After 44 days of intensive warfare, exacting tremendous human as well as territorial losses, finally a tenuous peace has been restored in Armenia and Karabakh.

Peacetime recovery for Armenia is as perilous as the war had been. There is a shattered army at hand, incapable of protecting the borders, economic collapse and unbearable human misery.

The first priority should be for grieving families to recover the remains of their loved ones to have a chance for closure.

Azerbaijan is dragging its feet regarding the return of bodies as well as prisoners of war to cause more grief for the families.

The political impact of this devastating defeat is more than Armenian society can sustain at the moment, as it is combined with the ravages of COVID-19.

Questions are abuzz about whether the war could have been avoided or if Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is capable of steering the country toward a road to recovery, after proving his incompetence.

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But what is more important is that the political landscape has been changed in the Caucasus region and Armenia’s viability as a sovereign state has come into question.

The main players in the region, Russia and Turkey, are well entrenched. It is apparent that the war was a necessary tool for both parties to pursue and attain their strategic objectives. Now it remains to the Armenian leadership to chart its course for survival along the sidelines of the rivalry of the two major powers. Unfortunately, maneuvering space has become extremely limited. Two reasons are that over the three decades, Armenia has not only built up its defensive forces adequately, but it has also squandered diplomatic opportunities to build alliances.

Throughout the tragic and bloody war launched by Azerbaijan, nothing more than lip service was offered by the international community. Now comes the cure from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, which had been sidelined by Russia and Turkey during the war.

But it turns out that the cure is worse than the disease itself.

Russia and Turkey, after instigating the “necessary” war, have dumped the responsibility for picking up the pieces to the OSCE, which has issued a joint statement this week, signed by the foreign ministries of the Minsk Group co-chairing countries, the US, France and Russia.

While Armenia is left with the challenges of interpreting and implementing the document signed on November 9 to end the war, the OSCE statement injects more mystification into the political situation. The document has to be taken apart to analyze every premise and presumption.

The co-chairs, in their statement, welcome the ceasefire and indirectly give credit to the Russian Federation for its initiative. They further call upon the signatories to meet their obligations diligently while recognizing the participation in the war of foreign mercenaries.

They also call for full and total departure from the region of all mercenaries and call upon all parties to facilitate this departure. This statement is one of the most cynical aspects of the document, because it fails to name the party —Turkey — that illegally brought the mercenaries to the battlefield and then, in a more cynical tone, dumps the responsibility “upon all the parties to facilitate this departure.”

It is the duty of the Armenian government to vigorously protest this unfair political burden assigned to it.

The next issue is “international humanitarian law, in particular with regard to the exchange of prisoners of war and repatriation of the remains.”

None of the appeals by the International Red Cross and the Armenian government have met any responses from Baku. What is the recourse or the remedy that the co-chairs intend to bring to this blatant case of non-compliance?

The parties also “underscore the importance of protecting historical and religious heritage in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.”

On this issue we learned about President Putin’s firm commitment that those cultural and religious assets would enjoy his personal protection. Yet President Aliyev has rendered all those statement a mockery by assigning a phony priest from the Udi sect as the guardian of Dadivank, one of the most historical Armenian monasteries, which is located in Kelbajar.

Whatever is contained in the statement is outrageous enough. However, what is not contained is even more disastrous, because it undermines the very values the Minsk Group has supported thus far — we refer to the issue of Karabakh’s legal status.

Throughout the years since the end of the previous war over the liberation of Karabakh, the group was continuing its negotiations based on specific principles. Those principles were derived from the Final Act of Helsinki Declarations — the non-use of force, territorial integrity and the right for self-determination.

This document fails to make any reference to those principles, let alone lack of condemnation of the violator of the principles. Azerbaijan has violated the first principle by using force to resolve the conflict.

One would be at a loss to find any reference to the violation of the Minsk Group’s first principle.

By violating the first principle, Azerbaijan has achieved its goal of restoring its territorial integrity, although in the process, it has delegitimized the second principle.

Therefore, if Azerbaijan has already “implemented” the first two principles, the only principle which remains for the OSCE to salvage is the last one: defining the legal status of Nagorno Karabakh through the application of the third principle, that of self-determination. Since there is no mention of the third principle, the question arises as to why return to the negotiation process within the framework of the OSCE, when two of the principles have been violated and the third one is apparently nullified?

It is important to realize which one of the three co-chairs must have objected to the inclusion of the status issue on the group’s agenda. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have recently stated that the status issue has not been resolved and has to be addressed at some time down the road.

It is also interesting that the positions of France and the United States have not been reflected in the document. The Upper and Lower Chambers in France voted overwhelmingly in favor of recognizing Karabakh’s independence, while President Emmanuel Macron himself criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for having introduced mercenaries in Karabakh.

Similarly, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a bitter exchange with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu during the NATO Foreign Ministerial meeting over Turkey’s destabilizing activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and introducing foreign mercenaries in Karabakh.

None of these political stands appear in the recent statement.

Meanwhile President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan stated in his BBC interview that the Armenians missed the opportunity to settle the issue of status and now it is too late to take it up. Karabakh Armenians will be given Azerbaijani citizenship and they will enjoy higher wages and retirement benefits that are not available in Armenia, he said. Similar statements were reiterated by Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jayhoon Bayramov.

The fact that Moscow is soft-peddling the legal status issue is because of ulterior motives; Russia wants to offer its citizenship to Armenians using the same maneuver as in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, to always maintain the legal right to protect its lawful citizens in case Azerbaijan moves to remove Russian forces from its territory. In an article in the publication of the Russian International Affairs Council, Pietro Shakarian states: “In the ideal Russian scenario, the final status of Karabakh itself would be determined in a neutral manner. If the Kremlin genuinely seeks a just and lasting solution to this protracted problem, it could maintain it as an independent entity controlled by Russian peacekeepers, allowing Armenians and Azerbaijanis to co-exist and live together.”

Armenians not only lost the war, but they face a dismal prospect in the settlement of peace.

Despite all the denials, Turkey declares itself part and parcel of the peacekeeping force. It already intends to show up in the territories recovered from the Karabakh forces. This means that the Turkish presence is not confined to the so-called “monitoring center.” What is more alarming is that Russia has also consented to such a monitoring center for Crimea. The question arises that if Russia is so weak and accommodating, how reliable can its peace guarantees be.

If the Minsk Group is reentering a new negotiation process, using this document as a guideline, then it is stepping on the wrong foot and pummeling its very own principles.

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