«Azg» (Yerevan), 2005, March 25
PEACE TO KARABAKH
(to the structure of settlement)
Ву Vladimir Kazimirov
Instead of introduction
Dear visitor of this site,
Under this heading I placed my memoirs basically on the period when I was obliged to head Russia’s intermediary mission on Karabakh settlement, be representative of the President of Russian Federation on Nagorno Karabakh issue and also participant and co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk group from Russia (1992-96).
I would like to spur a serious study of history of peaceful and political settlement of Karabakh conflict. I shall be glad for critical remarks, corrections, even for refutations on separate episodes. I am ready to survey them, first of all, not from positions of author’s insulted vanity but from natural desire to attach more reliability to the description of events of recent past, which, unfortunately, already suffers both involuntary confusion and deliberate distortions. Moreover, I am ready to make corrections to my text or include alternative versions in view of remarks. I have turned to Azerbaijani and Armenian colleagues either involved in this process or closely watching it with an offer to draw the objective picture of Karabakh settlement history in this site.
I’ll post the sketches in the site bit by bit as they are ready. I shall begin with a number of important, at least as I see them, though inconsequent episodes: my appointment to “fire brigade” on Karabakh, first restrictions of military actions, Bishkek, ceasefire since May 12, 1994. I shall try to gradually fill in the gaps that divide them. In view of some disputes on separate events or episodes, I will probably have to attach documents of this process as appendices to these memoirs.
And now let me start looking forward to your arguments or criticism. Alexander Tvardovsky put it right indicating the truth: “Let it be thicker no matter how bitter it is”.
Many of my colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ventured, especially after retiring from active work, to take up writing their memoirs and thoughts on their service. Some of them hid it behind book covers, others in their desks. They urged me to write many times. Friends often reproached me telling that not everybody bechanced to witness so many diverse and important events during diplomatic service. But I obviously lacked courage or serious motivation to venture that.
Besides, I was not sure whether the others would be interested in it. Meanwhile, things began slipping my memory, breaking whole periods into separate episodes. So, Budapest events of October of 1956 were far behind, Brazil with the military coup in 1964 was drifting away, the war in Angola with first attempts for peace in the end of 80s was also gradually slipping out.
I also was embarrassed that authors of memoirs often puff up trying to play up their personality amidst events… Nobody, certainly, can avoid subjectivity if he tells about events that involved not necessarily his personality but that he witnessed. I was afraid to give way to such sins or, even worse than that, I feared of filling up the gaps in my memory with fantasy or adjust the narrative to a made-up scheme.
Suddenly I received stimulus from the most unexpected side! Karabakh is like a drug. Having invincibly addicted to it, I kept on watching settlement process over Nagorno Karabakh issue that I had to take up comparatively recently, from 1992 to 1996. This period is still fresh in my memory and there are more materials on this than on other events. Reading what the others wrote on Karabakh I found every now and then inaccuracies, confusion, false versions, pretentious statement etc. Most of them dealt with Russia’s role in the settlement. But I was the one who headed Russia’s intermediary mission on Karabakh in that period and was Russian President’s representative on the settlement of the conflict — personal, special and plenipotentiary respectively. I also represented Russia in the OSCE Minsk group as a co-chair. In other words, few people know the process in that period better than I. Like an alarm clock, my mind would call up: you know how it happened – not the way as it is written here! Why are you keeping silent?..
Meanwhile, the history of the conflict and its neutralization is being recited by people who learnt things through hearsay, were far from the events they describe and read and cut out information from here and there. I would put up with it if it were journalists as they work helter-skelter and can be excused for some mistakes more or less. But among those who mess with the facts are researches that are supposed to seriously check and recheck sources instead of blindly referring to them. Some participants of events also stretch the truth whether because of memory failure or yearning to push through their own version. What kind of researches or memoirs are these if they lack the vital element — authenticity?! The ringing of these alarm clocks already began flow together in unbearable boom. It’s time to put an end to lies and slander over Russia’s role in the process of Karabakh settlement…
Just then I realized that I still remember certain things, that there are many documents of 90s on Karabakh. But even this could not make me take up my pen — I simply stuck to the keyboard and began typing letters with only one finger — I never learnt typing.
Everything connected with Karabakh began for me very simply but thoroughly turned my life for some years. At the end of April of 1992 minister of foreign affairs of Russia, A.V. Kozirev, called me and offered to engage in the settlement process of conflict in Nagorno Karabakh.
By then I had already served at the Ministry for almost 40 years; though I was the head of the Department of African Countries at the Foreign Ministry for the last 1.5 years, it would be difficult to call myself specialist in African studies as my only experience was the mission in only one African country — Angola. It was a rather tough but meanwhile a very interesting period (1987-90) for a USSR ambassador as the southwester Africa — Namibia and Angola — were turning from wars to peace. But it was not obviously enough I think for taking up African issues in the foreign policy of our country.
Now try to guess what motivates the principals of the Foreign Ministry in their choices? I do not know what Eduard Shevardnadze’s motivation was for recalling me from Luanda and appointing the head of the Department of African Countries. Nor can I guess why A.V. Kozirev chose me while he decided to put up an intermediary mission of Russia on peaceful settlement of Nagorno Karabakh conflict.
Someone asserted later as if my experience of participant in conflict settlement in southwestern Africa has played some kind of role in appointing me the head of Russian intermediary mission in Karabakh.
Now we had to deal not with a remote continent but with close countries that were already “foreign” for Russia. It was not long ago when the South Caucasus was one of outskirts of our country and, as it seemed at a distance, rather cozy and nice one. And now armed conflicts battered the region killing thousand of people. More importantly, I had to engage in the very first and most wide-range conflict, and most “ancient” of active volcanoes in this region and in all the territory of the Soviet Union. I have never had a chance to study such issues concerning not foreign countries but a country that was not long ago our common country.
I played only a rather incidental role of member of a mandatory commission of XXVIII congress of the Communist Party. This commission was to immediately look into the mandates of three “unwanted” delegates of the congress of Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region (at that point, striving to outwit the Center, the Karabakh Armenians refused to participate in republican congress in Baku, where three delegates by Nagorno Karabakh quota were elected for the ХХVIII congress: an Azeri, an Armenian and a Russian but right after this they elected three delegates of their own in Karabakh). At the same congress, I started correspondence with the first secretary of Azerbaijan’s Communist Party, Ayaz Mutalibov, on the events in Sumgait. This was indeed my first encounter with Karabakh issue — two years prior to my assignment.
I have stayed in the South Caucasus only two days before while accompanying minister of foreign affairs of Cuba Isidoro Malmierca in his Yerevan trip during his USSR official visit in the beginning of 80s.
What was Nagorno Karabakh conflict for us during that period, in the beginning of 1992? The widely used definition “friend-enemy” from military aviation could hardly be applied in this case. The conflict was not to be considered “ours” any more — both Armenia and Azerbaijan already have proclaimed independence. But it was impossible to treat it as “foreign”: either Azeris or Armenians were still our own people — those were our guys dying! And it turned to be then one of the key features of our intermediary mission in Karabakh. That very fact also facilitated to our work in many respects and extremely complicated it tying our hands.
But at that moment, in the minister’s room, rather puzzled by his offer, I could only murmur without choosing words: “Frankly speaking, I am not excited over the idea. But if it is necessary, I’ll take it”. A. Kozirev has not found it probably a sufficiently convincing refusal. The order on setting an intermediary mission of Russia on Nagorno Karabakh headed by special envoy was signed in a few days, on 5 May, 1992.
I used to recollect my conversation with my friend and classmate envoy Vsevolod Oleandrov as a funny incident. He told me that has just got a new post connected with Armenia. “Is it connected with Karabakh?” I sympathetically asked him and added: “Well, thanks to God, that it’s a two-sided issue!”. It was just a day before my conversation with the minister and my mission on Karabakh.
I began looking into the tough essence of Nagorno Karabakh conflict. I spent a year only on digestion of the principles. I remember that only in the first half of 1993 I felt confident enough as regards to the conflicting sides and in contacts with many foreign partners in Minsk group set within framework of OSCE to help in settling the conflict. But the structure of this tragic confrontation in the South Caucasus, that overflowed regional boundaries, is so many-sided that even now, years later, I notice my ignorance in one or another aspect. The conflict’s echo quite often reaches us today across the ocean.
To proceed closer to the matter, I shall tell at once about the character of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and its peculiarity. Seemingly, there is no need of special introduction. The shock from the first armed convulsion that shook the foundations of great world power — the Soviet Union — is too alive in our memory.
The word “Karabakh” became a common noun indicating armed conflicts on the territory of former USSR (owing to its duration, cruelty, hopelessness and irrationality). It is true for the conflicts, which already sprinkled the earth with blood in different corners of Eurasia and for the ones that are still to come.
The malignancy of Karabakh precedent is in the fact that it encouraged, almost “legalized”, a number of such confrontations. Its destabilizing effect overflowed regional boundaries. But somehow Karabakh also served as caution as it prevented political confrontations to flare up in bloody clashes and direct military actions.
Yet, it is impossible to bypass a series of features of Karabakh conflict that were distinguishing it from other post-soviet conflicts in many respects.
Firstly, Karabakh issue has ancient historic roots (as opposed to the other, “young” conflicts): the clashes between Armenians and Azeris in the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th are well-known. This fact predetermined a special degree of mutual mistrust of the sides, emotional-psychological tension of the present conflict, its fierce and lingering character. What sets military actions in Karabakh apart is the fact that there were very few POWs compared with the killed and the unaccounted-for people: the sides took captives in exceptional cases. That’s why the ethnic cleansing there during the war was specific: hundreds of thousand civilians ran upon enemy’s oncoming thus turning into refugees. The sides quite often accuse each other of deportation but it was more inherent in the first phase of the conflict. There were less deported people during the years of war than those who abandoned native places, fearing deportation or severe treatment of the other side.
The other peculiarity of Karabakh is the gradual overflow of separate hotbeds of conflict into a real war, especial from the end of 1991. A war that included large-scale attacks and seizure of vast territories. The fights crept far beyond Nagorno Karabakh, reached borders of third states, coming closer to dangerous verge of internationalization of the conflict. Transport and energetic blockade distorted economy and ecology of the whole region. The interests of Russia, Georgia, Iran and Turkey were directly infringed.
Thirdly, it was in Karabakh that the modern heavy armament, including tanks and other armored vehicles, artillery and mounts for volley fire and bombarding aviation, largely was used. The strikes on settlements and civil objects were no rarity, and that resulted in great number of victims among the civilians as well as in increase of mass flows deportees and refugees. Multiple rough violations of norms of the international humanitarian right that didn’t stop even after the ceasefire are peculiar for this conflict. The phenomenon of mercenary is another feature of the Karabakh conflict.
The specific political configuration of Karabakh conflict created and still creates complexities. Contrary to “two-dimensional” domestic conflicts in Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan, where two sides directly confront each other on ethnic, clannish or other basis, the picture of confrontation in Karabakh is not that simple: there were two sides in the military conflict and three in the political: Azerbaijan, Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia. Features of both domestic and external conflict (let alone the Soviet period of 1988-91) are intertwined in Karabakh’s case. And only this conflict includes two former soviet republics and nowadays two sovereign states that are members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
All these peculiarities of war in Nagorno Karabakh urgently called for preventing it from further overgrowth, especially internationalization, and its soonest suppression — to stop at least only the bloodshed and then achieve gradual de-escalation of the conflict, passing on to political settlement in state of ceasefire. Unfortunately, ruling elites of the conflicting parties, especial one of them, could not part with illusory hopes to achieve their goal by military power for long and displayed irreconcilability and inflexibility.
There is no need to explain that the specificity of this conflict only aggravated the matter and complicated peacekeeping efforts. General destabilization of the situation in the region stymied ceasefire efforts and peaceful settlement.
Everything I told does not certainly exhaust all the characteristics of Karabakh conflict but much has already been told and written about it. Though much less was written about its settlement, there are just greater absurdities and distortions in this sphere. Therefore I also ventured on a “crusade” against lie and muddle over Karabakh settlement with a focus on Russia’s role in it.
THE FIRST RESTRICTIONS of MILITARY ACTIONS
The basic scope of military actions, especially attacks in Nagorno Karabakh and around it, fall on 1993. It doesn’t lessen the importance of the events in Shushi and Lachin at all (May, 1992) and the attacks of the Azeri army in the summer of the same year in territory of the former NKAR, as well as double-edged battles in the winter and spring,1994, shortly before the ceasefire on May 12.
As a whole, 1993 passed in the atmosphere of the Armenians’ military activity. In late March they occupied Kelbajar region, widely closing Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. In summer, the Armenians surrounded and occupied the cities Aghdam and Fizouli, two important basic points of the Azeri forces near the Eastern gates of Nagorno Karabakh, as well as Mardakert in the North. Then The Armenian-Karabakh forces kept staying near the southwestern regions of Azerbaijan (Djebrail, Zangelan, Kubatlu), threatening to come out to the border with Iran along the Araxes River. In October, 1993, having taken advantage of the local violations of ceasefire from the Azeri side, they unfolded a large-scale attack, surrounded and occupied the whole southwest.
In winter, 1993-94, the Azeri armed forces initiated a series of attacks. But the attacks either ended in failure (particularly, in Kelbajar), or brought local success (for example, in Goradiza, near the border with Iran).
* * *
The first year of the OSCE Minsk group’s activities (since June, 1992) showed that it can’t effectively play the role of mediator, to stop or hold the spreading of the armed conflict in the new regions with all the consequences following: increase in the number of the victims and the material destructions, increase of refugee wave, as well as the danger of making the conflict an international one. Moreover, the Minsk group obviously underestimated the importance of stopping the bloodshed. We continued our the activities in the Minsk group, trying to make it take the right path, counteracting the attempts of the Western diplomats to use this format in their geo-political interests, directed first of all to lessening the Russia’ influence in the South Caucasus.
In this situation we had to double our own efforts as mediator, more actively meeting with the authorities of the countries in conflict, calling them for achieving a ceasefire. It is necessary to indicate in points the line of our actions directed to the ceasefire since the mid 1993. Certainly, in real life they coincided with our activities in the Minsk group. One can understand them out of the given context not always.
There have been a number of ceasefires or other restrictions of the military actions achieved by direct mediation of Russia in the summer and the autumn of 1993. They were either violated shortly after, or we managed to prolong them for some period. That was a line of hopes and disappointment, nervous tension and embarrassing tiredness. The issued we raised in the beginning were not too arrogant — it was important, that the sides could gradually get accustomed to the idea that they could stop bombing the cities or at least shoot for some days.
One can’t say that we realized – sooner, we felt intuitively — that no miracle will take place, that we will fail to stop the fire with one step, as P.S. Grachev, Russian defense minister, expected in Sochi, September 1992. We will have to achieve that through insistent attempts, notwithstanding the frequent digressions, prevarications of the sides, or stopping the short ceasefires they happened to achieve.
“Annals” of the military actions’ restrictions and ceasefires in Karabakh can seem rather boring but one can’t understand how a long ceasefire and relative stability were achieved in the region without that. The long-lasting narration can be explained by the fact that each day of restricted or stopped military action has saved many human lives. Mainly, this covers the period since mid-1993 till May 1994.
It is worth mentioning that serious inner changes took place in Azerbaijan in this period. The general events are widely known: the dramatic escape of Abulfaz Elchibey and Heydar Aliyev’s coming to power that returned from Nakhijevan to Baku as a result of violent events that took place in Gyandja in early June. On June 15 he became the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Azerbaijan, while after Elchibey’s escape to Keleki, on June 18, he became the first person in the state (since June 24 – “acting President of the Azerbaijan Republic “). I will not touch upon the events in Baku (it is quite a different story) but all the things that will speak of happened in this very context.
The mission of Russia managed to independently achieve the first essential agreement between the sides in conflict on June 17, 1993 (just few hours before Elchibey’s escape from Baku). It was a period of fierce fights in Mardakert, Askeran and Aghdam regions, a period of insistent mutual accusations, of attacks and shootings. Notwithstanding the numerous warnings addressed to the Armenians of Karabakh (including the ones made from Moscow) not to try to take advantage of the inner political crisis in Azerbaijan, they couldn’t stand the temptation and began attacks directed to the central parts of the front on June 12. (The day before S. Huseynov, removed some of “his” troops from Karabakh front because of contradictions he had with Elchibey after the bloody events on June 4, in Gyandja.) In that period the armed forces of Azerbaijan actively bombed the Armenian settlements. Thus, on June 17, Stepanakert underwent hardest bombings.
The arrangement between the parties achieved as a result of our telephone conversations with Baku and Stepanakert was quite a simple one but was of great importance for the residents of the two suffered cities that became targets of military actions. It was a mutual obligation not to bomb Aghdam and Stepanakert.
Recently, I found out that the documents I have, half forgotten, but historical for this conflict, began fading without any chances to restore them. It was already impossible to read the text on some of the sheets.
In June 1993 we had the best and contemporary means of transferring texts via fax. We could use telephone communication, even through HF (high frequency phone), only for conversations, negotiations. In order to make more concrete and specified statement we had to either dictate the texts by HF or better send them by fax. The Electronic communication was not available for us and our partners even in the capitals of developed countries. We used fax communication so widely for sending texts to Baku, Stepanakert and Yerevan that we involuntarily created a new king of job, calling it “fax diplomacy”.
Such a frequent use of fax was conditioned by other factors, too. The parties, as a rule, evaded from direct meetings either with the participation of a mediator or without it. It was hard to gather their representatives around one table for signing the arrangements that we had already achieved. The military actions also hindered the transport communication in the region. There have been few transportation means in the region, as well. We had to do many things very quickly and at a distance, very often from Moscow. As the sides did not trust each other, they needed mediators to believe in something and also, to have a witness in case of treason of the opponent. Certainly, very often the mediators were accepted with caution by the sides, each of them suspected him in playing on the side of the other party. That is why it was better to receive written texts in serious cases even from the mediator, especially for reporting the authorities. In one word, there have been many reasons. But the main point is that the strict positions of the sides made them the slaves of their own incompliance.
Alas, the facsimile paper fades fast. Recently I decided to reprint the text of the first documents to preserve their essence, at least, even without grace of the forms and arms, without “odor” of signatures.
The technology of remote dialogue between the sides through the mediator, when he was in Moscow, was as a rule, the following way: the mediator would make the text of the arrangements based on telephone negotiation with the sides and would send it to Baku or Stepanakert for being signed. In case the sides agreed with the wordings, the sides would send back the signed document to Moscow, while the mediator would have to send it to the opposite party. The mediator would work in the same way when, later, Armenia began participating in such agreements as a third party.
Certainly, not always the sides signed the text in the way it was send by the mediator. There were many cases when this or that side made its corrections into the text, which is quite normal before signing the document. But sometimes it was done during signing without discussing with the mediator or directly with the opponent. Such, behavior of the sides revealed the lack of political culture or, at least, lack of relevant experience. Sometimes these could be trifles that didn’t touch upon the very essence of the agreement but in some cases such steps of the parties could ruin the principal agreement that was supposed to be reached orally. We will touch upon a classical example of such behavior later, dwelling on the events of December 1993.
In June, 1993, The Karabakh side didn’t use official form but they had an unusually large (diameter 4,5 cms) round stamp with an inscription “The Nagorno Karabakh Republic. Committee of Self-Defense”. The inscription was made in Russian and Armenian. The text prepared by the mediator and signed by a Nagorno Karabakh military principal, said:
“In case of the opposite side’s consent to immediately undertake the commitment not to shell and bomb Stepanakert, we will immediately undertake the commitment not to shell and bomb Aghdam.
S. Babayan, commander of the Army of Defense,
Nagorno Karabakh Republic
And a huge round stamp!
The form of the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry bore the state symbols and the address, as it was required: 370601, Baku, Azizbekov Avenue, 3. Here is the full text of the document from Baku:
“June 17, 1993 23:00
Defense Ministry of the Azerbaijan Republic. Fax 38-30-69 (8922)
Moscow, fax 230-24-74 (095)
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia
To Mr. Kazimirov
In case of the opposite side’s consent to immediately undertake the commitment not to shell Aghdam, we will undertake the commitment not to shell Khankendi.
S. Abiyev, head of the Headquarters of the Azerbaijani Republic’s Armed Forces.”
As soon as I received the signed faxes in my office on the Smolensk Square, I immediately sent the faxes to the sides, giving documentary confirmation of the telephone arrangement achieved between them on that day: the text by S. Abiyev was sent to Stepanakert, while the text by S. Babayan went to Baku. Soon both addressees confirmed that they received the documents and it seemed that the sides should keep this arrangement.
It is not accidental that the June 17 documents bear no indication of deadlines of actions. Each time we had the opportunity we achieved open-ended commitments, trying to stop or limit the military actions.
When comparing the texts of both sides, one can see the disputes of the sides around the name of the main city of Nagorno Karabakh. But another thing is more important: the silence of Baku about the bombing. Certainly, the Armenian side had no air forces, in fact, while the Baku officials obviously didn’t want to stop bombing Stepanakert/Khankendi (by the way it has been bombed even in mid-June). Thus, as a result, they agreed only on limitation of rocketing Stepanakert and Aghdam.
But even this shortened agreement was severely tested soon. Only two days later, on June 19, the same Samvel Babayan sent me Note №97, having signed the form of Nagorno Karabakh Self-defense Committee already as acting commander (here, I will represent the original message, edited by the author).
“Taking advantage of the previous arrangement between the sides on undertaking commitments not to expose to shooting the cities of Stepanakert and Aghdam, the Azeri side is gathering military equipment in Aghdam, including “Grad” rockets and exposes to shooting and bombing the dwelling places of Nagorno Karabakh Republic.
On behalf of the Commanders of NKR Self-Defence Forces, I have to warn that in case such actions continue to take place, we will take steps in response to press the hotbeds. The actions in response will begin in an hour after you receive the given message.
The Azeri side will bear the responsibility for everything”.
The natural reaction to such a note will be that one will regret about the lack of the common sense or literacy of the author. But this reaction will pass away very soon, as you come to think that hardly the mater is about only this.
One can read between the lines of this “notification” that both sides tried to deceive each other. In this case, the Azeri side didn’t break the arrangement of June 17 (as it forbade to shoot, rocket the two cities only). Certainly, bombing and shelling of towns and villages directly violate the international humanitarian right but the Azeris did not undertake commitments concerning military actions in other regions or about not gathering military engineering in this or that district. If the matter was really that the Karabakh authorities could suggest to enlarge the former arrangement, including two new obligations. But, probably, it was not included in their plans.
The “warning” concerning “the continuation of such military actions” is hardly grounded. The insignificancy of the motivation is obvious, as the mediator had not a single opportunity to agree and decide these issues at a distance in an hour only. The very text of Babayan’s letter testified to their decision to deliberately break the former arrangement that was hidden behind the epistolary tricks of the newly appointed commander from Karabakh.
So, it was so hard to deal with the first arrangement between the sides. Certainly, we managed to preserve it somehow through contacting with the parties. The Armenians called their actions responding measures for pressing the weapon emplacement of the enemy around Aghdam. Both sides protested about violations during the next days. The protests were discussed by the sides as well as during the telephone talks with RF Foreign Ministry; some measures were taken for remove concerns . Nevertheless, the military commanders of the parties stated that the general activeness of military actions, as well as usage of hard weapons decreased in those regions for a while.
On June 24 the Foreign Ministry of Russia emphasized the inadmissibility of interfering the affairs of Azerbaijan, as well as the importance of implementing the Resolution №822 of the UN Security Council. The matter was that the US and, particularly, Turkey, cherishing hopes concerning the President of Azerbaijan Elchibey, were suspicious about the legitimacy of the changes that took place in Baku. In future they began to use it as a measure for pressure over the new Baku authorities and the issue of the human rights, demanding to set free the arrested members of the People’s front of Azerbaijan. Sometimes, they were falling into absurdity, for example, the State Department used the word combination “the so called actions in Gyandja.”
On June 25 I discussed with the military commanders of the Armenians of Karabakh some measures of limiting the military actions for removing concern of the sides in over Askeran-Aghdam, as well as in Mardakert/Agdere. I immediately sent my suggestions to Safar Abiyev about balanced withdrawal of Karabakh’s Armenians and the Azeri forces from a number of dwelling places and hills of the region. We wanted to decrease the fire of the battles and to make the parties return to the positions of June 14 when Stepanakert, last of the three sides, gave consent for the plan of the “Minsk nine” though they asked for a month’s delay for its implementation. But the sides proved to be unprepared for such “conciliatory” gestures (later, we had to give up such suggestions for a while). But if the Karabakh side directly said that in some places they can’t remove their forces from the occupied positions, the Azeris delayed their answer (as a result, the Karabakh Armenians occupied the hills around Mardakert, making the Azeris leave that).
Receiving no answer from Abiyev concerning my suggestions, I had to send the same message with the sign “urgent” to Heydar Aliyev on June 26. At about 15:00 Heydar Aliyev called the head of the mediators’ mission of Russia and suggested to assist stopping the battles around Aghdam. He said that the Armenians again tried to surround and conquer the city. Being busy in sharing the “heritage” of Elchibey and settling the affairs with the brave “colonel” Suret Huseynov, he emphasized that in the current inner political situation of Azerbaijan the loss of Aghdam would cause fatal consequences. He even stated that he is determined to settle the Karabakh issue in the most constructive way and will be closely contacting with Yerevan in that issue, but at present a pause in the military actions is needed.
On June 26, during the second telephone conversation about the situation around Aghdam, Aliyev said that he wants to change the permanent representative of Azerbaijan to Moscow. He asked what I think of Khikmet Gadzhi-Zade, the permanent representative. I answered that though he belonged to the People’s Front of Azerbaijan, he was quite flexible and constructive and rather actively participated in the negotiations in Moscow around the ceasefire. I told how he was disavowed from Baku twice. Listening me till the end, Heydar Aliyev said that he is still “a man from the street” and expressed willingness to appoint a more solid representative – Prof. Ramiz Rizayev (member of the Academy of Science of Azerbaijan). Literarily, immediately at 17:11, Gadzhi-zade informed RF Foreign Ministry about stopping his functions without explaining the reasons.
Reporting A.V. Kozirev about the conversations with Aliyev, I stated that in my contacts with Baku and Stepanakert I try to stop the military actions in Aghdam and Mardakert where fierce battles were on. I said that we unfold larger intermediary suggestions. By the midnight of June 26 we managed to achieve agreement of the sides on the ceasefire of the abovementioned military for a week (i.e. till the morning of July 4).
Here is the first text. No comments:
“230-24-74. Moscow, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia,
to Mr. V.N. Kazimirov
In case you confirm the consent of the opposite side, we undertake the commitment that for one week beginning from 5:00 a.m. of June27 we will stop any attacks and attempts to go forward from the contact line that is set up at the abovementioned moment; any rocket, artillery fire as well as air bombardment on the whole area of the military actions from the village Madagiz, in the North, and to Aghdam, in the South. This arrangement will be in force immediately after the abovementioned confirmation is received.
head of Headquarters of the Armed Forces of Azerbaijani Republic.
June 27, 1993”.
We received the same text from Stepanakert, signed “Samvel Babayan, Commander of Defense Army of NKR”. After we sent the texts to Stepanakert and Baku relevantly, we made sure that they received them. One of the messages sent to A. Ghukasian bore my inscription, saying, “Did you receive Abiyev’s text? 27.VI.1: 45. VK.” The confirmations of the mediator that the document signed by the other side was not enough, each side wanted to have obvious confirmation by fax, at least.
Unfortunately, the arrangement of June 27 wasn’t achieved easily. They still were shooting in the morning, some incidents took place, and only by the noon we managed to cease the fire.
In the same period, the Russian mediator, facing the violations made by the one or the other side, began suggesting them a system of measures directed to decreasing such incidents to secure the achieved agreement even in such cases. These measures envisaged informing the opponent side about the violation either though High Frequency communication or though RF Foreign Ministry (its exact time and place, character and consequences). The other side had to give a written answer not later than in three hours, including the measures taken. When RF Foreign Ministry received such information, we had to inform the other side (immediately during the working days, while during the rest of the time as soon as possible).
Willingly condemning each other in both real and false violations, the sides didn’t express big readiness to use the incidents’ settlement mechanisms. That’s why, the Russian mediator had to return to this for several times, insisting of the suggested system of measures.
In the evening of June 27, Heydar Aliyev and Robert Kocharian agreed through me that they can enlarge and prolong the agreement on ceasing the attacks, the shooting and bombardments. On June 29, according to the arrangement with Aliyev, A.V. Kozirev especially sent a message to the sides in conflict with this very suggestion. UN Secretary General, acting chairman of OSCE, members of the Security Council and Minsk group were informed about this message. We spared no efforts to achieve the realization of the attained mutual understanding, but we failed.
On July 2, RF Foreign Ministry made a new suggestion to the sides in the development of these ideas, i.e. to prolong the June 27 arrangement for a whole month (till August 4) and spread over the zones of Fizouli and Hadrout. We also suggested not to bomb the dwelling places within a radius of 10 km. from the center of the cities of Aghdam and Agdjabedi, Askeran and Martouni (i.e. two enlarged security zones for the each side), without locating rocket emplacement or arms near the settlements. The order of the actions in case of violating the arrangement in the most vulnerable places for the sides was also discussed.
Stepanakert didn’t accept the suggestion of mutual withdrawal of the forces from the recently occupied hills and the occupied villages, but they agreed with the rest of the suggestions. As for the Azeris, it seemed that the idea was talked over with Aliyev. But Abiyev, notwithstanding the numerous cases of reminding, gave no response to our suggestions.
Meanwhile, we received the information that in Yerevan and Baku the US diplomats took measures directed against prolonging and enlargement of the arrangements, achieved between Baku and Stepanakert with the assistance of RF Foreign Minister. They tried to make the representatives of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh contribute to reanimation of “the trio” (Russia, the US and Turkey), notwithstanding our curt refusal to the Americans to work in this format.
Using the issue of legitimacy of the changes that took place in Baku as a pressure lever, the American made the Azeris throw out the triple initiative of Russia, Turkey and the US, though already in June it was replaced with “the plan of the Minsk nine.” On July 2, Aliyev especially turned to all the countries of the world, particularly, to the US, Turkey and Russia, as to the initiators of peaceful suggestions, entrusting these three states with the main responsibility for realizing them. On July 5, he invited the ambassadors of the three countries, complaining about the serious complications at the front, especially about the fact that the Armenians moved close to Aghdam. He called for the three sides to effectively contribute to the achievement of the goals. It’s worth mentioning that Heydar Aliyev already pictured Russia, the US and Turkey as the guarantors of the conflict’s settlement.
On the other hand, what did the reproaches of Aliyev hurled in Baku press, saying that none of the three States took any concrete measure, mean? He said this after several attempts of Russia to stop the military actions and Baku’s deviation to carry out the suggested measures! Facing such reproaches and the inexact statements concerning the commitments and guarantees of Russia, the US and Turkey, we had to send a personal letter to Vafa Guliadze, adviser of Heydar Aliyev, saying that there are not any commitments or guarantees yet and that one shouldn’t confuse the role of a mediator with the one of a guarantor. I bought him the list of the steps taken by Russia in June and in early July directed to de-escalation of the military actions.
As a result, Baku declined the suggestion to prolong the arrangement for a month. The week of the June 27 ceasefire expired on July 4 and the battles around Aghdam resumed. Soon (in three weeks) the Armenians occupied this strategically important point, transportation crossroad and a big city, where 60 thousand people used to live. Besides, the Azeris said afterwards from time to time that as if the Armenians broke the arrangement, without saying that the very Baku didn’t want to prolong and enlarge the previous arrangement.
December Fraud of 1993
Though Russia had a bunch of its own problems amidst disorder of the beginning of 1990s, it could not remain indifferent to bloody events in the outskirts of the collapsed USSR (from Karabakh and Transdniestria to Tajikistan) as they posed a threat for it either. Nevertheless, primitive speculations are circulating that Moscow held the key to the resolution of smoldering conflicts but was reluctant to act as it is easier to control former soviet and now independent States if they are warring. Everybody remembers the word Karabakh turning into common noun for interethnic clashes and a cockpit of wide-range and fierce war. But we easily forget how the fires that flamed all South Caucasus were extinguished due to insistent assistance of Russia and what it cost the latter. The conflict is not liquidated so far; it continues to smoke. But there has been no bloodshed for eleven years now.
The peak of military actions in Karabakh falls on 1993. Those were not local skirmishes anymore but practically pitched battles and wide-range operations with application of modern arms and seizures of extensive territories. The initiative passed to the Armenians: apart from the Karabakh people and volunteers from different countries, the regular army of Armenia has already stepped in the war. The other party recruited diverse mercenaries including many officers through military enlistment offices in a number of regions in Russia and about two thousand Afghan mojahedins.
Russia got more active as mediator from mid-1993 inclining the conflicting sides at first to measures on restriction of military actions and then to all-out ceasefire. But the path to the ceasefire in May 12 of 1994 was full of bitter failures because of a number of broken ceasefires. Those first ceasefires appeared short-lived. (To be sure, for second half of 1993 the bloodshed was suspended for whole two months if we add these terms of ceasefires: 2 months of 6 were calm and it is a great period regarding saved human lives!)
Nobody, except for Russia — neither other States, nor the OSCE Minsk group — managed to curb even temporarily military actions in Karabakh (even when they had chance). But it is no wonder: as Moscow, contrary to other mediators, purposefully pursued cessation of the bloodshed, above all. Russia’s motives were not only those of humane character (though this is enough for it) but also calculations that it is more difficult to negotiate while war is in process. Our western partners hardly wanted continuation of military actions but they were not striving for ceasefire as Russia did. They had other priorities…
The result of faded hopes in 1993 produced not only affliction but also serious direct or indirect consequences. In early September the Armenians slowed with troops’ removal from conquered Azerbaijani regional center of Kubatlu as official Yerevan and Stepanakert publicly promised earlier. The opportunity to display flexibility, which is so needed for all sides for overcoming obstinacy in every issue, was thus missed. You see the first gesture of goodwill should come from those who are in more favorable position; nobody is capable of such gestures in disadvantage, as that would be considered weakness and defeatism.
In October breakdowns from the Azerbaijani side followed: a dangerous incident took place on at Kuydzhak village on October 10 and Azeris finally broke ceasefire on October 21 losing all southwest of the country.
But it must be noted that the ceasefire would maintain longer when even one of the sides really needed a break. So, one such break was prolonged for four times and lasted from August 31 till October 21. Heydar Aliyev needed more favorable conditions for the presidential election on October 3, which was the last step transferring authority in his hands.
The break of ceasefire in mid-December of 1993 that was reached on “the highest level” by Russian Foreign Ministry’s support is especially notable for its absurdity and bloody consequences it yielded. This time the cause of the break was not any annoying incident on the front (as it happened before owing to precipitate actions of commanders or uncontrolled of groups) but a bungle or a cynical trick in made in offices in capital cities. Here is how it was.
I learnt in Moscow on 16 December, 1993, that military actions in the south near the town of Beylagan have again aggravated. Mutual accusations followed as usual. I called president Нeydar Aliyev and leader of Karabakh Armenians, Robert Kocharian, by High Frequency phone. They both marvelously quickly gave consent for general ceasefire. We agreed to stop fire for 10 days at midnight on December 17 in order to negotiate over its prolongation.
Heydar Aliyev told that from political leadership A. Jalilov, deputy chairman of Supreme Council of Azerbaijan, will sign the agreement and from the military — head of the Supreme Headquarters N. Sadikhov. Robert Kocharian charges Arkady Ghukasian and S. Ohanian with the job. I immediately faxed Baku and Stepanakert the outline of the document for drawing it up. The text slightly differs from former similar agreements.
We have barely enough time, only few hours, as after documents are ready we should send both sides’ faxes to each other to confirm reciprocity of accepted obligations. And the military command should give appropriate orders after that and to inform commanders at the front as soon as possible.
I soon receive the fax from Stepanakert: everything is signed without corrections or insertions. Precious hours pass, and the document from Baku is still missing. Knowing that Heydar Aliyev is very busy getting ready for France visit, I begin to hurry Baku. They assured me that the delay is of technical character and the document will be signed upon N. Sadikhov’s soonest return in Baku. No remarks or concerning the text dropped. To speed up signing, I sent the fax with the signature of Karabakh authorities to the Office of president of Azerbaijan ahead of time (I used to dispatch faxes usually after receiving documents from both sides). The Azeris now could see that Stepanakert had undertaken to stop fire if they do the same. They should not have delusion on this ground as the text makes it clear that the arrangement will come into force only after the mediator has confirmed that he got documents from both sides.
Taking into account tough situation in Beylagan and that everything was talked over personally with the Azerbaijani president (there is no one higher – I have to trust!), I probed Robert Kocharian: what about terminating fire today at midnight “as gentle gesture” and not postpone it because “of a technical delay” in Baku? (I repent now of my naivety!). To my surprise, Robert Kocharian known for his toughness does not object. It seemed that both sides issued orders to armies: it is impossible to control it from Moscow.
Yet, mutual pretensions for infringements followed again in the morning. I continued forcing Baku to sign the next day and I passed sides’ protests and urgent demands to take action. Failures in such situations are extremely undesirable, yet they took place (one can assume that subordinate didn’t receive and execute an order in due time). Sometimes situation was gradually corrected, passing into lull. But the delay with signing of the document is already unprecedented!
It continued the next day too. The president of Azerbaijan was already inaccessible for High Frequency phone. The wires must have worn out so hard did I try to contact Heydar Aliyev’ staff, chairman of parliament, minister of a defense and the Headquarters. Telephone conversations cannot be taped but the fax to Aliyev’s secretary was kept: “Tariel, please tell the President that the mediator did not get the Azeri text on ceasefire signed by A. Jalilov and N. Sadikhov till now from Baku. It’s impossible to work in such conditions. It’s a rather serious work and there should be order. Or then it is necessary to cancel the ceasefire. 18. ХII. 21.00”. No answer again.
At last, only on December 19, at 9:40 p.m. (more than three days after the arrangement with Heydar Aliyev!) the fax on the blank of the minister of the defense of Azerbaijan with the signatures of Jalilov and Sadikhov arrived. The paper left extremely unserious impression. It was not at all what we have been expecting since December 16 – not only by the form and address but also by the content. The first gimmick was obvious – there was no date. Secondly, the letter was addressed not to the mediator and “leadership of Nagorno Karabakh”, as it has been before, but only to the mediator. The signature of Jalilov was not trustworthy – it’s scarcely resembled the previous ones.
And most importantly, there was almost nothing left from our draft in the text that we had dispatched to Baku a long time before and which was signed by Stepanakert. The essence of the matter was wiped out and it seemed that the concern was not reaching ceasefire but prolonging an existing ceasefire. In short, the letter was completely unsuitable for drawing up what had been agreed with Heydar Aliyev. Besides, the Armenians were offered to withdraw troops back for 10 kms: it was not even specified where exactly – seemingly along the whole frontline! To cap all absurdities, it expressed hope in the end that “all signed arrangements will be strictly followed”! What is it all meant for? It was a sneer at common sense to the detriment of their own people!
Should I remind how such delicate agreements are to be drawn up? Usually, plenipotentiary representatives of the sides sign one document at one time and in one place. But Baku preferred to sign the arrangements with Karabakh in absentia (by fax via us as a rule) not to recognize Karabakh Armenians as a side in the conflict. We, as mediators, had nothing against it. But it’s a truism the text of a document should be absolutely identical in any procedure (if there are amendments, they should be talked over with the other side directly or through the mediator). Certainly, it is impossible to consider change of the contents or form of the text unilaterally, without prior arrangement with the other side, especially backdating, neither rightful nor correct. Is it possible that high-ranking officials in Baku were unaware of it?
(By the way, on 18 and 19 December minister of defense of Azerbaijan, Mamedov, sent me for 3 times the lists of infringements from the Armenians’ side counting down from the ceasefire. As if Baku already had already drawn it up properly!).
In the meantime, Heydar Aliyev was already in Paris. I scribbled a draft cipher message to our ambassador in France, Yuri Ryzhov. He was to quickly find the Azeri president and delicately express bewilderment that his indications were not carried out in Baku. Despite the rigid schedule of the visit, Yuri Alekseyevich found him and passes the message of the Foreign Ministry of Russia. He informed Aliyev that the letter from Baku is unacceptable for drawing up ceasefire but confirmed our readiness to start new negotiation for reaching armistice. Ryzhov emphasized that we consider honesty of the sides and faithfulness to the accepted obligations an indispensable condition of mediation, otherwise mutual mistrust between them will deepen. The president assured the ambassador as though he had given Baku all necessary orders and promised to settle the matter upon his return (!) (it is uncertain how he settled the matter).
What kind of performance was it? A chain of ridiculous misunderstandings? Fatal inconsistency inside the Baku administration? “Illiteracy” of signatories? An attempt of direct swindle? Above all, what orders did Aliyev give before leaving for Paris? And, in the end, was that possible to disobey the president in Baku? There is no ready answer to these questions – we leave it to readers’ taste to choose.
How simple it was to find a solution! Mid-December was the beginning of attempts of Azerbaijani counterattack on the front. Some date it back just to December 17, others to the beginning of December 20s but it is clear that it was the largest attempt in Karabakh war to throw the Armenian troops back.
Our new offer during the escalation of fights to agree on two-week “New Year” armistice from December 31 was not accepted either. The offer was sent personally to Heydar Aliyev on December 30 but we got no answer, though Karabakh Armenians agreed this time, too.
At the CIS summit in Ashghabat on December 23-24, i.e. in the interval between failures of both attempts of ceasefire, Aliyev told mass media that (quoting ITAR TASS) “[he] prefers peaceful settlement of the conflict and stands for the immediate halt of military actions between the confronting sides”. In his opinion, “necessary conditions for that have not been created yet and direct contacts with the representatives of the Armenian community of Nagorno Karabakh did not help the process either”.
The counterattacks called, probably, to create these “necessary conditions”, soon have choked, bringing Azeris only small local success in the region of Horadiz. But fierce fighting in the winter of 1993-94 still long continued taking heavy tolls for both sides.
From now on Baku stops direct contacts with Stepanakert, completely ignoring it as a side in the conflict, though in 1993 it entered into agreement on restriction of military actions and ceasefire or its prolongation with Nagorno Karabakh (even without any participation of Yerevan) for ten (!) times. Russia, as a mediator considered that there are 3 sides in this conflict and being realistic about its unusual configuration, obstinately involved Yerevan in the settlement process but not for banishing Stepanakert at all.
December of 1993 vividly illustrates constant difficulties of mediator’s work with the sides. It shows how important are the political will, accuracy of actions and faithfulness of the leaders to their given words. And, by the way, it shines light on why the military actions battered the region for five more months that brought considerable human loss, material destructions and increase of Azeri refugee flow for which Baku now verbally cares… Who will answer for needless victims?
Is that surprising that mutual mistrust of the sides appeared to be the scourge of Karabakh settlement?! The December fraud of 1993 only aggravated it. I shall not hide how extremely disappointed and even depressed was I as a mediator. But I could not give up as bloodshed in Karabakh and over it still continued.
THE BISHKEK PROTOCOL
To stop the bloodshed in Karabakh, Russia carried out large-scale and versatile activity going beyond military and political-diplomatic spheres. It was necessary to rapidly form a “party of peace” in contrast to the torrid and rather vigorous “party of war” in each conflicting camp. For that reason we initiated various meetings of parliamentarians, the military, religious leaders, journalists and induced to cooperation different public organizations of the conflicting sides and sustained the offers arising in this regard.
Parliaments also applied force for elimination of the conflict, certainly, with the most active involvement of Russia. Even a group of assistance to Karabakh settlement was formed within the Interparliamentary Assembly (IPA) of CIS set in 1992. It was headed by the then chairman of the parliament of Kyrgyzstan Meditkhan Sherimkulov. It was dubbed reconciliatory or peacekeeping mission or IPA intermediary group of CIS on Karabakh. It was rather active on that phase of the conflict and intimately cooperated with intermediary mission of Russia. I participated in its trips and other arrangements.
During the meeting of parliamentarians of Azerbaijan, Armenia and representatives of Nagorno Karabakh organized on Aland Islands on December 21-22, 1993 at the initiative IPA, Foreign Ministry of Russia and Aland Institute of Peace, the participants were enabled to acquaint with the experience of the Swedes and Finns in settling national contradictions over these islands. Sherimkulov offered then in Mariehamn, capital of Aland Islands, to continue interparliamentary dialogue in the capital of Kyrgyzstan.
The new meeting of the parliamentarians, this time at the level of the heads of parliamentary structures, was held in Bishkek on May 4-5, 1994, at the initiative of CIS IPA, parliament of Kyrgyzstan, Federal Assembly and Foreign Ministry of Russia. Armenian delegation was headed by the chairman of the Supreme Council of Armenia, Babken Ararktsian. The group of representatives of Nagorno Karabakh was headed by the then “speaker” from Stepanakert Karen Baburian. The chairman of Azerbaijani Milli Mejlis, Rasul Guliyev, promised to come to Bishkek but failed as president Heydar Aliyev left for Brussels on May 3 to take part at NATO’s Partnership for Peace. Aliyev handed him the reins of government during his Brussels visit. Afiyaddin Jalilov, deputy speaker, headed the Azeri delegation (a few months later, at the end of September 1994 he was assassinated by an unidentified terrorist at the entrance of his apartment house in Baku).
The chairman of the CIS IPA Council and the Council of Federation of Russian Federation, Vladimir Shumeyko, the secretary of the CIS IPA Council, Mikhail Krotov, participated at the Bishkek meeting as IPA representatives and actually represented also Russia (alongside with the author of these lines who participated as plenipotentiary representative of the President of Russian Federation and Russian Foreign Ministry representative). Few people know that the delegation of Lagthing (local parliament) of Aland Islands headed by Roger Janson arrived in Bishkek at the invitation Sherimkulov – in reply to their hospitality offered earlier.
Contrary to the first meeting on Aland Islands where no document was signed, we wanted to avail ourselves the opportunity of the high level forum in Bishkek and try to adopt a final and agreed document aimed to support the April 15 Declaration of the leaders CIS States with its imperative on the arrest of bloodshed in Karabakh. We, certainly, had no illusions that it would be easy. The main thing at that moment was to shift the public opinion towards ceasefire. I prepared the scheme of the document – “The Bishkek protocol” – beforehand, still in Moscow. Hot discussions basically between Azeris and Karabakh people lasting many hours each day unfolded over this very draft in the Kyrgyz capital on 4 and 5 of May. Not always it was possible to reduce debate to the text of the document, quite often it went much more widely.
Whole program organized by the hosts soon failed: we had to postpone the tempting trip to Issik-Kul Lake scheduled for the end of the first day and cancel another arrangement as well. Everything came to standstill. Both days passed in hot arguments either with the involvement of delegations or in a narrow circle of only their heads. Meanwhile the other participants of the meeting pined for hours in the halls for the outcome of sharp debates between the “speakers”, despite the attempts of four mediators to reduce tension.
Our offer to support on behalf of the parliamentary leaders the accent of the Declaration of the CIS state heads on the arrest of fire and military actions has not caused discussions in itself. The essence of the new document’s scheme was to develop this accent by appealing on behalf of the heads of parliaments of all sides of the conflict to stop fire. But it was necessary to express it not in a manner of good wish but as a real initiative. The day of May 9 that the soviet nations remembered as Day of Victory over fascism was approaching. No one objected that I included this date in the text of the document – I wanted to show that reason eventually wins in this conflict as well. In the upshot, appeal with an offer to set ceasefire deadline at midnight of 8 May, 1994, lay as the core of “Bishkek protocol”.
But disagreement between the sides on other questions remained insuperable. Unfortunately, issues of procedural character occupied a larger place by far in Bishkek as well: is Nagorno Karabakh a side in this conflict and whether the status of participant in this forum of Nizami Bakhmanov, representative of the Azeri community of Karabakh, should be equated to the status of Armenians from Stepanakert? Jalilov challenged legitimacy of participation of Karabakh Armenians in this meeting (he reduced their status from “the sides in the conflict” to “an interested side” as a matter of fact). Being unable to achieve it, as the participation Karabakh Armenians in Bishkek meeting was considered by Heydar Aliyev beforehand, Jalilov urged to equate Bakhmanov, member of his delegation, with them. But it would contradict elementary logic as the latter did not represent any parliamentary structure (he was once for a very short time the head of executive power in Shushi but not governmental nor even municipal).
Nobody certainly recognized and was not going to recognize NKR and its parliament but still Karabakh Armenians had a certain elective structure on the basis local population’s will (it was noted in the wording of the Helsinki decision of OSCE on March 24, 1992. It says the “elected” and other representatives of Nagorno Karabakh). Irascibly casting off Nagorno Karabakh, Azeris failed to estimate properly, simply took for granted, so to speak, that Yerevan gradually recognized its status of a side in this conflict. Ararktsian and especial Baburian naturally asserted in every possible way the status Nagorno Karabakh in every possible way as a side in the conflict and participant of Bishkek meeting; they also reproached Azeris for sagging the level of their participation because of speaker Guliyev’s absence.
Shumeyko stated unambiguous during discussions that Nagorno Karabakh, as well as Armenia, is a side in this conflict and emphasized that it is impossible to reach settlement without comprehending this fact. This was our starting-point at the Moscow negotiation where a draft agreement on the cessation of the armed conflict was developed with participation of delegations of three conflicting sides.
In Bishkek, the sides disagreed also over the essence of the settlement. The majority of issues, certainly, could not be taken and, moreover, they could not be solved on such a meeting of parliament leaders in view of specificity of this forum. However, inertia of disputes during Moscow negotiation worked and in foothills of Tien Shan. So, considering the situation at the front, Jalilov struggled for the immediate ceasefire more than Armenians but meanwhile insisted on his immediate combination with instant withdrawal of the Armenian forces from all occupied Azeri territories and homing of refugees. However, it was striking that he did not stress how to maintain peace – he clearly evaded the idea of placing neutral separating forces and was content with observers.
Jalilov did not comprehend also the expediency of offering the parliaments of CIS participating States to discuss the initiative of Shumeyko and Sherimkulov on creating peacekeeping forces of the Commonwealth (there was already the sense that Azerbaijani leadership made a curtsey to the West which was sharply opposed to replacement of Russian peacekeeping forces in the conflict zone – the CIS forces seemed to them to be Russia’s cover).
Ultimately, the Azeri delegation tried to advance its own scheme of the final document which only required to stop fire and immediate withdrawal of the Armenian forces from the occupied Azeri regions but, certainly, the declined participation of Nagorno Karabakh and extremely narrowed the role of CIS in the settlement. Own plans of any of the conflicting sides at such forums are practically unpromising as they are obviously pursuing interests of only one side and are easily rejected by opponents as one-sided. But the Azeris continually did not understand this before and later and pushed ahead their own projects instead of completing the schemes submitted by the mediator. So, their project attempted to remove reference in the beginning of the text that the conflict “essentially affects interests of other countries of the region” but it was easily rejected by other participants of the meeting.
But the Armenians set the stress on necessity of working out a mechanism that would provide maintenance of ceasefire and stopping of operations and would be a reliably guarantee that they will not resume – only after that they supposed withdrawal of their forces from the Azeri territories they occupied. Or else, they logically sought after final signing of ceasefire and cessation of military actions — military-technical issues — before passing withdrawal of forces — military-political issues.
As Shumeyko marked later, it was unprecedented that leaders of such level worked on the text of the document for almost two days continuously. Though, naturally, almost all hard work — search for alternative wordings, issue of next, renovated variants of the project — practically fall on me.
At decline of May 5, after really exhausting disputes, “The Bishkek protocol” was signed by the heads of both Armenian delegations and all persons acting as mediators – all except the head of Azerbaijani delegation. Jalilov’s refusal, certainly, greased results of the meeting. Azeris motivated their position saying that Nizami Bakhmanov was not allowed to sign and made vague statements that the document does not meet their interests. But these were only outer pretexts.
The true cause of Jalilov’s pose came out rather quickly. It was known, that the president of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, made a speech at the session of NATO Council in Brussels on May 4 and signed there a frame document of “Partnership for Peace” program. He certainly uttered no word about the peacekeeping efforts of Russia and CIS In that audience, said nothing Moscow keeping the Karabakh conflict settlement key in its hands (something that he declared publicly more than once either before or later). Suffice it to say that the orator heaped NATO with dithyramb in his speech and mentioned only UN, OSCE and his Minsk group – neither Russia nor CIS were ever named. This trip and speech in NATO headquarters were already a part of geopolitical game of “zigzags” that the leader of Azerbaijan took up on the West’s advice.
In this context and at that time, Aliyev hardly needed signing of “The Bishkek protocol”, which just most vigorously supported by the representatives of Russia as an important step of ideological-political preparation for ending the bloodshed (this fact never belittles importance of other participants’ contribution at the Bishkek meeting).
Aliyev told during his appearance on May 21, 1994, how he blocked signing of the protocol in Bishkek: he simply forbade Jalilov to sign there any document without his consent. The latter followed president’s indications in Kyrgyzstan not to stymie his activities in Brussels. Surely it is curious but from other points of view: whether there was separation of powers in Baku, what were the real political customs there?
In Bishkek we, naturally, did not know about these instructions of Aliyev, and I vainly tried to connect with Milli Mejlis chairman, Guliyev, on the phone hoping to secure his consent to sign the Bishkek appeal. Nevertheless, the decision taken by those signing the document to leave Milli Mejlis an opportunity to join it later, if it will wish, was undoubtedly right.
It would be too prodigal to throw the issue halfway after such efforts. We had to keep going. Having arrived in Moscow for a day (for participation in the first meeting of Kozirev with the new Swede chairman of OSCE Minsk conference, Jan Eliasson, on May 6), I flew to Baku on May 7 having agreed with my minister and Shumeyko to discuss “The Bishkek protocol” with the president of Azerbaijan and chairman of Milli Mejlis. We had to find out Azerbaijan’s final position on this document and to try to get it signed.
On Sunday, May 8, Heydar Aliyev gathered high leadership of Azerbaijan in his office: the heads of parliament R. Guliyev and A. Jalilov, State adviser on foreign policy, V. Gulizade, foreign minister G. Hasanov, minister of a defense M. Mamedov, deputy minister of defense T. Zulfugarov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Russia К. Rizayev and others, sat down at a lengthy table basically to the right from Aliyev. I had to sit to his left.
Opening the meeting, the president heaped the next portion of reproaches to the Russian mediator literally saying: “You have again prepared a document that goes against interests of Azerbaijan”… I had tell in response that the Armenians are also not quite pleased with some theses of “The Bishkek protocol” but there is no phrase in it running counter to the interests of the Armenians or Azeris interested stopping the bloodshed.
Naturally, the statements of those present at meeting supported the president. The correlation of “votes” at the table could not be favorable for a soloist mediator. Suddenly Ramiz Rizayev, ambassador to Moscow, the first supported more definitely the ceasefire. Rasul Guliyev backed him. Gradually, turn to realism took shape.
A “compromising” idea was also suggested: to sign the document but with amendments. Someone offered to put “international” before the word “observers”, someone to tell more abruptly — instead of “occupied” put “seized territories”. The first correction meant that the observers were to be not only from Russia (by the way, inserting the word “international” before the observers was inappropriate in that context, as it dealt with the Protocol of a meeting of defense ministers in Moscow on February 18, 1994. Only Russia showed readiness to quickly set a peacekeeping contingent and observers at that moment. Turkey’s yearning to do it was categorically rejected by the Armenians). The second correction was more of emotional character: territories are seized by force during military actions, with rare exception, or are occupied if the opposite side abandons them. Both cases were peculiar for this conflict. These linguistic nuances are clear but they little changed the essence of matter.
I explained from my side that corrections to the text have no substantial sense at all, as all other participants of the Bishkek meeting have signed the document as it was and will not consider it again – this not a treaty after all, not a legal but political document.
The traditional “sore” of Azerbaijani diplomacy came out: they again began insisting on the signature of Bakhmanov on behalf of the Azeri community of Nagorno Karabakh. I showed them that Bakhmanov can not be equated to the heads of representative structures. Yet, the interest of Azeri participants of this meeting was hotter and sterner than any logical reasoning! To tell the truth, I thought that every cloud has a silver lining: slips of tongue “save the face” of the Azerbaijani authorities, facilitate their joining to the document.
At the end of the meeting Aliyev told Jalilov: “Well, sign, Afiyaddin!” But the latter declared that could not do that as he had bound himself by the position taken in Bishkek.
It was a delicate, even funny situation, not only in the sense of Afiyaddin Jalilov’s disobedience. After the participants’ mood turned in favor of the ceasefire, his evasion allowed to come up to the chairman of Milli Mejlis, Guliyev, for signature – a higher and natural level! The other signatures of the sides in the conflict belonged to the first persons of parliaments after all. Therefore, strangely enough, I was to express comprehension of Jalilov’s position and support him before Aliyev, making my way though to reach speaker’s signature.
Not without a reproach to his deputy, Guliyev said that someone is anxious for his reputation here – he personally was not concerned with it if only the people would benefit. He was ready to sign the document with the mentioned corrections and Bakhmanov’s signature under it. Aliyev agreed, and Guliyev put his signature in the place where Jalilov’s was supposed to be. They added two “corrections” on the last page in legible handwriting in Russian. Other important but delicate points of the document (reference to the Protocol of February 18 meeting of defense ministers, the role of CIS, idea of setting peacekeeping forces within the Commonwealth) were not affected.
In one word, the meeting started on a sad note but finished on a merry one.
The freak with Bakhmanov’s signature resulted in discomfiture. The Azeris entered his surname by hand but could not find him in Baku in time find. Having notified Moscow that Guliyev signed “The Bishkek protocol”, I left on Monday, 9 May, taking away the copy of the text with two corrections and attached surname of Bakhmanov but without his signature.
In the morning of May 9 I had to answer an unusually populous (with 20 mass medias representatives) and long — more than three hours — press conference in Baku and introduce in outline our plan of settlement. Azeri minister of foreign minister Hasanov’s numerous swoops on “the Russian plan” during hearings in Milli Mejlis on April 18 were the reason of such a detailed conversation with the Azerbaijani press.
I had also to confirm to the journalists that Guliyev signed “The Bishkek protocol” with two corrections, which caused sensation. A had to say about the corrections to the protocol that they should be viewed as a special opinion of the Azerbaijani side as all others who had signed the document in Bishkek the text remains such as it was at the point of signing.
(I could not announce that defense minister Mamedov was going to sign another document as well on that very day, May 9, — a document on ceasefire. I was not sure up to the last moment that it will be signed, as we planned it the day before, besides we needed to receive later the signatures in Yerevan and Stepanakert. I told only that we need a legally obliging agreement now that would be signed by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and also Nagorno Karabakh. I added that we are now closer to outbreak in settlement of the Karabakh conflict than earlier).
Given the vacillation and zigzags of the Azerbaijani authorities, it was a right and more or less timely and courageous step from Baku’s side to sign “The Bishkek protocol”, i.e. to consent to the ceasefire appeal. It became one of the important preconditions to the cessation of bloodshed. “The War Party” in Baku “blindly” unfolded a rough campaign, even a hysteria, against “Bishkek” (many did not know the complete text of the protocol though it was published by the local press, certainly, edited by Baku). The struggle against this document, roused by Hasanov’s recent statement and sharp criticism “of the Russian plan” in parliament, was another excuse for the opposition’s pressure on Heydar Aliyev’s team and stimulus for uniting its previously broken forces. On May 10, 12 political parties issued a statement condemning the signature of the protocol. They threatened saying that Guliyev’s signature beside Baburian’s will result in international recognition of NKR, accused the speaker of national treachery. The mouthpieces of opposition did not even consider that it was only an appeal to prompt ceasefire, something that the Azeris needed more at that moment than the Armenians!
There were, certainly, sober voices as well in Azerbaijan. 6 centrist parties supported signing of “The Bishkek protocol” in a joint statement. Quite a lot depended on Heydar Aliyev himself but he did not hurry up to inform that personally blessed its signing. On May 13, Party of National Independence of Azerbaijan required that the president revealed his attitude to the document. Aliyev said in a general way that the signing of the protocol was a right step leading to ceasefire. On May 14, Guliyev was compelled to underscore in an interview to the Azeri television that he had signed “The Bishkek protocol” in Aliyev’s office, in his presence and by his approbation. We should give Guliyev his due as he announced publicly as well that Nagorno Karabakh is a side in the conflict.
The session of Milli Mejlis was postponed from May 10 till May 13 then till May 18 (because of my joint Baku visit with Eliasson on May 12 and four-hour talks that day at Aliyev’s where speaker Guliyev should have been present).
A parliamentary crisis burst out in Azerbaijan on May 18: when the oppositions failed twice to include the issue of “The Bishkek protocol” in the agenda of Milli Mejlis (voting resulted in “draw” – 19:19 with two abstentions), it began asserting that the chairman of Milli Mejlis exceeded his authority and insisted on annulling Guliyev’s signature and on his resignation. Former foreign minister Tofik Gasimov and Etibar Mamedov were especially active. As a result, 17 deputies left the session breaking quorum (there are 50 deputies in Milli Mejlis and the quorum is 34) and refused to work for more than a week. Guliyev hardly expected such rough obstruction of the opposition and such an indistinct position of the leadership of Azerbaijan.
Allegedly Jalilov let the press know in Baku that “The Bishkek protocol” does not take into account interests of Azerbaijan. I don’t know whether it is true or not. Hasanov took an interesting stance. In an interview to agency ATA he in every possible way renounced “The Bishkek protocol”, asserting that he did not see it, refused to make comments, readdressed the correspondent to those who had signed it. Though he was present at the office of Aliyev at that moment and was a witness of signing.
The Azerbaijani journalists turned to me as well on this occasion. They phoned to Moscow more than once. They were asking, for one, whether I hope that the Milli Mejlis will ratify “The Bishkek protocol”. I expressed them my bewilderment. Noting the importance of the document for creating a political background favorable for stopping the bloodshed, I asked them then what ratification they can speak about if it is only an appeal, an offer for ceasefire and nothing more. What is there needing ratification? It’s not a legal document, isn’t it?
Despite the opposition’s hysteria, the population of Azerbaijan apprehended “The Bishkek protocol” rather benevolently. According to a poll conducted by the sociological service of the Baku newspaper “Zerkalo”, 30,7 % of the respondents evaluated it positively and 17,8 % – rather positively than negatively, whereas 17 % – negatively and 11,5 % – rather negative than positively. It should be noted that the next question revealed unfavorable results for the opposition. 27% of the respondents found it merely necessary to set up Russian military bases in the territory of the republic, 30,7% – a hard but compelled step and 29,9% answered negatively. Interestingly, servicemen were the main category that supported the protocol and stand for setting up Russian bases (students also backed bases) – people who were immediately threatened in case of war’s continuation. That was the opposition’s scarecrow for the population; it asserted that once Russian separating forces are there, they will not leave it soon and that will be equivalent almost to occupation and building here Russian military bases.
Passion over Bishkek did not retreat in Azerbaijan a few weeks, even after the ceasefire was reached. But, due to Azeris’ reluctance to sign the Bishkek document and tough discussions in Baku on May 8 and 9, we failed to time the ceasefire to the Victory Day as it was planned earlier. Two more days were spent working with the sides over the text of the new agreement — ceasefire came into force only on midnight of May 12, 1994.
Taking alarm that the bloodshed was stopped due to Russia’s mediation, the westerners, first of all USA, feverishly quartered pressure both on Baku and Yerevan to keep them back from accepting “the Russian plan” (they did not have direct levers of pressure on Stepanakert). But it is necessary to tell about it in detail – probably, even in a separate chapter. I shall note here only how difficult it is to believe that the US had no connection with Baku opposition’s statements against the Bishkek document. All the more that Bishkek meeting was not linked with the OSCE and its Minsk group anyhow and was held within the framework of CIS.
“The Bishkek protocol” became the culmination of those political efforts beyond the talk process and military-diplomatic work that we applied aiming ceasefire. The highest leadership of the conflicting sides was standing behind the heads of parliaments after all. The document was vital in struggle for public opinion. It was the “dead color” for the first sketch of future ceasefire’s picture.
The mass media, even the researchers and political scientists poorly familiar with the texts of the documents, mistakenly write often that the ceasefire in Karabakh conflict was signed in Bishkek. They do not distinguish between a call to stop fire and documenting of the obligations taken on the basis of political decisions of the leadership of all sides. Without delving into the “technology” of ceasefire, they do not count that it was the meeting of heads of parliamentary structures of the conflicting sides and not this of executive power. The heads of these structures would need official authorities from higher executive command to sign such an agreement but none of them had that, they were not even requested. The initiators of the Bishkek meeting did not set such a goal though, certainly, strived to realistically stop bloodshed.
It seems to me that the researchers should have paid attention also to how Babken Ararktsian and Rasul Guliyev who signed “The Bishkek protocol” estimated it. So, Ararktsian noted at a special press conference in Yerevan May 7, 1994, that it is a serious political document but is prepared in parliamentary style and has a mild recommendatory character. At the Milli Mejlis session on May 18, 1994, Guliyev stated in response to accusation of a group of lawmakers of exceeding his commission that it is only a protocol on intentions without legal force and having a recommendatory character and that parliament’s consent nor special authorities were needed for signing it neither does it need to be ratified.
The hypertrophy of Bishkek’s significance in Karabakh settlement emerged “on both sides of the barricade”: it happened in Azerbaijan owing to that piercing political struggle, which unfolded over the protocol and among the Armenians – because of euphoria about the place that Nagorno Karabakh occupied in Bishkek and in this document. One of the participants of the Bishkek meeting, today’s “president of NKR” Arkady Ghukasian, labeled it historical in the newspaper “Respublica Armenia” as Nagorno Karabakh was represented for the first time as a side possessing equal rights and “the chairman of the Supreme Council of NKR”, Karen Baburian, put his signature beside signatures of the other participants. To many Armenians it appeared as almost recognition of NKR. Ararktsian was more moderate stating at the same press conference that the main achievement of Bishkek was recognition of Nagorno Karabakh de-facto as a conflicting side by all participants of the meeting except for the Azeri delegation. Certainly, it is not precisely the main achievement as well as that Russia recognized Stepanakert as a side only in Bishkek but Ararktsian was more realistic than his fellow political scientists.
It is regrettable that many serious researchers not only in Baku, Yerevan and Stepanakert but also in Moscow lost from their spotlight a more solid document than “The Bishkek protocol” accepted 20 days before Bishkek on a higher level. Some of them dubbed Bishkek an outbreak in Karabakh settlement whereas the real outbreak had taken place little bit earlier and grew into termless ceasefire a week later after Bishkek.
As it is known, on April 15, 1994 in Moscow the Council of the heads of CIS member-states adopted a vital Declaration on Russia’s initiative with clear stress ceasefire as an urgent requirement in Karabakh settlement process. This was the first time that the Council adopted such a document on Karabakh and with direct participation of the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia! The document contained the most categorical wording: “The key priority, imperative of the settlement is immediate ceasefire, cessation of all military actions and reliable consolidation afterwards. We cannot pass to the liquidation of consequences of the tragic confrontation without this”. It must be noted that there was no definite document on this by then especially signed on high level, multilateral and with participation of the leaders of both States participating in the conflict.
The researches have not even noticed that Bishkek was only the continuation of the parliamentarians’ meeting on Aland Islands and in essence was called initially to display parliament heads’ support to the position of the leaders of CIS States on the immediate stopping of bloodshed that was stated in the Moscow document. ‘The Bishkek protocol” itself mentions about that: the participants of the meeting in Bishkek, having supported the Declaration of State leaders on April 15, “expressed readiness to render absolute support to efforts of the leaders and representatives of the executive power on the cessation of the armed confrontation and liquidation of its consequences by immediately completing a corresponding agreement “. Clear as day…
As it happens sometimes, the secondary but garish issue overshadows the main, the basic, more substantial and essential issue…
BreakThough to ceasefire in Karabakh
May 12, 1994, became the day of hope for the tortured people of Azerbaijan and Armenia, for the South Caucasus, thanks to the ceasefire agreement in Karabakh that came into force on that day and remains in force for almost eleven years. It was an agreement of real vital importance and unprecedented one in its form. At last, we, the mediators, were lucky. But only those people are lucky who consistently strive for success. The consistent efforts of the Russian mediators for over two years (since September, 1991) were directed to stopping that very bloody conflict.
I’d better say from the very beginning that neither the sides in conflict nor the mediators strived for the ceasefire so hard and consistently. Dozens of facts can prove this. And this will be the most convincing answer to those that for many years try to accuse Moscow of prolonging the conflict or its settlement.
The sides in conflict sometimes were unwilling to sign a ceasefire agreement, but, as a rule, in case of unfavorable developments at the front for one of the sides and only a temporal one. Usually, they looked forward to a respite to resume the military actions again to be a success. Unfortunately, the ruling elites of the sides in conflict didn’t give up their illusions to achieve their goals through military actions, expressing irreconcilability and inflexibility. While some of the mediators thought that the military actions would continue for sure. Other wasted their energy on quite different priorities, pretending that they were participating in the settlement process.
The situation at the front in the beginning of May of 1994 became rather contradictory. After the Azeris exhausted their counter-offensive potential in winter achieving quite poor results but sharply increasing the losses of both sides, a definite balance of forces was set up. The most severe battles took pace in Ter-Ter region. The attempts of the Armenians to conquer this city were of great danger. If they managed to block the roads leading to Gyandja, the second city of Azerbaijan, or move in the direction of Barda-Yevlakh-Mingechaur to the Kura River, the northwestern part of the republic would be cut from the “continent.” The nightmare that the southwest of Azerbaijan faced in the autumn of 1993 when the Armenians reached the Araxes, the river bordering Iran, could repeat.
That’s why the Azeri authorities were interested in the ceasefire. Earlier, they were either unwilling to sign the ceasefire agreement or broke the agreements but in this case, they were putting forward the issue whether Russia is unable to stop the military actions. I was told this at the highest level as well. It is peculiar that in this case, the Azeri authorities neither put forward any preconditions for the ceasefire nor demanded to abandon the territories the Armenians occupied. By the end of the May 8 conference in Baku in the office of the Azeri president, soon after Rasul Guliyev, speaker of Azerbaijan’s Parliament, signed “The Bishkek protocol”, Heydar Aliyev in my presence ordered M. Mamedov, defense minister, to draw up a document on ceasefire. We immediately began writing the text. I, as a mediator, had to get in touch with Yerevan and Stepanakert and arrange the document via the soviet High Frequency connection. In some respect, the fact that Stepanakert announced about unilateral stopping the fire at midnight, May 9, helped us. They also discussed the possibility of unilateral ceasefire in Baku but nothing was clear yet. Meanwhile, we still were receiving information that the clashes between the sides continue.
On May 9, Aliyev held another meeting at his office to put the final touches to the ceasefire agreement I prepared. Guliyev, Gulizade, Mamedov and Rizayev, ambassador to Moscow opted in. But it was still too early to be joyful. The Azeris again began insisting that the representative of the Azeri community of Nagorno Karabakh signed the document too (like on May 4-5 in Bishkek and on May 8 in Baku). This point became the display of eccentricity of the Baku diplomacy. Certainly, this community remained “an interested side,” but it couldn’t be considered a side in conflict, it didn’t have its own detachments at the front that were to cease the fire (afterwards, Niberg, Finn colleague of mine, OSCE Co-Chair, reminded Aliyev in this connection how Stalin asked once how many divisions the Roman Pope had). Elementary logics didn’t allow me include the signature of Bakhmanov into the text. But, new obstacles appeared very soon.
The Azeris who adjusted the documents on ceasefire with Stepanakert for ten times (without any participation of Yerevan) now demanded to sign the documents only with the representatives of Armenia, without the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh. But, Yerevan tried to evade this. At last, this time we managed to get the consent of Armenia to sign the document (for the first time since the agreement of Pavel Grachev, in September, 1992).
But Yerevan didn’t want to sign anything without the participation of Nagorno Karabakh, while the Azeris didn’t want to sign beside the representatives of Stepanakert, moreover, in the presence of the Karabakh Armenians. Certainly, there are “technologies” that allow to sign the agreement separately, i.e. without confrontation of the sides around one table but the representatives of Baku were against that, too. Thus, the most important point was lost behind a secondary one. On the other hand, the arrangement of the place for signing the document and the travel of the plenipotentiary representatives to there would take days, while everything was so unstable that could get spoiled during that period.
The dead-end situation was so absurd: all the sides in conflict agreed to ceasefire but they quarreled about whose signatures should ratify the document. We needed to use the determination of the sides to sign a ceasefire immediately and leave out their unwillingness to meet, in order to normally sign the document.
We had no time to arrange the ceremonial functions. Certainly, we couldn’t choose between the continuation of the bloodshed and judicial subtlety. The history of diplomacy didn’t help with precedents, there weren’t any at all. We needed non-standard decisions, unusual tricks to preserve the precious essence of the case, to avert the danger threatening hundreds or even thousands of new people. That is why the “technology” of the Russian mediators that had been used since 1993 for signing short time arrangements was necessary again (mainly for ceasefire or for its prolonging). We had already used the “facsimile” diplomacy when we couldn’t afford our time or it was impossible to gather the representatives of the sides in conflict in one place, the mediator adjusted the agreement by sending the arranged and later the signed documents by cross connection.
This helped us begin adjusting ceasefire agreement on May 9 already, notwithstanding the unwillingness of one of the sides to hold a special meeting and sign the document with the representative of the opponent side in conflict, that really confronted during the battle, but wasn’t recognized in this status since the late 1993. We managed to arrange the rest of the operation factors of the agreement. It was decided that the agreement will be signed by the supreme military commanders of the sides in conflict, i.e. the defense ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan and “the commander of Nagorno Karabakh Army.”
The text prepared by the Russian mediator in Baku contained, similarly to the previous documents, identical appeal of all three sides to the three Russian officials.
To improve the complicated relations between RF Foreign and Defense Ministries, I included Pavel Grachev, RF defense minister in the first place of the list while Kozirev, RF foreign minister, my immediate boss, and the plenipotentiary representative of RF President in Nagorno Karabakh issue occupied the second and the third places relevantly.
Such an order of addresses was used earlier, too. It was quite a natural one, as the agreement was signed by the supreme military commanders and, according to the text, ask Grachev to organize a conference in Moscow as soon as possible to arrange the mechanism of securing the ceasefire. We had to take into account that we might either need the help of the Russian military observers or the separating forces that only RF Defence Ministry had. Grachev thought that he should be the peace keeper: as soon as in Sochi he signed the ceasefire agreement for two months, Russia immediately provided us with military observers (but when RF Foreign Ministry worked on achieving the ceasefire, RF Defence Ministry used to send only formal replies to our appeals). That is why we had to include Grachev in the first place, though neither he nor RF Defence Ministry didn’t do anything for preparing this document.
As a result of two days’ discussions in Baku (on May 8-9, around “The Bishkek protocol” and the ceasefire agreement), we couldn’t time the ceasefire to the Day of Victory, as it was suggested in Bishkek. At first we envisaged to begin it at midnight of May 11 but we had to delay it till 00:01 of May 12 because of the complicated order of signing the ceasefire.
On May 9, Aliyev instructed Mamedov to sign the text consisting of four points and stretching a page. At the bottom of the page where Mamedov put his signature, there were the positions of other officials published, i.e. that of RA defense minister and the commander of Nagorno Karabakh Army but they were to sign their own identical texts in Yerevan and Stepanakert (some people even said afterwards, as if in the beginning the document didn’t envisage the signature of Karabakh’s representative and the Russian mediator included it in that later, antedating it. I might publish the Xerox of the document in the appendix to this article to stop rather malicious tales).
I sent the text from Baku to Yerevan and Stepanakert by fax with the request to send both of the signed samples straightly to RF Foreign Ministry. I send the copy to Moscow, to Grachev and Kondratev, RF deputy defense minister, writing that I had sent the document to the Armenians for signing. In the evening I returned home to Moscow waiting for the faxes from the Armenians.
Meanwhile, RA defense minister made few corrections (he left out one of the references to the Moscow protocol of defense ministers of February 18, 1994 and excluded the idea of inviting the chairman of the OSCE Minsk conference to the signing of the future Agreement on the cessation of the armed conflict). We had to rearrange these corrections with Baku from Moscow already by the phone, but they agreed soon.
On May 10, in Moscow I received the final text signed by Serge Sargsian, RA defense minister. On May 11, I received the fax from Stepanakert signed by Samvel Babayan, “Commander of Nagorno Karabakh Army”. As a mediator, I immediately informed all the sides about the end of the procedure and send the texts signed by two other sides to each side. It was time to give instructions to the forces!
These three sheets of paper (with an identical text and a signature on each) in the hands of the Russian mediator became the ceasefire agreement we were striving for. They became a document that is usually signed by the plenipotentiary representatives of the sides around one table or, at least, on one day, in one place and on one sheet of paper (sometimes in several copies). The references to the February 18 Protocol of RF Defence Ministry and the appeal of the parliamentarians from Bishkek in the text didn’t mean at all that the document was a kind of a derivation from them. That was an independent agreement, but the references to them as if strengthened the positive dynamics of the peaceful process.
It’s worth mentioning that unlike the previous ceasefire agreements the given agreement was primordially defined as a termless one “by silent consent”: this time we deliberately didn’t fix any deadline. All the sides in conflict agreed with this extremely important circumstance (though complicated situations arouse around this afterwards).
The other difference from other arrangements is the factor that in this case only one signature of the representative of the supreme military power from each side was put on each sheet instead of two as it was before (that of the political and military authority). These points seem to be technical details but they reflected some political- procedural moves. Firstly, notwithstanding the caprices of Baku, it was fixed in the text that the given agreement should be signed by the representative of Nagorno Karabakh, as well. Secondly, notwithstanding the tricks of Yerevan, trying to show that the conflict was between Baku and Stepanakert, the Yerevan representatives had to sign the agreement, too. These all corresponded with the real situation in the region more. It goes without saying that Baku was glad to see the signature of Yerevan. Though, in future, Baku began evading the recognition of Stepanakert as a side in conflict and a participant of negotiations more.
As for the unusual form of the agreement, we can bring as an analogy the widely used form of signing agreements through exchanging letters between the sides. The peculiarity of the situation was that the sides were not ready to exchange letters directly between each other (besides, there were three of them). That is why we used the form of appeal of each side to Russia as to a mediator, undertaking the identical commitments. The case became a bit easier by the fact that this technology was used when adjusting a ceasefire agreement in Karabakh (though there were then two sides of agreement, i.e. Baku and Stepanakert, without Yerevan).
That is why the May 12, 1994, ceasefire agreement has not one original or several copies signed by the representatives of all sides. There had been neither seal or sealing wax, nor shiny folders. There is no formal depositary of the agreement, either, though all the three samples were addressed and sent to Moscow. But these formal “imperfections” of the document, the fact that it didn’t keep in line with the well-known standards didn’t hinder the practical realization of the ceasefire. And this is the most important thing. The matter is not about the complications in adjusting the document; it concerned the political will of the sides that really reflected the determination of both Azeri and the Armenian people to achieve ceasefire.
Other drawbacks of the agreement were more essential. They didn’t include such usual means of fixing the ceasefire agreement as withdrawal of the forces and heavy armament belonging to the sides in conflict from the contact line, the creation of a butter zone where the neutral observers or the separating forces would locate, the measures of control and international guarantees. It was supposed that a part of these issues will be settled during the meeting of Azeri and Armenian Defence Ministers, as well as “the commander of Nagorno Karabakh Army.” In the appeal all the three military officials asked RF Defence Minister to organize the meeting in Moscow as soon as possible.
The meeting took place on May 16-17, 1994, by the invitation of Pavel Grachev. It is quite queer but the officials of RF defense ministry, getting accustomed to frequent violations of ceasefire agreements, prepared drafts of documents for their minister in which they again suggested… to stop the fire on May 18. They treated my explanations with mistrust and even without pleasure when I said that such an agreement has been already signed few days ago and the military actions were stopped, mainly (there weren’t many incidents, while there was not a single big one). It was hard to believe that the ceasefire was achieved, at last!
Some people lost nerves during that meeting in Moscow. Grachev that had the experience of holding such meetings with the commanders over Karabakh conflict and upset with their intractability and untrustworthiness took up quite a strict tone, almost that of an ultimatum or a dictate. The next day the press spared no efforts to depict that in the brightest colors. In the course of the meeting, they prepared and adopted mainly the measures for consolidate the ceasefire regime that proceeded from the location of the Russian peacekeepers in the zone of conflict.
But Grachev was not the only one to lose nerves. On the same day Heydar Aliyev promptly instructed his minister Mamedov not to sign the document elaborated on that meeting and to return immediately to Baku as if for additional instructions. On May 17, Mamedov and I left for Baku. On May 18. Aliyev received him and gave the instruction not to sign the Moscow document. Afterwards, the minister told me that let him know that he shouldn’t hurry. I met with the president on the same day. In the course of the meeting he was making tricks suggesting to meet with Levon Ter-Petrosian for signing “a big political arrangement” in Moscow in early June. When on May 19 the Azeri minister and I returned to Moscow, Mamedov began putting new conditions trying to avoid signing the document prepared on May 16 during the meeting with Grigory Kondratev, RF deputy defense minister (Grachev refused to receive him). Mamedov tried to link the separation of troops with the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the occupied territories. While Aliyev explained to me the departure of Mamedov to Baku with the strict tone of Grachev but, in fact, there were more profound reasons.
Azerbaijan was under the strongest pressure of the Western powers. If the ceasefire achieved through Russia’s mediation greatly could upset the West, the perspective of locating the Russian peacekeeping forces in the zone of conflict was merely unbearable for them. The unusual activization of the OSCE Minsk group’s co-chair after May 12, a series of trips and suggestions of Jan Eliasson, as well as the whole dynamics of the Western diplomacy in the issue of Karabakh during 1994, testified to that. They spared no efforts to outline at least the perspective of sending the OSCE observers and peace keeping forces to there, not letting the Russian forces or the forces of other CIS country to locate in Karabakh. Aliyev yielded to that pressure, making the next zigzag in his policy to the West this time.
Azerbaijan’s refusal to fix the ceasefire measures didn’t allow to properly consolidate the agreement in the military-technical respect. As a result, the ceasefire wasn’t properly consolidated neither by Russia, nor by the West and in fact remained rather tenuous: the forces of the sides were not withdrawn from the contact line. The sides didn’t withdraw heave armaments from the contact line and establish a non-aerial zone, either. Sometimes, the sides emphasize with pride that the ceasefire is maintained by their own independent efforts, without participation of the foreign observers and the separating forces. In deed, it is really an achievement! But the contact line remained quite a dangerous zone. As a result of frequent incidents, each year many soldiers and peaceful residents die there.
We could feel the difference between the ways the sides accepted the ceasefire. The feeling of relief prevailed in Azerbaijan. While some Armenians, particularly, the stubborn ones from Karabakh, sometimes regretted that Russia hindered them to occupy the town Ter-Ter and make Baku more amenable. In public they in times stated that the ceasefire wasn’t a result of mediators’ efforts but a direct consequence of the military balance of the forces that was set up.
Two months later, on July 20, 1994, the West tried “to take away” the May ceasefire agreement from Russia. In the course of a meeting in Yerevan, Levon Ter-Petrosian said that Matias Mossberg called him from Stockholm and, on behalf of Minsk group chair (the Swede were in chair) suggested to prolong the ceasefire for 30 days. I told the president that an hour ago I talked to Mossberg and he said nothing about that suggestion to me. Moreover, what did that mean to prolong the ceasefire when that was a termless one? What could that mean, in practice? In fact, that could mean an opportunity for this or that side to refuse the agreement and begin the military actions in 30 days. Certainly, we couldn’t change a termless agreement into an agreement for a month and face the unknown.
I immediately offered the president an alternative instead: the political or military authorities of the sides could periodically (together or separately) confirm the ceasefire regime and that would only strengthen it. Ter-Petrosian approved my idea. After that was discussed with Stepanakert and Baku, we received the consent of all the sides. We immediately began elaborating the first draft and began drawing up the text between the sides. Returning to Moscow, I followed how the sides, already directly, finished the arrangement of the statement.
On July 26-27, 1994, the three military commanders, i.e. defense ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as the commander of Nagorno Karabakh army signed the first confirmation. The document was again sent to Moscow to the same addresses as before by fax. But in Baku Vafa Gulizade, adviser of the Azeri president, suggested me to send that text to Jan Eliasson, as well. We didn’t object and the Armenians agreed, too. Thus, the chairman of the Minsk conference, new addressee, began figuring in the correspondence with Moscow. Isn’t it ridiculous that the Western experts emphasize the importance of this document for this very reason, as if in contrast to the May 9-11 agreement? (Certainly, that was no news for us, as we saw how the OSCE Permanent Council “didn’t notice” that agreement in his session on May 19 at all, because that was achieved by Russia. They supported the alternative agreement project on strengthening the ceasefire regime that Jan Eliasson “cherished” for several weeks, hindering our work with the sides at “the big political agreement.” He even managed to get the signature of the Azeris but they immediately demanded that back). The abovementioned ridiculous sortie of Mossberg is particularly interesting for the fact that in order “to grasp” the ceasefire in the hands of the Minsk group, the Swede ran the risk of its breakdown! It is hard to believe that competent Swede diplomats didn’t realize that or acted like that at their own initiative.
The July 26-27 document was adjusted on one sheet of paper with the positions and signatures indicated on that (it may sound ridiculous but that was almost an achievement!). In this very text for the first time the sides stated that they pledge to secure ceasefire until the Agreement on the Cessation of the Armed Conflict is signed. Literally, it was said in the following way: “The sides in conflict pledge to confirm the commitments they undertook for ceasefire in the terms agreed, until the big political Agreement envisaging full cessation of the military actions is signed.”
But even later we didn’t stop looking for the means to document the rejection of bloodshed. In order to fasten the ceasefire regime (again at the initiative of Russia, but on behalf of the Minsk group co-chairs) an agreement was adjusted between the sides on the order of settling the armed incidents, on February 6, 1995. Such incidents occurred periodically, though then they took place on the Armenian-Azeri border more frequently, than around Nagorno Karabakh. It was important to provide the sides with a accurate mechanism that would hinder their continuation or escalation. At the request of one of the sides, we even elaborated a project of internal instruction for the use of the given mechanism. If the sides didn’t use the mechanism, that is “their own problem, ” they are responsible for that.
Many years passed and I found a pearl of Vafa Gulizade. In the Baku based newspaper «Zerkalo» (December 28, 1998) he said that as if in the May of 1994 I suggested to establish three months’ deadline for the ceasefire. “In each three months, Azerbaijan and Armenia would have to agree on prolongation of ceasefire though the mediation of Russia. Thus, the suggested us to knee in front of Russia in each three months,” he complained.
A rather strange logic, isn’t it? Could Moscow that applied so many efforts for the stopping the bloodshed in Karabakh be interested in making such complicated partners break and prolong the ceasefire each three months? I even don’t want to speak of its breakdown. Fortunately, I have the hand written draft of the agreement, the primary sketch I made in the office of Aliyev on May 8, 1994. Certainly, it doesn’t have any direct or indirect indications of deadlines, as I said the agreement we prepared was a termless one! (I think I will have to install that in my site among the appendix).
But Gulizade didn’t stop on that fable. He continued fancying: “The formula on ceasefire “until the agreement on peace is signed” was achieved though an alternative route, passing by Moscow and Paris, though telephone talks, thanks to the constructiveness and collaboration of Gerard Liparitian, former adviser of the RA ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian, to whom I directly negotiated. This wording, as well as other factors, without any doubts, contributed to the fact that the ceasefire became stable. The peaceful process began and the people stopped dying”.
I don’t object the statement about Liparitian and about the importance of the abovementioned formula, but Gulizade wasn’t accurate about the time. The direct negotiations of the two presidents’ advisers began in Amsterdam, on December 19, 1995, after one and a half year. So, even in this case the participation of Moscow not was out of place, too. Though Gulizade denies that. He totally forgot what was suggested to do once three months. In July, 1994, in connection with the elaboration of the text on periodical confirmation of the ceasefire, in the beginning we really had the idea to make them once three months, but later, in the course of the arrangements, the necessity of concrete periods wasn’t required any more. But that wasn’t a ceasefire deadline at all! In one word, everything was wrong… Gulizade tries to blame us for that in vain! I don’t want to touch upon the political essence of his statements. Does he realize that he lacks the most important thing — trustworthiness of statements?
So, mainly this was the situation with the ceasefire and cessation of the military actions in Karabakh in the May of 1994. Though, often the press, the political experts and even some of the observers, being unaware of the documents, get confused and confuse their readers. More frequently they say that the ceasefire was achieved thanks to “The Bishkek protocol”, knowing not that it only contained the call of the heads of the parliaments to stop the fire at the night of May 9, and not a ceasefire agreement. There is another frequent mistake, when they say that the ceasefire in Karabakh was set up since May 18 (during the abovementioned meeting of the defense ministers in Moscow). In some respect, its our fault, too, as we didn’t publish the text of the ceasefire agreement (though, they say that it is posted in the site of “NKR Foreign Ministry”).
It’s worth adding that the ceasefire embarrassed our western partners in the OSCE Minsk group rather than pleased, as that was achieved with the assistance of Russia. This made a fuss in the West and unusual activization of the Swede, the chairmen of the OSCE Minsk group. We have already talked of some of the “measures”. When the Minsk group failed to grasp the ceasefire, they decided to admit Russia’s contribution but belittle its importance. It was displayed in various ways.
For instance, even now, after so many years, the OSCE reference books state that the ceasefire agreement in Karabakh had unofficial character. We have stated above that it doesn’t have legal accuracy and other details. But it is signed by the chief military commanders of all the three sides in conflict, authorized by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. Moreover, it has been approved and confirmed by the first ranked officials of the sides in conflict for many times and in public. It didn’t require the approval of the parliaments, but it was definitely approved by the peoples. The years that passed since then proved its viability. What are the grounds to consider it unofficial? Who and by what criteria is authorized to define how official this document is? It is hardly correct to judge it from the viewpoint of the OSCE, that wasn’t involved in its signing. If this statement bears the real contribution of the OSCE Nagorno Karabakh settlement in the issue of the ceasefire, it is hardly of any use.
Levon Ter-Petrosian, RA ex-president, also mixed the facts concerning the character of the agreement. Making a speech at the UN General Assembly on September 29, 1994, he stated that “thanks to the direct contacts between the sides, the ceasefire agreement signed on May 12, was imparted de-facto an official character on July 27 and August 28, 1994.” The Armenian president’s statement was obviously aimed to show the fruitfulness of direct contacts between the sides. But one can’t absolutely confirm his idea saying that as if the statements made in late July and August of that year were of more official character than the agreement itself. They had the same level of signatures and were approved by the supreme authorities. How could the ceasefire become official (de-facto!) after the July and August confirmations, only God knows?! I should admit that Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh didn’t act so strangely.
It’s important to note that then the Americans were working on the so-called “formalization” of the ceasefire (in other words, as if imparting it a more official character). On September 27, Vice-President Albert Gore and State Secretary Christopher told our delegation about that as if that was almost of primary importance in Karabakh issue. If we translate it from the pseudo-legal tongue to the language of politics, in one hand that would depreciate Russia’s achievements while, on the other hand, that would mean a new form of grasping the ceasefire into the hands of the OSCE. That is why, in response, Kozirev emphasized that political agreement between the sides in conflict should be achieved, as the ceasefire will not be stable unless it is done, notwithstanding our efforts to formalize it.
One should get surprised at the fact that later some of the experts began calling this agreement “an unofficial” one, that the international officials from the OSCE Department keep saying that for many years already. But this issue has no mere historical and abstract legal character. The fact that they try to belittle Russia’s role is not the most important one. The more important point is that this agreement remains the only real achievement in the Nagorno Karabakh settlement. Both nations and the whole region feel that. They break the little but essential things that were achieved. Moreover, the play with fire, conniving the political adventurers that again strive for the armed settlement of this conflict. Judging from the situation in the region, it is directly connected with both the past affairs and that of today. And one can’t exclude that it will have impact on tomorrow, too.
What part did Russian intermediary play in reaching ceasefire?
There are different opinions about it. Some were feverously underscoring Russia’s role in stopping the fire and bloodshed in Karabakh as though it only depended on the mediator and his persistency and pressure on sides. Others play this role down as though the sides stopped the fire themselves. The reality seems to be supporting the last idea as the state of ceasefire is continuing for a rather long period without having separation of the forces and heavy artillery from the contact line, without neutral observers or separating forces.
The “foreign minister of Nagorno Karabakh Republic”, Arkady Ghukasian, for instance, stated at the hearings of the Committee on CIS Affairs at the State Duma on April 11 1995 that the ceasefire was reached not due to Russia’s mediation but to the side’s exhaustion and appeared balance of forces. These two factors undoubtedly played a role in the ceasefire. But the people of the region were tired of the bloodshed not by 12 May of 1994 but much earlier and the balance of forces maintained during the first half of 1993, after the Kelbajar region was taken over. The issue is more complicated and there are more additives than what Ghukasian mentioned.
There is much to be considered for elucidating this phenomenon.
Firstly, consistent stress on the only priority, imperative of stopping the fire initiated by Russia and Council of CIS Leaders. Only Russia and the Council of CIS Leaders at Russia’s initiative clearly posed this issue as a priority.
Secondly, this was not simply a fundamental stance of Russia but a persistent practice of its leadership, foreign and defense ministries. Suffice it to mention series of short-term ceasefires reached due to Russia’s mediation in 1991, 1992 and especially in 1993. Though they didn’t last long, they served as an important political-psychological ground for the open-ended ceasefire of 12 May 1994 that has been maintained for more than 10 years now.
Thirdly, Russia was striving for that in the OSCE Minsk group as well but its voice for the ceasefire or stopping of military operations at least was suppressed for a long time by representatives of other States that coursed the Minsk group then and highlighted the ongoing talk process rather than ceasefire.
Fourthly, remember that no other mediator managed to reach real ceasefire in Karabakh: neither the Minsk group, nor Tehran, nor Alma-Ata, nor…
My US counterpart, Ambassador John Maresca, (as other colleagues told me) mocked me, almost pitied me saying that I went mad about the ceasefire, it’s not the right way of settlement, he thought.
But the Swedes – chairs of the Minsk group in the beginning of 1994 – strived for reaching a ceasefire even together with Russia but rather passing over it, without it, on behalf of the OSCE Minsk group.
If Arkady Ghukasian still sticks to his former view then let him explain why the leaders of Nagorno Karabakh reproached Russia for a rather long period of time for preventing to take Ter-Ter over in May of 1994. It would mean opening way to Barda and Yevlakh and would threaten with cutting all the northeast of Azerbaijan off in the Mingechaura region (the way the southeast was cut off in Осtober of 1993). Thus, despite exhaustion and balance of forces, the Karabakh leaders still yearned for getting maximum from the attack on Ter-Ter but had to stop fire under pressure of circumstances.
This is the role Russia played in reaching the ceasefire. It should not be overstated but neither anyone can depreciate it.
Similar book in Russian: Мир Карабаху (к анатомии урегулирования)