Karabakh knot: Identifying myths and clarifying realities
By Yusif Babanly
Since the ceasefire in May 1994, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been deadlocked in the so-called frozen conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh. Continuous meetings of the heads of state, ministers of foreign affairs, religious leaders and intellectuals have brought no substantial progress in the resolution of what is considered to be one of the bloodiest conflicts in the post-Soviet space.
As highlighted by the Armenian commentator in his op-ed “Karabakh Knot: Myths and Realities” in Foreign Policy (http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2012/03/10/karabakh-knot-myths-and-realities/), 2011 was indeed “another year of wasted opportunities.” Uncompromising stances from both sides makes it nearly impossible to come close to the long-awaited peace treaty. Although, the agreement on basic principles has not been reached, Azerbaijan, eager to settle the conflict soon, had even proposed to simultaneously start working on the final peace treaty in December 2011. However, the Armenian side has so far been unwilling to contribute to the process of peace-building, ironically, ever since the peacemakers began to intervene to end the bloodshed in 1991. It is worth noting that some of the most strategic locations in Karabakh were occupied by Armenian troops in the periods of mediated trilateral meetings planned to halt the hostilities, when the Azerbaijani side concentrated on peace talks and did not expect any offensives on the front lines.
The commentator Aram Avetisyan, who distinctively claims that there are three parties to the conflict (Azerbaijan, Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic), must get acquainted with the peacemaking formats used during peace negotiations, mediated both during the existence of the Soviet Union (Zheleznovodsk Accords, mediated by Russia and Kazakhstan ) and after its collapse (Tehran Agreement  and subsequent OSCE Minsk Group-sponsored talks). None of the state leaders or their representatives mediating any of the aforementioned peace agreements recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as a separate party to the conflict. Not then, not now. Russia, Kazakhstan and Iran have all mediated between Azerbaijan and Armenia only. Similarly, from the inception of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group in March, 1992, the format of the negotiations was set up according to Baker Rules, named after the United States Secretary of State, James Baker. Within the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Baker Rules recognized only two principal parties to the conflict—Armenia and Azerbaijan, and identified two interested parties—the Azerbaijani and Armenian communities of Nagorno-Karabakh. This format has been retained to this day. During their periodic visits, OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs meet with Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders, followed by meetings with the head of the Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh, who depicts himself as “President of NKR” in Khankendi (Stepanakert), and the head of Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh, currently in exile, in Baku. Therefore, there are no irregularities or inconsistencies in the format of peace negotiations and Azerbaijan is not to be accused of “rejecting” any contacts with Nagorno-Karabakh. On a separate note, reconciliation measures have always been welcomed by Azerbaijan, as many intellectuals and public diplomats have been in contact with their Armenian counterparts in Armenia and occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, and have hosted them in Baku many times.
Azerbaijan does not mislead the international community with any international documents as the commentator claims. Futile arguments to misinterpret the nature of official documents to present the conflicting sides as “Azerbaijan and NKR” will only add to the existing set of misrepresentations of facts by the Armenian side. One undeniable fact is that Armenia, in a quest for the outright annexation of Azerbaijani territory, had demanded transfer of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia through the end of September 1991. Understanding the repercussions of demands within international law, the Armenian leadership soon denounced the claims to Nagorno-Karabakh and switched to the “self-determination” principle to gain sympathy and some legitimacy in the eyes of the international community.
Baku rightfully refers to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 in an effort to underline the stance of the international community vis-à-vis Armenia and its aggression against Azerbaijan. To get clarification and understand what the documents stipulate, one must read through the texts of the resolutions in full, while also paying attention to the timing of when these documents were adopted. Resolution 822 was adopted on April 30, 1993 in relation and response to the occupation of the Kelbajar district of the Republic of Azerbaijan by the Armenian forces attacking from the eastern occupied district of Agdere and by the Armenian armed forces aided by the 127th division of the Russian army from the west (across the Armenian border) on April 2, 1993., The resolution clearly reaffirms the “respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity” and “the inviolability of international borders and the inadmissibility of the use of force for the acquisition of territory,” calling for the withdrawal of occupying forces from Kelbajar District and the other areas of Azerbaijan.
Subsequent UNSC Resolutions 853, 874 and 884 were passed due to the ongoing advance and occupation of Azerbaijani districts by the Armenian army, reaffirming the stance of the U.N. Security Council on previously adopted documents calling for occupying Armenian forces to withdraw. Resolution 853 was passed on July 29, 1993, six days after occupation of the Agdam district of Azerbaijan and in accordance with the report by the Chairman of the OSCE (CSCE) Minsk Group. Resolution 874 was adopted on October 14, following the occupation of the districts of Fizuli, Jabrayil, and Gubadly on August 23, 26 and 31, respectively. Finally, Resolution 884 was adopted on November 12, 1993 after the last region in southwestern Karabakh, Zangelan and the city of Horadiz were occupied on October 29. Remarkably, Mr. Avetisyan also chooses to forget four critical points:
- The term “occupying forces” in the resolutions is used in reference to the occupying Armenian armed forces, because Azerbaijan, in all of the districts specified in the resolutions, was on the defensive, not offensive;
- Azerbaijani forces could not have ever been an “occupying force” in Nagorno-Karabakh, simply because Nagorno-Karabakh is a constituent part of the Republic of Azerbaijan (duly recognized so by the international community). Hence, there are no grounds to misinterpret and play around the term “occupying forces”;
- “Local Armenian troops” would never have been able to withstand campaigns of the Azerbaijani army should they have not been aided by the Armenian army and Russia’s 127th division stationed in Gyumri (Armenia) and 366th regiment deployed in Khankendi (Stepanakert). The latter had already become notorious for its role in the joint operation in Khojaly on February 26, 1992, which ended up in the slaughter of 613 Azeri civilians by Armenian detachments ,;
- There is ample evidence of the Armenian army participating in hostilities against Azerbaijan in Karabakh. Reputable sources, including Human Rights Watch, state that as much as 30 percent of Armenian army soldiers interviewed in Yerevan fought in Karabakh. Many Armenian soldiers, who currently serve in occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, are a part of the armed forces of the Republic of Armenia. The deaths of Armenian conscripts in Nagorno-Karabakh every now and then often make their way into the media and shed light on the denials of the Armenian side about the Armenian army being deployed in Azerbaijan’s occupied territories.
Yet, the aforementioned four UNSC resolutions are not the only documents clarifying the stance of the international community. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 1416 on January 25, 2005 on the situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and called for compliance with four UNSC resolutions. The U.N. General Assembly adopted Resolution A/62/L.42 on March 14, 2008 reaffirming the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and demanding the withdrawal of occupying Armenian forces from Nagorno-Karabakh. Many more resolutions condemning the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territory were passed by other international organizations such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. From the EU presidency to Minsk Group co-chair states, leaders have called on Armenia to respect the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and withdraw the occupying forces from its territory.,
By contrast, no documents by international bodies and governments were issued condemning any “Azerbaijani aggression,” as implied by Mr. Avetisyan, not even during the Azerbaijani campaign from December 1993 to January 1994 when Azerbaijani forces were able to liberate Horadiz, just because the restoration of the territorial integrity of a sovereign state is the right of any country, maintained by every legitimate government on the planet. Furthermore, no international organization or government has recognized the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic ruled by a regime branded by U.S. Assistant of Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones as one run by “criminal secessionists.” It is noteworthy that U.N. member Pakistan does not even recognize Armenia itself, due to its aggression against the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Unsurprisingly, commentator Avetisyan reiterates the official rhetoric of the Republic of Armenia on the continuing blockade of Armenia by the Republic of Azerbaijan, but fails to provide precedents from the history of conflicts where and when a country, a part of which had been occupied, extended a lifeline to the economy of the occupying country. This would be similar to Nazi Germany complaining about a blockade of the Allies during WWII, imposed on it untiil the end of the war while it maintained the occupation of a large part of Europe and Northern Africa. Needless to say, Azerbaijan sees no point in opening borders with Armenia or extending all economic opportunities to it, which would bring Yerevan money to sustain its occupation of Karabakh, so long as Armenia is unwilling to compromise. Unfortunately, the Armenian leadership has imprisoned the Armenian population and Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh, depriving them of all economic incentives and projects which enriched all countries in the region, including Georgia and Turkey. Undoubtedly, Armenia, which was left behind all major international energy and communication projects in the Caucasus, has been ranked by Forbes magazine as the second-worst economy in the world. Therefore, due to deteriorating economic conditions in the country, Armenia has ranked third among 28 post-socialist countries for having the most decreasing population, losing 15.1% of its population between 1989 through 2007. By contrast, Azerbaijan’s population grew by 20.8% in the same time period. A strikingly worrisome concern is that over 1.1 million people have left Armenia since 1991.
The core of the problems Armenia faces today is the irredentist and decrepit ideology of the state, imposed on the Armenian public, impeding the economic and social development in the country. It is the only state in the South Caucasus which lays territorial claims on Azerbaijan (its Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhchivan regions), Georgia (Samtskhe-Javakheti region) and Turkey (eastern provinces) simultaneously. It is the only state violating international laws and norms in the region. And it is the only state depriving its own population of economic benefits other countries have been enjoying. Yerevan should seriously rethink its strategies and start integrating into the region instead of conspicuously calling on the younger generation of Armenians to ominous causes such as “fighting to annex eastern Turkey.” The mere fact that the international community has not recognized the regime in Khankendi (Stepanakert) in the last two decades and does not endorse the occupation of Azerbaijani territory by Armenia should give it a hint. Saber rattling against Azerbaijan does not supply the Armenian public with income, nor does it increase their chances of justifying the occupation of a sovereign state’s territory in the eyes of the international community. Only through good-willed compromise and respect for international laws can Armenia overcome this impasse.
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Yusif Babanly is the co-founder and secretary of the US Azeris Network (USAN) and a member of the board of directors of Azerbaijani American Council.