By John Harker

The tragic conflict between two countries of the Southern Caucasus region, Armenia and Azerbaijan, has caused increased tensions not only in the two states directly involved but also in others with strong interests in their region. It should concern us all, right now, especially as the United Nations gather world leaders together in New York.

When I think of the UN, I often think back to 1982, when that body first instituted a World’s Indigenous Peoples Day. In essence, this was to recognize and celebrate those who had lived on their lands “from Time Immemorial.”

I do not know in totality the history of the lands now known as Nagorno Karabakh, but I do know, and the world should recognize, that “Armenians” first built Christian churches there in the fifth century AD, a very long time before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.

The year of 1982 was also significant for another event, the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands, or Las Malvinas, in the South Atlantic.

The Southern Caucasus is a great distance from the South Atlantic, but there is an interesting connection between both regions.

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In April, 1983, I made known my thinking on what needed to be done to remove the Falkland Islands from the active register of global conflict zones.

In November 1982, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for the resumption of talks between Britain and Argentina on sovereignty over the islands. And the prestigious Economist magazine cautioned Britain’s Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, against turning the Falklands into a military fortress. Instead, it called on her to float options for “internationalizing” the islands.

Writing in the magazine Commonwealth, I proposed that a condominium form of shared sovereignty be put in place. This, as a concept, was not new.

France and Britain, for centuries bitter opponents, fashioned in 1906 such an arrangement for the governance of the New Hebrides in the South Pacific, and this maintained for many years, until the islands gained independence, as Vanuatu, now a valued member state of the United Nations.

Perhaps when conflict and its wounds are fresh in the memories and tempers of people, that is when something different from the status quo needs to be envisaged, and attempted. We need not fully embrace Danton’s exhortation, “Boldness, More Boldness, Always Boldness,” but withdrawal from comprehensive analysis and novel engagement, can that really serve anyone?

The Azerbaijanis and Armenians should be good neighbors; their region deserves this, and obviously needs it. If the contested area of Nagorno Karabakh was a place where residents could choose and enjoy either nationality, or, indeed, dual nationality, and enjoy freedom of Religious observation, while governed by a Condominium built and overseen by the UN and the OSCE Minsk Group, might this enable the emergence of a calmer, partnership-oriented, Southern Caucasus region, one situated, let us not forget, where Europe and Asia meet?

There is no better time for such a region to come into being and figure in the shaping of a new, collaborative, international system. Boldness could go a long way. Armenians, heirs to and survivors of a genocide, have shown, at home and wherever their diaspora has fashioned impactful lives, that they surely have Boldness in their genes. Perhaps the Azerbaijanis do too.

Armenia and Azerbaijan could help themselves and all of humanity by reaching now for peace and a condominium, rather than violence, recriminations, and ethnic cleansing.

(John Harker is chair of the Harker Associates Consulting in Canada.)

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