effect has been quite successful, with results ranging from Azerbaijan joining the UN Security Council to Baku hosting feel-good events such as the Eurovision Song Contest.

All that PR work now has to contend with a contrary image, of the government welcoming home an axe-murderer.
Sadly, the events of this week are a big boost for radicals on both sides.

They strengthen the hands of those Armenian hardliners who say that this proves that Azerbaijanis are barbarians who cannot be trusted.

In Azerbaijan, I know a substantial number of non-governmental activists and middle-level officials who have been working quietly on dialogue projects with Armenians. It is hard to see those going forward in the current environment.

If there is any silver lining to this dark episode it could be that the international community pays more attention to the dangers of a new Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The conflict is not “frozen,” as it is frequently described.

The current format of quiet mediation by France, Russia and the US is not strong enough to move the two sides from their intransigent positions. The reception given Safarov suggests that the situation is moving closer to war than peace. This slide can be halted, but the time to start working harder on diplomacy is now.

Thomas de Waal is a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC.

Source: BBC News