The Oracles Speak in Deauville

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Every time the leaders of major powers meet, they issue statements on topical political problems of the day and the Karabagh conflict has become one of those issues. On the sidelines of G-8 meeting in the French city of Deauville, the presidents of US, France and Russia issued that routine statement which begs for interpretation.

The warring factions or parties to a conflict read into those declarations whatever they would like to see, and the statements are intentionally vague and equivocal in order not to divulge fully the issuing parties’ positions and to allow room for interpretation and misinterpretation.

This reminds us of the story of the oracles in ancient Greece. The most important oracle would sit in Delphi and many kings, priests and warriors would make pilgrimages there to learn from the prophecies or sage advice from the oracle, who was supposed to speak on behalf of the god Apollo. The ritual of the prophecies would begin with the sacrifice of a goat to find out if the time and the atmosphere were ripe for the rituals.

The predictions of the oracle were phrased very shrewdly, causing many supplicants to misinterpret the advice.

The interpretations, coming from different quarters, about the May 26 declaration reminds us of the prophecies of the Delphi oracle, and perhaps the sacrifice of the goat may symbolize Karabagh.

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The Armenian side hailed the declaration as a positive statement consonant with its position on the issue, especially its emphasis on the “peaceful means,” which was officially endorsed also by Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Meindorf declaration. “The statement made today on the sidelines of the G-8 Summit in Deauville by the leaders of OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries contains important messages and may become an impetus for the settlement of the issue,” said Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian.

“Armenia has always been in support of the settlement of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabagh through exclusively peaceful means and has repeatedly proven it in practice. Therefore, it is clear to whom the unequivocal message of the statement in this regard is addressed,” added Nalbandian.

The Azeri side gave a completely different interpretation to the joint statement by Presidents Barack Obama, Nicholas Sarkozy and Dmitry Medvedev, indicating that the declaration heightened the pressure on Armenia. “It follows from the statement that Armenia must start the withdrawal of its armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan,” the Foreign Ministry statement cited by Azerbaijani news agencies indicated. “Unfortunately…Armenia continues to drag out that process and thereby impede the conflict’s peaceful resolution,” it said.

In his turn Novruz Mammedov, Ilham Aliyev’s chief foreign policy advisor, said, “As a matter of fact, the negotiating process has dragged because of the Armenian side.”

All political parties in Armenia commented on the declaration that whoever triggers the war will be the loser.

The ARF representative, Ardsvik Minassian, brought up a subtle and unsettling point in the declaration, which is equally directed at Armenia and Azerbaijan, without any distinction which party is talking about the use of force and actually violating the ceasefire agreement. There is parity in the two parties.

The statement also recommended respective governments to prepare their populations for a peaceful settlement, which calls for mutual compromises. The settlement will be made around the basic agreements of principles, which may be announced at the forthcoming summit in the Russian city of Kazan.

After years of tough negotiations, finally a document has been drafted, which will be put to the test at the forthcoming summit. Those principles were comprehensively outlined in an article by Thomas de Waal in the National Interest, paraphrased as follows: “The Basic Principles document offers constructive ambiguity. It stipulates gradual Armenian withdrawal from the territories around Karabagh; ‘interim status’ for Karabagh itself, giving it enhanced international legitimacy but not full independence; and the promise in the future of a popular vote, a ‘legally binding’ expression of will to determine the future status of the territory.”

This sounds like a hopeful start, but public pronouncements have a different tone.

The meeting will be held on June 25 between Medvedev, Sargisian and Aliyev.

The principles advocated by the major powers constitute a square wheel, which will not move forward, unless those powers force that wheel to move or…break. Those principles are incompatible; right for self-determination and territorial integrity, unless a diluted self-determination is imposed on the Armenian side, within the boundaries of Azerbaijan, which Baku is advocating and dreaming.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Rybakov has sounded a more positive note by indicating that “we are not at the threshold of new conflicts but close to a resolution.”

Russia’s role is crucial for Armenia, because we know where the US and France stand on the Karabagh conflict.

While Armenians have pinned their hopes on Moscow, Russia’s foreign policy lately has become ambiguous, enigmatic and sometimes erratic.

The G-8 declaration in Deauville addressed the conflicts in different hot spots on the globe as well, and particularly in Libya and Syria, when Russian positions came out to be pragmatic, unpredictable and implausible.

When the UN resolution on Libya came to a vote in the Security Council, Moscow abstained and later on mumbled that the resolution was meant “to protect the Libyan people” while NATO took it as a mandate to invade a sovereign country and topple its government.

Russia’s position was interpreted that many of its oligarchs had invested in Libyan oil and Muammar Gaddafi had guaranteed their interests. But it turned out that in Deauville Moscow sided with the West, calling for Gaddafi to quit. Russia also abandoned its Syrian ally, where its Mediterranean fleet is anchored in Latakia, thus giving Russia its only access to the Mediterranean. President Bashar Assad was certainly disappointed by Russia’s defection.

Based on Russian foreign policy’s direction, or misdirection, we cannot count on Moscow to support a Karabagh solution favoring Armenia, the Russian base in Armenia and the rhetoric of “eternal friendship” not withstanding.

Indeed Russia has a military listening post in Azerbaijan, has oil interests and above all it has strategic interests. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s intent to integrate Georgia in the NATO structure has irritated Russia to no end. Until recently Azerbaijan was also playing the NATO card, when Moscow cajoled the Azeri leaders to take a neutral position. Today Baku is refraining from joining to any military block, which pleases Kremlin policymakers.

Russia intends to keep Baku at bay. On the other hand, Armenia has given away to Russia what little it had. Therefore, Moscow does not expect anything more from Armenia, which means it has a free hand to treat Armenia any way it likes, with impunity.

Today, while we are trying to analyze the declaration of the oracles in Deauville, we are reminded of King Croesus of Lydia who solicited the advice of the oracle in Delphi, before attacking Persia, and contrary to the prophecy of victory the Lydian army was defeated.

This should serve as an omen for Armenians not to read too much into the prophecies of the oracles of Deauville.

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