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Ways to Karabakh peace and what West can do
by Masis Mayilian
long-established understanding Russian
neither Stepanakert nor Yerevan
the last meeting in Sochi

Published: Monday June 20, 2011
Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh - Seventeen years have been passed since the unlimited truce between Azerbaijan, NKR and Armenia was achieved but the problem of safeguarding the cease-fire regime is still pressing.

The last two meetings of the Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents in Astrakhan and Sochi under the mediation of the Russian President were dedicated to this problem and to the measures aimed at reduction of the overall tension in area of the conflict.

The mediators are coming back to the long-established understanding that without ensuring a firm stability and reliable consolidation of the cease-fire regime on the border between NKR and Azerbaijan, it will be impossible to promote the process of reconciliation on the key political issues. Creation of the favorable atmosphere in the area of the conflict is the minimum necessary condition for continuation of the peaceful dialog.

Restraining Azerbaijan through Karabakh recognition

Meantime, statements and actions of the Azerbaijani side show that its uncompromising position is becoming even more antagonistic than before. Official Baku has recently taken on the following formula: peace on Azerbaijani conditions or war.

It is necessary to point out that "peace of Azerbaijani conditions" or based on "Madrid principles" merely means a postponed war. It is clear that neither Stepanakert nor Yerevan will play by Baku rules.

Continuation of the sniper war, Azerbaijan's unwillingness to work on elaboration of the international mechanism of observation and control over the cease-fire regime are derivatives of the above-mentioned Azerbaijani formula. This is in spite of the fact that during the last meeting in Sochi the Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents agreed "to investigate possible incidents along the cease-fire line with participation of the parties under the aegis of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and with support of the special representative of the Chairman-in-Office of OSCE".)

The appeals by the UN Secretary General, the Chairman-in-Office of OSCE and other figures on the necessity of withdrawal of snipers from the front-line can be fulfilled in case if Azerbaijan gives up the military blackmail policy. Armenia and NKR have already declared their readiness to withdraw snipers, but the Armenian states can not take this step unilaterally.

The tension in the conflict zone is often fueled by Azerbaijan deliberately to exert pressure on the Armenian parties, including by means of the mediators. As such threat of war has increased in recent years. Azerbaijan is arming itself, trying to break the balance of forces, on which the truce is based.

Keeping the balance means preservation of stability, and if one of the parties is trying to break this balance with the use of oil revenues then it should be in the interest of third parties to support the other party.

The free supply or the sale of armaments by preferential prices to the Armenian parties is thus one of possible measures of the war prevention.

Besides the material-technical measures, there are political ways capable to ensure stability in the area of the Karabakh conflict.

International recognition of NKR independence can help eliminate the prospect of war. Realization of this scenario, which has been tested in recent years in other conflicts and is the least costly option, will provide the region with the long-term stability. Supporters of the positive change of the status-quo concerned with peace in the region, should show preference to this scenario.

The task of the officials responsible for the fate of Artsakh and Armenia lies in ensuring development of the two Armenian states in peaceful security conditions. In the current situation, when Azerbaijan refuses to stop sniper-inflicted killings on the cease-fire line and aggravates tensions, Armenia and NKR should undertake active countermeasures, both in the military field and in diplomacy. The goal should be to ensure that Azerbaijani leadership is put in such a situation, when orders to kill in conditions of the cease-fire would have extremely negative consequences first of all for the official Baku.

International mediators should make it very clear to Azerbaijan without any equivocation that continuation of the war rhetoric and actual preparations for war will lead to accelerated international recognition of NKR. Even more, mediating countries should take first steps in this direction, such as granting the Nagorno Karabakh Republic an observer status in the UN and other international organizations.

Azerbaijan's domestic picture

In his recent interview with Voice of America, U.S. Ambassador in Baku Matthew Bryza said that in discussions with members of the Azerbaijani government he spent most of him time on subjects of democracy and human rights, including recent harassment of journalists and opposition activists.

"The discussion has always been one in a spirit of partnership, proceeding from our understanding that to be stable Azerbaijan must maneuver between two extremes of political authoritarianism and Islamic extremism. We think Azerbaijan is on that path and we want to help keep it on that path."

Skillful foreign management of the internal political processes in Azerbaijan can have a positive impact on settlement of the Karabakh conflict as well. With authoritarian regime's natural focus on self-preservations support for democratic and civil movements in Azerbaijan should concentrate the attention of Baku authorities on domestic political issues, putting aside any temptation to engage in revanchist scenarios. Such management should also seek to exclude a scenario where a the ruling regime may be tempted to resume military actions in Karabakh as a measure aimed at consolidation of its own power in Baku.

Caucasus peace: West's burden

In his speech at a conference on "Security in the South Caucasus: the Azerbaijani-Turkish relations" held on May 16 in Bursa, Turkey former U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group Carey Cavanaugh noted that the Azerbaijani annual military-related spending of up to $3.5 billions would be better spent for peaceful purposes.

Western community of states has a direct stake in implementing measures that would helped prevent renewed war in the Caucasus since Azerbaijan's revanchism is fueled by revenues accrued thanks to Western investments into its energy development and Western purchases of the oil and gas it produces.

According to diplomatic sources, to secure Western support for development of its energy resources Azerbaijan pledged that it would resolve the Karabakh conflict peacefully, while not increasing risks for investors. At the same time, the Azerbaijani leadership - in effect the Aliyev family - got behind-the-scenes guarantees of political support. At the same time, this arrangement never guaranteed the resolution of the Karabakh problem solely in Azerbaijan's favor.

Western partners have kept their obligations helping secure smooth handover of power in Azerbaijan from father to the son. But Azerbaijan's incumbent president having earned dividends from Western-initiated energy development is now seeking to re-write rules of the game, which were set in 1994, to secure a carte blanch to use force against NKR.

But breaking of these rules cannot be unilateral. If rules are altered by Aliyev, then the ruling regime in Azerbaijan will lose the previously guaranteed foreign support with all its consequences.

Besides Western oil and gas business partners of Azerbaijan, such influential regional actors as Russia and Iran, having their own motivations, are interested in preserving stability in the area of the Karabakh conflict. In particular, military scenarios are dangerous not only for the South Caucasian countries, but could have spillover effect on Russia's North Caucasus.

The Iranian side has its concerns that in case of regional destabilization, U.S. or allied forces may appear on its northern borders.

Through active engagement by countries concerned and with correct use of available leverages relative peace prevailing in the Karabakh conflict area can be preserved for the longer term.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article appeared in Stepanakert-based Analyticon journal, issue 5 for 2011.


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