Jul 072016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Source: The New York Times

Sep 102012
 

By PETER RUTLAND
Published: September 10, 2012

In recent days there have been two symbolic events that run the danger of igniting hostilities in an already tense neighborhood of the Caucasus.

On Aug. 31 a former Azerbaijan Army lieutenant, Ramil Safarov, flew back to Baku after serving eight years in a Budapest jail for killing Gurgen Margarian in 2004. The victim, an Armenian officer, had been a fellow participant in a NATO Partnership for Peace exercise. Safarov hacked him to death in his sleep with an ax.

The Hungarian government transferred the prisoner to Azerbaijan on the understanding that he would serve out the rest of his life sentence in his home country. But immediately upon his arrival in Baku, Lieutenant Safarov was pardoned by President Ilham Aliyev, restored to military duties, promoted to major, given an apartment and awarded back pay for his time in prison. These actions drew universal condemnation from Washington, Moscow and European governments.

Apart from the fact that such a step is an affront to basic notions of justice and the rule of law, even more troubling is the message that it sends to the rest of the world: that the Azerbaijani government thinks it is acceptable to kill Armenians. Apparently, the grievances they suffered in their defeat by Armenian forces in 1992-94 are so profound that even murder is excusable. It is hard, then, to ask the Armenians living in Karabakh to quietly accept the idea that the solution to their disputed territory is for them to return to living under Azerbaijani rule.

This one single act could undo the patient efforts of diplomats and activists over many years to try to rebuild connections and work toward mutual trust — without which any kind of peace settlement will be a pipe dream.

Compounding the problem was a less significant but still noteworthy gesture. On Sept. 3, Richard Morningstar, the new U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, paid his respects to Heidar Aliyev, the deceased former president (and father of the incumbent), by laying a wreath at his statue in central Baku. Apparently it is standard protocol for U.S. ambassadors to include this stop in their round of duties when arriving in Baku. Photographs also clearly showed the ambassador bowing his head before the monument, though a State Department spokesman later denied this.

Mr. Morningstar’s far from empty gesture sent two wrong signals.

First, it is disheartening to Azerbaijani democratic activists to see the United States so cravenly supporting dictatorship as a suitable form of rule, a pattern all too familiar from U.S. policy toward the entire Middle East.

Second, it signals to Armenia — and its principal ally, Russia — that the United States is an unqualified backer of the Azerbaijani government, warts and all. Strategic interests — Caspian oil, access to Central Asia, containment of Iran — count for more than the niceties of human rights and democratic procedure.

This makes it all but impossible for Armenia to expect the United States to act as an honest broker in the peace process. And if the United States cannot play that role, no one else will.

Diplomacy has long revolved around such symbolic acts. In 1793, the Earl Macartney, British ambassador to China, was thrown out of the country when he refused to kowtow before the emperor. More recently, visits by Japanese government ministers to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, commemorating the souls of warriors, have triggered protests from China and South Korea.

By contrast, when Chancellor Willy Brandt fell to his knees before the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto in 1970 he turned a page in German atonement for its past atrocities. In the same spirit, Vladimir Putin sent a clear message of reconciliation when in 2010 he knelt at the monument to the Polish officers killed at Katyn on Stalin’s orders.

What we need in the Caucasus are leaders willing to follow the examples of Mr. Brandt and Mr. Putin, with the courage to show contrition and a willingness to meet with their former adversary and figure out a way to live together. We may be in for a long wait.

Peter Rutland is a professor of government at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on September 11, 2012, in The International Herald Tribune.


Source: New York Times

Sep 042012
 

Ramil Safarov, center, was returned to his native Azerbaijan last week from a Hungarian prison.
By ELLEN BARRY
Published: September 4, 2012

MOSCOW — Ramil Safarov stepped uncertainly off the plane in his native Azerbaijan last Friday, returning home after spending eight years in a Hungarian prison for a gruesome murder. But it took only a few minutes for the celebrations to begin. There was a pardon, a new apartment, eight years of back pay, a promotion to the rank of major and the status of a national hero.

Mr. Safarov, 35, was already famous because of his crime. Eight years ago, carrying an ax, he crept into a dormitory room in Hungary where an Armenian serviceman, a fellow student in a NATO-sponsored English class, slept, and nearly decapitated him.

But now Mr. Safarov will almost certainly go down in history for the way he was freed, an episode people have started to call “The Safarov Affair.”

The backlash has embarrassed Hungary, which agreed to extradite Mr. Safarov on the assumption that he would serve at least 25 years of a life sentence. It has set off protests in Budapest and enraged Armenia, where activists pelted the Hungarian Embassy with eggs and burned Hungarian flags.

And it threatens to end the lengthy peace process that has kept Azerbaijan and Armenia from sliding back into bloody conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Mr. Safarov, who was a boy during the war with Armenia, embodies the hatred that has pooled deeply in the public as leaders have sat through rounds of faltering negotiations.

“If we have no process, what’s left is a vacuum, which gets filled with an escalation toward war; we’ll see how the Armenian side reacts, but that’s my fear,” said Thomas de Waal, a Caucasus specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “It’s suddenly more dangerous.”

Mr. Safarov, then a lieutenant, and his victim, Lt. Gurgen Markarian, got to know each other in Budapest as members of an English-language course organized by NATO’s Partnership for Peace, which was developed to build ties with former Soviet allies in Eastern Europe.

Mr. Safarov told the police that his Armenian classmates had insulted him and that he had grown increasingly angry, finally buying an ax and waiting until before dawn one day to carry out his plan. He passed those hours by finishing his English homework and taking a bath, according to a transcript of the interview published by Armenian activists.

After Mr. Safarov was arrested, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry released a statement describing his family’s losses during the war with Armenia, and suggesting that Lieutenant Markarian had goaded him.

“There are indications that the Armenian servicemen repeatedly insulted the honor and dignity of the Azerbaijani officer and citizen,” the statement said. “All this would have inevitably influenced the suspect’s emotional state.”

Oil-rich Azerbaijan carried out a sustained lobbying effort to extradite Mr. Safarov from Hungary, over the protests of Armenian officials. The Hungarian government, under pressure to explain its decision to turn over Mr. Safarov, has said it received written assurance from Azerbaijan that he would not be paroled until he had served 25 years in Lieutenant Markarian’s murder.

On Friday, though, he was pardoned by Azerbaijan’s president, Illham H. Aliyev. Mr. Safarov’s presence so electrified citizens that all day strangers congratulated one another on the streets of Baku.

It is not clear how the Armenian government will respond to Mr. Safarov’s release. “The Armenians must not be underestimated,” President Serzh Sargsyan warned on Sunday. “We don’t want a war, but if we have to, we will fight and win,” he said. “We are not afraid of murderers, even those who enjoy the highest patronage.”

Richard Giragosian, an analyst based in Yerevan, Armenia, said that he doubted that either side was seeking a war, but that unfolding events risked “a war by accident.”

An Armenian opposition party on Tuesday proposed formally recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh as independent — a step that would signal the final collapse of peace talks that have long been encouraged by Russia and the West. Armenia could ratchet up the confrontation by opening an airport in Stepanakert, the capital of the disputed territory, or by responding overwhelmingly to cease-fire violations.

“Each side is escalating,” Mr. Giragosian said. “It’s almost like a matter of physics. For every action there is a reaction.”

Mr. Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president, has invested vast sums in his country’s international standing, most recently serving as host of the Eurovision Song Contest, but waves of condemnation have emerged since Friday — most swiftly from the United States, which issued statements saying officials in Washington were “extremely troubled” and “deeply concerned.” On Monday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry expressed “deep concern, noting the case’s “extreme atrocity.”

Zerdusht Alizadeh, an opposition politician and analyst at the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, said Mr. Aliyev was looking ahead to elections next year, and had little to show for the drawn-out efforts to mediate the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Mr. Safarov’s homecoming, he said, was a far simpler way to declare victory.

“Giving so much support to a hero — a person who killed an Armenian — makes the president a hero, too,” he said.

By Tuesday, though, the backlash was dominating the day’s news coverage, and Mr. Safarov had made no further public appearances.

The episode, Mr. Giragosian said, was a reminder of the depth and force of the ethnic grievances left behind as the Soviet empire receded across Europe.

“It’s almost like the Balkans was — we had no idea of the barbarity of these people,” he said. “Holding a grudge for 100 years is nothing. It’s like a blood vendetta. At the same time, there are wider implications; it increases an already worrisome trend toward possible renewed conflict here.”

Shahla Sultanova contributed reporting from Baku, Azerbaijan.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 6, 2012

Because of an editing error, an article on Wednesday about a hero’s welcome for a convicted killer, Ramil Safarov, in his homeland of Azerbaijan, where he was extradited on Friday from Hungary after serving only eight years of a life sentence in the killing of an Armenian serviceman in Budapest, described incorrectly the role that President Ilham H. Aliyev of Azerbaijan played in the case. He pardoned Mr. Safarov; he did not meet him at the airport when he returned home. The article also referred incorrectly to an opposition politician who commented on Mr. Aliyev’s actions. The politician, Zerdusht Alizadeh, is a man.


Source: New York Times

Sep 271990
 

(This is a joint initiative of the Helsinki Treaty Watchdog Committee of France and intellectuals from the College International de Philosophie, Paris.)

An era which we all thought had ended, the era of pogroms, has resurfaced. Once again this year, the Armenian community of Azerbaijan has been the victim of atrocious and intolerable premeditated massacres.

As scholars, writers, scientists, political leaders and artists we wish, first of all, to express our profound indignation over such barbaric acts, which we wanted to believe belonged to humanity’s past.

We intend this statement as more than an after-the-fact condemnation. We want to alert international public opinion to the continuing danger that racism represents to the future of humanity. It forebodes ill that we are experiencing the same powerlessness when faced with such flagrant violations of human rights a half century after the genocide of the Jewish people in Nazi concentration camps and forty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It would be inexcusable if, because of our silence now, we contributed to the suffering of new victims.

The situation of Armenians in the Caucasus is, in fact, too serious for us to remain silent. There are moments when we must assume the moral obligation to assist a people in peril. Our sense of obligation leads us today to appeal to the international community and to public opinion.

More than two years ago, active persecution against Armenians began in Azerbaijan. The pogroms of Sumgait in February, 1988 were followed by massacres in Kirovapat and Baku in November 1988. As recently as January 1990, the pogroms continued in Baku and other parts of Azerbaijan. The mere fact that these pogroms were repeated and the fact that they followed the same pattern lead us to think that these tragic events are not accidents or spontaneous outbursts.

Rather, we are compelled to recognize that crimes against the Armenian minority have become consistent practice—if not official policy—in Soviet Azerbaijan. According to the late Andrei Sakharov (New York Times, November 26, 1988), these pogroms constitute “a real threat of extermination” to the indigenous Armenian community in Azerbaijan and in the autonomous region of Mountainous Karabagh, whose inhabitants are 80 percent Armenian.

Horror has not limits, especially when we remember that the threat is against Armenian people who in 1915 paid dearly for their right to be different in the Ottoman Empire. There, Armenians lost half their population to genocide, the worst consequence of racism. Furthermore, if the recent pogroms have revived nightmares of extermination not yet overcome, the current total blockade of Armenia and Mountainous Karabagh and 85 percent of those into Armenia pass through Azerbaijan; it would not be an exaggeration to maintain that such a blockade amounts to the strangulation of Armenia. In a land devastated by the earthquake of December 7, 1988, the blockade has paralyzed the economy and dealt a mortal blow to the reconstruction efforts.

It is our sincere hope that perestroika will succeed. But we also hope for the success of glasnost and democratization. We recognize that the passage from a totalitarian state to a rule of law can not be achieved overnight. It is nonetheless necessary that in the process of transition, the government of the Soviet Union promote, legalize and institutionalize such critical forces for democracy as human rights, the principle of toleration, and democratic movements. There is no better defense and demonstration of democracy. At any rate, that is the only way to avoid the worst. In the case of a multinational state, the worst may mean threats to the right of a people or a minority to exist. It is during periods of transition and uncertainty that rights of peoples—today Armenians, tomorrow another people or minority—are threatened or denied. In this respect, the ease with which we see today the development in the USSR of racist movements, especially the anti-Semitic movement know as Pamyat, is for us cause for grave concern.

In the name of our duty of vigilance, we demand that Soviet authorities as well as the international community condemn unequivocally these anti-Armenian pogroms and that they denounce especially the racist ideology which has been used by the perpetrators of these crimes as justification.

We ask from the Soviet authorities and the international community that all necessary measures be taken immediately to ensure the protection and security of Armenians in the Caucasus and other parts of the Soviet Union. This can begin by bringing about a definitive lifting of the Azerbaijani blockade.

It should be clear that the forceful deportation of Armenians is not the solution to the problem of Mountainous Karabagh which, in essence, is a problem of human rights.

Because the genocide of 1915 began with pogroms and massive deportations, and because that painful memory still endures, Armenia lives today in anguish and despair.

It is in such circumstances that the international community of states under the rule of law must prove the authenticity of its commitment to human rights in order to ensure that, due to indifference and silence bordering on complicity, a second genocide does not occur.

David Aaron (Trustee, International League for Human Rights)
Sir Isaiah Berlin (All Souls College, Oxford)
William M. Chace (President of Wesleyan University)
Jacques Derrida (Philosophy, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris)
Luc Ferry (Philosophy, University of Rennes)
Alain Finkelkraut (Philosophy, Paris)
Hans-Georg Gadamer (Philosophy, University of Heidelberg)
André Glucksmann (Philosophy, Paris)
Vartan Gregorian (History, Brown University)
Jürgen Habermas (Philosophy, University of Frankfurt)
Agnes Heller (Philosophy, The New School for Social Research)
Benjamin L. Hooks (Executive Director, NAACP)
Leszek Kolakowski (Philosophy, All Souls College, Oxford)
Emmanuel Levinas (Philosophy, University of Paris IV, Sorbonne)
Adrian Lyttelton (History, Johns Hopkins Center for International Studies)
Jacques Poulain (Philosophy, University of Paris VIII)
Hilary Putnam (Boston)
Paul Ricoeur (Philosophy, University of Paris/Nanterre)
Richard Rorty (Philosophy, University of North Carolina)
Jerome J. Shestack (Chairman, International League for Human Rights)
Charles Taylor (Philosophy & Political Science, McGill University, Montreal)
Reiner Wiehl (Philosophy, University of Heidelberg)
Reginald E. Zelnick (Professor of History, University of California at Berkeley)
and 110 others


Source: New York Times

Jan 191990
 

Azerbaijan is no Lithuania. True, resurgent nationalism arouses people in the Caucasus just as it arouses the Baltic republics. But there the comparison ends – and the trouble for Moscow begins.

Nationalists in Lithuania are struggling to wrest independence from Moscow by nonviolent, political means. Nationalists in Azerbaijan also talk of independence, but their protest includes bloody pogroms against their Armenian neighbors. Nor do Azerbaijani nationalists limit their actions to Soviet Azerbaijan. They transgress the border with Iran to make common cause with Azerbaijanis there.

Mikhail Gorbachev seems prepared to bargain with Lithuania’s nationalists. But Azerbaijan’s violent nationalists leave him no choice but to send in the troops.

The nationalism now surging from Omsk to Tomsk is an understandable reaction to decades of forced assimilation. Stalin redrew borders, relocated populations and suppressed cultural and religious differences, all in the name of internationalism. But ancient national aspirations did not dis-appear.

This week’s massacre in Baku, of predominantly Christian Armenians by Muslim Azerbaijanis, shows nationalism at its nastiest. Generations of religious hatred erupted in spasmodic violence two years ago as armed Azerbaijanis rampaged through the town of Sumgait and slaughtered 32 people, mostly Armenians. After the 1988 earthquake that killed 25,000 Armenians, Azerbaijanis blocked railways to Armenia, holding up aid. Now the rivals vie for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave that Stalin incorporated into Azerbaijan in 1923.


The Armenians sought protection from Moscow. Mr. Gorbachev first resisted but renewed strife forced him to intervene. The Azerbaijanis added to his unease by declaring their interest in carving out a state on both sides of the national border. This was a clear threat to Iran’s territorial integrity and its warming relations with the Soviet Union. Teheran asked the Soviets to beef up border patrols.

Mr. Gorbachev and his reformist Kremlin allies are prepared to tolerate, even encourage, moderate nationalists who challenge central control and demand autonomy. But Moscow rightly feels that, in a polyglot country with 104 different nationalities, ethnic violence is beyond the pale.

Azerbaijan dramatizes Mr. Gorbachev’s larger dilemma. To generate economic thrust, he wants to shift power from Moscow’s stodgy bureaucracies to the regional republics. But how can he do this without unleashing nationalist hatreds and irredentism? The problem is illustrated by the struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region as big as Long Island with a population of 160,000.

Putting either Azerbaijanis or Armenians in charge would leave one people at the mercy of the other. Moscow has to assume direct control. But that runs counter to Mr. Gorbachev’s desire for devolution. And the troops, once introduced, will be difficult to extricate. Nothing so challenges Mr. Gorbachev’s resourcefulness, and his fragile coalition of reformists and moderate nationalists, as the flow of blood in the Caucasus.


Source: New York Times

Nov 261988
 

The Soviet human-rights campaigner Andrei D. Sakharov asserted yesterday that more than 130 Armenians had been killed by Azerbaijani mobs in the city of Kirovabad during the spreading ethnic unrest in the southern Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

”With the authorities’ connivance, the murders, rapes and arsons are continuing now for a fifth day and are spreading to other cities and towns of Azerbaijan,” Mr. Sakharov said in a statement from Newton, Mass.

The outspoken Soviet physicist, who is visiting the United States on a visa rarely granted by Moscow to its critics, called on the Soviet Government to ”take the necessary measures to insure the safety of the Armenian population, including the introduction of sufficient troops into Azerbaijan for this purpose.”

Dr. Sakharov said he had received reports from the Soviet Union that ”more than 130 Armenians have been killed in the city of Kirovabad by Azerbaijani rioters inflamed by nationalist passions, and more than 200 Armenians had been wounded.” ‘Threat of Genocide’


Source: New York Times