A Political Whirlwind Engulfs Nagorno Karabakh


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Richard Hoagland, the US co-chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, unleashed a political whirlwind around the stagnant Karabakh situation, announcing unilateral conditions in his parting salvo.

He is soon to be replaced by Andrew J. Schofer as co-chair. The six principles laid out by Mr. Hoagland represent the Madrid Principles in general and they have been rejected by both parties during the negotiations.

Traditionally, when the Minsk co-chairs, representing the US, as well as Russia and France, have a message for the negotiating parties or for the diplomatic community, they coordinate their actions to speak as one. Why then come out hastily with a unilateral proposal at this juncture?

There are certainly some undertones to Mr. Hoagland’s haste and in the content of his message.

By now, everybody understands that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict has become a political football for all parties involved, and especially the major powers, which have no immediate stake in its timely resolution.

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There was a news item in the Russian news outlet Regnum that Moscow was about to start a dialogue on Nagorno Karabakh within the framework of Russia-Azerbaijan-Nagorno Karabakh. That news was amplified by a statement made by Gennady Zyuganov, the head of Russia’s communist party, that there is no solution to the conflict without Russian intervention. This announcement set the scene, in view of US planners, that the issue is veering in another direction and that something concrete may come out of the Sochi summit between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Serzh Sargsyan: therefore Mr. Hoagland and the State Department behind him were compelled to state that the US also has a say and that it has a presence in the Caucasus.

The other motive behind the hasty and lopsided proposal was the intention to reward Azerbaijan for all the services it has rendered to the US and its allies, all criticism regarding the brutal nature of the Aliyev rule notwithstanding.

The conflict is locked because two mutually incompatible principles are used to try to solve it: the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan versus the right of self-determination for the people of Karabakh.

To disarm any criticism a priori, Mr. Hoagland has reiterated the routine argument taught to all US diplomats that the Nagorno Karabakh issue is different from the conflicts in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Dniestra. Upon further questioning, it will boil down to the fact that they are all based on the same principles of international law. But most of them have been resolved through the power of arms or diplomacy. Thus, President Clinton bombed the former Yugoslavia to create Kosovo, a Muslim pseudo-republic in the heart of Europe, after the ethnic cleansing campaign of the Serbian majority against the Muslim minority in the country.

And in 2008, the Russian tanks rolled in the Georgian territory to “liberate” South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The same process was applied when Armenian forces overran the Azeri army to liberate a piece of historic Armenian territory. The basic legal principles in all the cases being the same, the only difference is that the Russian and NATO guns and the diplomacy accompanying those forces are more powerful than Armenian arms and diplomatic clout. Despite these blatant facts, the major powers will continue insisting cynically that all the other cases are different from the Karabakh conflict.

Another area where Armenians have to fight a double-standard is the way Karabakh gained its independence from the Soviet Union; it did so in the same way Azerbaijan did, that is based on the principles of the Soviet constitution extant at the time.

The other aspect which runs against the claim of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is that Karabakh has never been part of Azerbaijan’s territory; it had always enjoyed the status of an autonomous oblast or region.

While Karabakh’s case is a topic of hot discussion, the fate of Nakhichevan has been conveniently forgotten. That exclave also had a legal status during the Soviet era. It was an autonomous republic under the Baku administration, though outside its borders, thus an exclave. It had an ethnically diverse population, with an Armenian majority. That status was guaranteed by Russia and Turkey under the Treaties of Moscow and Kars.

As a member of the Soviet Politbureau, then-Azeri-leader Heydar Aliyev, who was born in Nakhichevan, was able to expel the Armenians under the nose of the leadership, to alter the ethnic profile of the region.

Today, Azerbaijan has quietly absorbed Nakhichevan as part of its territory, with Moscow’s tacit acquiescence. Based on historic and treaty stipulations, it is the Baku government which has usurped territory that does not rightfully belong to it.

Unfortunately., the powers that be interpret treaties and historic facts through political expediency, where the usurper comes on top as a victim.

Only Armenia maintains that there is no infringement on Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in Karabakh’s independence. Even friendly nations, such as strategic ally Russia, acknowledge Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.

Mr. Hoagland outlines the solution as follows:

In light of Nagorno-Karabakh’s complex history, the sides should commit to determining its final legal status through a mutually agreed and legally binding expression of will in the future. Interim status will be temporary.

  • The area within the boundaries of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region that is not controlled by Baku should be granted an interim status that, at a minimum, provides guarantees for security and self-governance.
  • The occupied territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh should be returned to Azerbaijani control. There can be no settlement without respect for Azerbaijan’s sovereignty, and the recognition that its sovereignty over these territories must be restored.
  • There should be a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. It must be wide enough to provide secure passage but it cannot encompass the whole of Lachin district.
  • An enduring settlement will have to recognize the right of all IDPs and refugees to return to their former places of residence.
  • A settlement must include international security guarantees that would include a peacekeeping operation. There is no scenario in which peace can be assured without a well-designed peacekeeping operation that enjoys the confidence of all sides.

The time has come for the sides to commit themselves to peace negotiations, building on the foundation of work done so far.

Mr. Hoagland’s statement has heralded the next two steps to be taken in light of his proposal. The first one is the meeting of the two foreign ministers, Edward Nalbandian and Elmar Mammadyarov, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. And as a follow-up, a meeting between the two presidents. If past meetings and negotiations are any indication, no resolution can be expected from spinning the wheels. That will allow Azerbaijan to continue its war rhetoric and border skirmishes, in the hopes of wearing down Armenia into making concessions or succumbing to complete annihilation.

All sides claim that there is no military solution while Azerbaijan continues its arms buildup. Lately, a more chilling scenario has been floated in the eventuality of war. Indeed, Azerbaijan’s former Foreign Minister Tofiq Zulfugarov, in a statement to Yeni Musavat daily, has raised the possibility of hitting Yerevan from Nakhichevan. He has noted, “We should clearly understand that it was impossible to benefit from the Nakhichevan factor in the first [Karabakh] war, as its defense was very weak. After the start of the second phase, it is very important for Azerbaijan to beef up its defense capacities there. Everyone realizes that if war starts, it will be between two states. If the military operations were in the Karabakh region provisionally, they would not be in that region now, as it will not be possible to describe it as an aggression against Armenia as the situation is different [in view of the Russian-Armenian Treaty].”

In as much as Mr. Hoagland planned to state that the US has a say in the region, the underlying message was also to reward Azerbaijan for its overt and convert services. Azerbaijan has been buying billions of dollars’ worth of military hardware from Israel, which is a boost to the latter’s economy. As it was revealed recently, additionally the Aliyev family has $600 million tied up in investments in Israel. Over and above those investments, political and military cooperation between the two countries has been significant. Israel and the US use Azerbaijan’s territory to spy on Iran and in case of military conflict, Azeri territory will become a launching pad against Iran. A Bulgarian journalist’s bombshell revelations in Trud daily newspaper demonstrates the extent of Azerbaijan’s services to the US and Israel. The investigative journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva has divulged that the Azerbaijani state airline, Silk Way, has been carrying weapons from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Turkey to Syria, under diplomatic cover and CIA direction. Therefore, we should not be surprised that paragraph 90 of Freedom Support Act, denying arms to Azerbaijan, is routinely bypassed through US presidential executive orders, rendering that piece of legislation into a farce.

Before departing, Mr. Hoagland intended to reward Azerbaijan, at the expense of Armenian lives.

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