Six Rounds and Counting


By Edmond Y. Azadian

By now all observers have lost count how many times the Minsk Group co-chairs have visited Armenia and Azerbaijan. Perhaps even the participants cannot figure out the number of their meetings held in the two countries at loggerheads.

The subject of today’s counting exercise, tripartite meetings between the presidents of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, has a smaller number. Indeed the sixth meeting between the three presidents was held on June 17 at St. Petersburg.

At the conclusion of that meeting, information was released, but actions spoke even louder. It is obvious that the three presidents have been spinning their wheels to no avail. If something substantive
needed to be achieved, six meeting were more than sufficient.

Following the St. Petersburg meeting, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian and the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson have tried to give a positive spin to the meeting, which was later disproved by the third party’s actions — Aliyev’s provocative act against Karabagh.

Nalbandian was the only high-level diplomat to speak to the reporters. Russia and Azerbaijan had relegated that task to third-level functionaries, indicating clearly the relative importance of the meeting to the respective participants.

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During his press conference, Nalbandian went through some contortions to spell out what had transpired at the meeting. “This is the sixth meeting between the three presidents,” stated Armenia’s foreign minister. “The meeting was held at the initiative of the Russian president, who was also one of the participants. Previous meetings were held in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kishinev and Sochi.”

When he was questioned about the Madrid Principles, Nalbandian answered: “Before we had only one document, that was the Madrid agreement, which formed the basis of negotiations. New proposals were brought to this meeting. Everything is on record and the parties agreed to continue negotiations based
on these records.”

Overall, Nalbandian evaluated the meeting to have been conducted in a “constructive atmosphere.”

Natalia Timakova, the spokesperson for the Russian president’s office, indicated that the “opposing views were narrowed down” and the parties agreed to continue negotiations within the frameworks of the Minsk Group.

But the positive atmosphere — described at such great pain — did not last very long. President Ilham Aliyev, whose office had originally announced that he was invited to St. Petersburg to attend the International Economic Forum, and on the sidelines of which he would meet with Armenia’s president, returned to Baku following the meeting without participating in the forum. That smelled trouble, because something had gone awry for Aliyev during the tripartite summit.

It did not take too long for the Azeri president to express his displeasure in a provocative act. Upon his return, he ordered Azeri forces to violate the ceasefire line, resulting in casualties on both sides.

On this occasion, the Nagorno Karabagh Republic office in the US issued the following statement: “On the night of June 18-19, an Azerbaijani military unit, acting in violation of 1994 ceasefire agreement, crossed the Line of Contact and attacked a forward defense position of the Nagorno Karabagh Defense Army near Chailin, Mardakert district. The resulting skirmish left four Armenian soldiers dead, four wounded; the Azerbaijani unit retreated, leaving one of their own in Armenian positions. This act of aggression represents a blatant violation of the ceasefire agreement and other commitments by Azerbaijan.”

A similar scenario was replayed in 2008, following the Moscow Declaration, which had hardly breathed some optimism in the atmosphere. At that time, Aliyev sounded his war cry right after assuming some constructive commitments in Moscow, dampening hopes and returning the negotiations to square one. The Azeri purpose seems to be the same this time around as well.

When the news broke out about the ceasefire violation, President Serge Sargisian was still in St. Petersburg attending the Economic Forum. He felt betrayed and was livid when he spoke to the journalists. “This behavior is unacceptable,” he uttered. Then finding his composure he made a statement of principle, which may signal a shift in Armenia’s Karabagh policy. He announced that Armenia will work towards the recognition of the Karabagh Republic.

Thus far Armenia has been taking a murky position by seeking “self determination” for the Karabagh people, which may mean many things to many people.

If indeed it is a policy shift, it will need a new legal framework to be implemented.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, using the premise of the Soviet Constitution, Karabagh held a referendum to secede from the Union and join the Republic of Armenia in the same manner that Azerbaijan departed from the Union.

In Karabagh’s case perhaps a new referendum must be held to declare independence, without necessarily joining Armenia. In that case, we may use the same refrain invented by Turkey and Azerbaijan: “One nation, two republics.”

That will pave the way for Armenia to recognize Karabagh and invite other nations to recognize, like the US coerced other nations to recognize Kosovo and Russia pressured Nicaragua and Venezuela to recognize Abkhazia.

This game can be played if the playing party is strong. In Armenia’s case, recognition of the Karabagh Republic may mean an open invitation for war with Azerbaijan: nonetheless it is a teasing game which needs to be played cautiously to counter Azeri aggression.

All these political moves have to take into account the mood of the international community.

Karabagh recently held parliamentary elections, which were rated as free and democratic by international observers.

However, the Karabagh Republic was blamed for exercising its democratic right to hold legal elections.

The Minsk Group collectively and the co-chairing countries individually issued public announcements refusing to accept the results of the election, even denying Karabagh’s rights to hold in the elections. It was most surprising that even the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a negative statement. They could have kept a neutrality stance or ignored the issue completely.

The Azeri blunders, threats and actual aggressive acts are not treated in the same way. That is why Vladimir Kazimirov, the former Russian co-chair of the Minsk Group, blamed that group for ignoring Azerbaijan’s aggressions and bellicose pronouncements, thereby encouraging Baku’s intransigence. When interviewed on the Armenian public TV, Kazimirov indicated that some quarters in Baku are invested in heightening the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Perhaps Kazimirov’s criticism should also be directed toward Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who stated recently in an Istanbul forum that no country should pressure the two sides to compromise their positions. The parties have to agree on their own to any settlement acceptable to them.

This kind of announcements plays into the hands of Azeri war mongers.

The destinies of small nations can serve as political football for the major ones. In the Caucasus region, no problem can be settled without a firm agreement between Washington and Moscow. If Russia mediates a settlement, the US has the means and the power to spoil it, and vice versa.

That is why the political football has been passing from one summit to the other for six times now and we may not see any results yet even if the presidents meet for another six rounds.