The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: Great Temptation – OpEd


The negotiations on the Karabakh conflict settlement have been held against the background of tensions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani front. Remaining true to its tradition, Armenia has tried to destabilize the situation on the frontline before each round of the negotiations to divert the sides’ attention from the subject of the talks and make them feel satisfied with a restoration of the truce.

For years on end, the defense ministries of both countries have practically every day reported up to a hundred cases of ceasefire violations by the enemy on different sections of the front. However, the history of the conflict has not seen, perhaps since the time when the truce was signed in May 1994, the use of heavy artillery, long-range guns to pound enemy positions located many a dozen kilometers from the frontline.

A few days ago, the Armenian newspaper Haykakan Zhamanak, citing diplomatic sources, optimistically reported that a meeting was possible on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York not only between the two countries’ foreign ministers, but also their presidents. However, when gunfire thundered over Karabakh and both sides reported that not only military, but also civilians, were killed in frontline districts, it seemed that the ministers’ meeting was put into question.

The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs came up with a statement expressing concern about civilian casualties on both sides and urged Baku and Yerevan to display restraint. The parties to the conflict would not keep silent either. The foreign ministers exchanged accusations of deliberate ceasefire violation by the opposite side in order to derail the talks. As might be expected, the defense ministries of the two countries were less diplomatic and declared their intention to destroy without warning the enemy’s military hardware and equipment at the front and even in the rear.

At the same time, the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan emphasized that Armenians living in frontline villages have never been a target for Azerbaijani soldiers, unlike the Armenian side “shelling our villages and killing civilians, thus trying to recoup their losses on the battlefield”. “The interesting thing is that, for some reason, international structures which react instantly to losses on the Armenian side are indifferent to the shelling of populated localities and killing of civilians in Azerbaijan, turning a blind eye to crimes by Armenians,” the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan said after a civilian was killed by gunfire in a frontline village.

But the most memorable was the Armenian president who promised inevitable retribution by means of a punitive operation against ceasefire violators. In general, commenting on the situation on the frontline, Serzh Sargsyan was apparently confused and to such an extent as to say in the end that “Nagornyy Karabakh is an integral part of Armenia”.

Eventually, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group did manage not only to meet each of the ministers separately but also to bring them to the table. It is not difficult to guess what kind of sentiments prevailed at the negotiations.

Nonetheless, when the talks were over, the mediators described the meeting as productive. “The ministers agreed to prepare a meeting of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan before the end of the current year. The co-chairs urged the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to accept a mechanism suggested by the mediators to investigate border incidents. Without it, the sides will continue to accuse each other of border incidents and casualties,” the mediators’ final statement reads.

It is evident that the Armenian side, brought by the two decades of inefficient negotiations to believe in the permanence of status quo in the conflict, found itself obviously confused. Azerbaijan has always stated that it has the right to regain sovereignty over the occupied lands by any means. Over the years of the negotiations, Yerevan has probably developed immunity to such statements. However, the return artillery fire at the separatists’ rear positions came as an unpleasant surprise to the Armenian authorities.

Serzh Sargsyan’s spontaneous statement that Karabakh is part of Armenia’s territory, which is obviously targeted at the much alarmed Armenian population, is just a proof to this. What else can these words indicate if not the Armenian authorities’ weakness and impotence? Yerevan believes its trump card is the possibility of recognizing the independence of Nagornyy Karabakh, allegedly keeping it for situation where the potential of peace talks is exhausted and Azerbaijan starts war. Now, by saying that Karabakh is Armenian territory, Sargsyan implies that such recognition is near at hand. But what can it change and whom can it stop?

By his statement, President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan has confirmed the fact that this part of Azerbaijani territories is occupied by that country, said Press Secretary of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry Hikmat Haciyev. “The Armenian authorities’ statement that ‘Karabakh is an integral part of Armenia’ is iron-cast evidence of occupation of Azerbaijan’s territory by that country, Yerevan’s political and legal responsibility in the conflict and its true face,” the diplomat’s statement says.

Being aware of their powerlessness before the enemy, the Armenians are trying as usual to pacify the “aggressor” with someone else’s hands, hiding habitually behind the big brother’s back. At a meeting of ministers from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in New York, the Armenian Foreign Minister complained to his counterparts about “warlike Azerbaijan”. However, unfortunately for Nalbandian, the ministers of Armenia’s allied states never sent their troops to “pacify the aggressor” and, by all appearances, they chose to get away with words of sympathy. By the way, those countries, like the rest of the world, officially recognize Karabakh as inseparable part of Azerbaijan.

The Armenian authorities’ frantic attempts to draw the CSTO or at least only Russia into the conflict at any incident on the frontline, have long since become a subject of sarcasm in the analytical community of Armenia. It is noteworthy that a few days before the foreign ministers’ meeting, that country’s Defence Minister Seyran Ohanyan proudly announced that the Armenian armed forces could cope with the situation in the conflict zone on their own and attempts to involve the CSTO in the confrontation after each ceasefire violation would mean admitting the Armenian army’s weakness before the enemy.

The Sargsyan regime is currently in an unenviable situation. A diplomatic source close to the negotiations has told R+ that practically all members of the international community involved in the peace process including Russia are speaking today about the need to start liberating the occupied Azerbaijani districts.

By the way, just there in New York, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed Nagornyy Karabakh settlement with the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs and with the personal representative of the OSCE active chair for Nagornyy Karabakh. The sides discussed “urgent issues of Nagornyy Karabakh settlement and the current situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the line of contact”. “Each of the co-chairing countries is committed to this process, whether we are talking about the French or the American initiative in this direction, or the efforts of Russia, taking into account our relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Lavrov said at the meeting referring to his country’s special role in settling the problem.

Meanwhile Yerevan, which has not yet come to senses after big supplies of Russian arms to Azerbaijan and Baku-Moscow rapprochement in general, continues to receive unpleasant messages that this role about which Lavrov is speaking in no way coincides with the aspirations of the Armenians. Specialists of the Stratfor analytical centre which is also called a “shadow CIA” are rarely wrong in their forecasts. Thus they drew the conclusion in their recent analysis that Azerbaijan’s military activity in the Karabakh conflict zone to force Armenia to compromise is one of likely scenarios of evens agreed with Moscow for solving the problem.

“Moscow has recently displayed more flexibility toward Azerbaijani military actions on the line of contact, but Russia would be careful not to be seen as completely abandoning Armenia. Russia’s main objective would be to balance between the two sides and play the role of primary mediator,” Stratfor experts think. In the opinion of the authors of the material, the surge of tension in the conflict zone is acceptable for Moscow if it is sufficient to force Armenia to negotiate and if Russia keeps its influence in both countries. Among other possible scenarios, Stratfor analysts mention the complete withdrawal of Armenian troops from seven Azerbaijani districts neighbouring on Nagornyy Karabakh if Russian peacekeepers or international peacekeepers under Russian control are stationed in the region.

So, none of the likely scenarios is in favor of Armenia.

The loss of unconditional support from Russia, its main strategic ally, can compel confused Armenia to take any rash step. This is most probably the reason why Armenian military found no alternative to resorting to a tactic chosen by terrorists in the Middle East: to deliver strikes on the enemy from positions located in residential areas. They are committing armed provocations from behind the backs of civilians. After guaranteed return fire from the enemy, they will present likely victims among civilians to the entire world as evidence of the enemy’s brutality and criminal unscrupulousness. War is not a place where pilaff is dished out, Sargsyan said recently. So it is. But it is only terrorists that can hide behind civilians.

The conclusions from the recent events are obvious. Azerbaijan has always been against moving the Karabakh problem to the back burner as a “less urgent” one while crises are growing in Ukraine, the Middle East and elsewhere. Eventually the threat of war being resumed in Karabakh has not diminished at all while the UN Security Council resolutions adopted 20 years ago remain valid. The escalation of tensions in the Karabakh conflict zone coincided with the period of a new session of the UN General Assembly where the most burning problems of global security are discussed and this is the best moment to persuade the world’s leading powers that the Armenian-Azerbaijani standoff is not “frozen”.

Baku is making it clear that it has no intention to tolerate forever procrastinations in fulfilling the US Security Council resolutions, that it has the right to settle independently the issue of liberation of Azerbaijani lands from occupation and the problem of a foreign state’s troops staying in its territory.
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov has commented in the same vein on the call of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to consider the issue of creating mechanisms to investigate incidents on the Karabakh frontline: “The creation of such a mechanism could be considered unless it serves to keep the current status quo which is not accepted by the presidents of the co-chairing countries and does not justify occupation”.

However hard might the situation be for the Sargsyan regime, it would be naive to expect it to heed the mediators’ advice and start a speedy withdrawal of troops from Azerbaijani territory because trying to hold the occupied lands is the only way for him to stay in power. But if he fails to become aware of this necessity, Armenian citizens must do this instead of him. They already can hardly bear the Sargsyan regime’s failures in domestic policy. But when the authorities hide from bullets behind the backs of civilians, it can put even the most patient people out of temper.

As it seems, right were those who predicted a new war over Karabakh after the First European Games held in Baku in June this year. Well-armed Azerbaijan may feel that it is the best moment for blitzkrieg, while the West and Russia are busy with crises in Middle East and Ukraine. The temptation is great.

Meanwhile the consequences are unpredictable.

Fuad Huseinzadeh

Fuad Huseinzadeh is a journalist, linguist and an expert in the role of public media in the Southern Caucasus conflicts. He has written many articles for a number of newspapers in Azerbaijan, United States, Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina and other European and Asian newspapers and journals. Fuad is a regular contributor of the Jamestown Foundation. He is editor-in-chief in Interfax-Azerbaijan news agency and writes also for Region Plus journal, news agency and other media.

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