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Why Karabakh Does Not Need Autonomous Status In Azerbaijan – OpEd

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The small number of 25,000 Armenians continuing to live in Karabakh are too small in number to require an autonomous republic. Meanwhile, keeping 2,000 Russian peacekeeping forces in place is a bad policy option as their primary goal will be to keep tensions simmering between Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

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Without these tensions there would be no use for Russia’s so-called peacekeepers.  Russian peacekeepers have been stationed in Moldova’s Transniestr and Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia for three decades and have never attempted to resolve these conflicts. This is because the Kremlin prefers to keep these conflicts frozen to provide continued justification for the presence of its so-called peacekeepers.

The creation of autonomous republics, territories and oblasts have never been a panacea for national minorities. In fact, the creation of autonomous regions, devolution of power and creation of regional parliaments has always increased the appetite of national minorities by encouraging them to become separatists. 

Providing autonomy to the Catalans, Quebecois and Scottish did not end conflicts between them and central governments. It merely set the Catalans, Quebecois and Scots on a separatist road to breaking away from Spain, Canada, and the UK respectively. 

The situation on the ground has fundamentally changed as a consequence of ethnic cleansing that took place in the First Karabakh War in 1988-1994. Then Armenian forces expelled nearly three quarter of a million Azerbaijani’s, three times more than the Armenians who were expelled from Azerbaijan. Irrespective of where blame lies, the resultant outcome was that Azerbaijan and Armenia are now to all intents and purposes mono-ethnic countries. 

The absence of minority problems in both countries should make negotiating a post-conflict peace treaty easier and after it is signed, more durable. National minorities have always created difficulties for negotiators attempting to craft treaties that recognise borders and the territorial integrity of states. 

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There are four aspects that need to be taken into account by Western policymakers working to bring lasting peace to the South Caucasus.

The first is to accept there has not been a “Nagorno-Karabakh” for over three decades. The Soviet era Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) was abolished as far back as November 1991. 

The second factor is that it is wrong to call the region the “Republic of Artsakh” as this gives support to Armenian separatists who seek to break away from Azerbaijan and unite with Armenia. This would be the same as calling the Chechen region of Russia as the “Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.”

The third factor is Karabakh never had territorial links to Armenia and the goal of Armenian nationalists therefore during the First Karabakh War was to occupy all of the lands surrounding the NKAO. This led to Armenia occupying a fifth of Azerbaijani territory from 1994 until 2020. During the occupation, the Armenian authorities purposefully destroyed or looted practically every building, as is evident when one takes a tour, as I have, of the liberated areas. Worse still, the Armenian authorities did not encourage any economic development and foreign investment into these occupied territories or the settlement of the large territory it occupied by Armenians. 

The final factor is the very small number of Armenians living in Karabakh should be not part of any negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan on a post-conflict peace treaty. Armenians living in Karabakh should directly negotiate with the Azerbaijani authorities about receiving some form of self-governing status that would permit education, culture, media, and other areas to be delegated to their representatives. In the case of the Karabakh region, the new self-governing status should not include “autonomy” in its official title which would send a signal that the separatist question is dead and buried. 

Negotiations will only be successful between the Armenian minority and Baku when the 10,000 Armenian forces are withdrawn from Karabakh. Their presence is illegal under article four of the 2020 ceasefire agreement which states: “The peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation is being deployed in parallel with the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces. The term of stay of the peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation is 5 years with automatic extension for the next 5-year periods, if none of the Parties declares 6 months before the expiration of the period of intention to terminate the application of this provision.”

These illegal Armenian forces are preventing negotiations from taking place that would give the Armenian minority some form of rights.  Their withdrawal is not taking place because Armenian nationalists refuse to accept the new realities arising from their defeat in the Second Karabakh War and they continue to support the unification of Karabakh with Armenia; that is, they constitute a threat to the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, the Kremlin is not implementing the ceasefire agreement knowing full well that Armenian forces remaining in Karabakh will prevent a post-conflict peace treaty being signed. 

The small Armenian minority in Karabakh should negotiate with Baku the panoply of rights that they need to maintain their language, culture, and history. To achieve this they need to accept they will be living in Azerbaijan, support the withdrawal of illegal Armenian forces and union with Armenia will not happen. 

Such a development would end the traumatic ethnic conflict that has plagued Armenia-Azerbaijani relations since the late 1980s. Armenians living in Azerbaijan would benefit from a post-conflict peace treaty that would bring economic development to their region and the entire South Caucasus. 

*Taras Kuzio, Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and Professor of Political science at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy. Author of the just published Russian Nationalism and the Russian-Ukrainian War.

8 thoughts on “Why Karabakh Does Not Need Autonomous Status In Azerbaijan – OpEd

  • May 21, 2022 at 5:15 am
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    Dear Taras
    Firstly there is over 100,000 Armenians currently living in their ancient lands of Artsakh, a further 70,000 fled the mass killings and war that was unleashed on them by Azerbaijan, Turkey with support from Israel, no amount of spin from you will ever convince us to forgo our rights to live in peace in OWN lands, we will never again live under the oppression of Turks, history proves us why. maybe you should spend a few minutes and read the book by two prominent Israeli historians called The Thirty Year Genocide. I do hope you have good relations with Azerbaijan, I hear they pay their consultants well.

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    • May 23, 2022 at 4:30 pm
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      Stefan, have you ever been to the strip of land you are talking about? Then come and we’ll headcount

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    • May 29, 2022 at 1:39 am
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      Well, no one denies them the right to live on their land. That cannot be changed. But that land legally belongs to a state called Azerbaijan. That cannot be changed either. One does not interfere with the other. They can continue living there as citizens of the country that land belongs to, and if they don’t like it there, they can always opt for a country they deem more comfortable for living. It’s called emigration. It’s what hundreds of thousands of people around the world do every year. If every person who disliked their government had the idea of proclaiming a separate state, the world would be chaos.

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    • June 12, 2022 at 11:54 pm
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      What a disgusting piece enabling a fascist dictatorship

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      • June 20, 2022 at 5:55 pm
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        Would you rather prefer for it to enable a fascist quasi-democracy like Armenia?

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  • May 21, 2022 at 10:25 am
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    Your figures on the present population of Nagorno Karabakh are well out, before the naked aggression of the Azeri attack in 2020 the population was 150, 000. Since the ceasefire that has gone down to 120,000, according to the Armenian Government. The Azeris that lived there historically were never more than 10% , and some of them were persuaded to live in these cold Highlands by Aliyev’s father. Irrespective of this, the most important Red Line for the present entirely Armenian population of Artsakh ( their preferred name ) is that they cannot UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES live under any type of control of the mainly Sunni Moslem Azeris. Artsakh declared independence in the 1990s, perfectly legally, which of course the ruthless dictator did not accept. The totally irrelevant ‘ International Community ‘ who have never had the first idea about the complexities of the conflict, also back the intransigent Azerbaijani side. It is likely that, because of Pashinyan’s sneaky plan to hand over Artsakh to Azerbaijan, the only chance for the 120,000 population will be ask Russia to join it and become part of Russia. Otherwise, with the absolute reluctance of Armenia Proper to fight, the end of 1500 years of an Armenian population living in Artsakh is certain to happen.

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    • May 29, 2022 at 1:25 am
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      Norah Dean, the Armenian government is not a reliable source when it comes to figures. During the Armenian exodus from Lachin and Kalbajar, their officials admitted to having inflated the population figures to give a false impression of a growing demographics. The real population of Nagorno-Karabakh, or Artsakh if you prefer, was between 100,000 and 120,000 before the war (there were certainly no more Armenians living there in 2020 than in 1989). Barely 10,000 remained by the end of the war, and 53,000 came back according to the Russian Peace Mission statistics within the next 7 months (though some were taking round trips and were counted twice). Possibly another 5,000 to 10,000 came back while the road through Kalbajar was still open and (why not) 10,000 more since mid-2021. Mind you, many came simply to sell their houses and move back to Armenia. It is thus impossible that there are more than 80,000 people living there today. Also, Azerbaijanis are not “mainly Sunni Muslim”. They are mostly of Shia Muslim background, but this is completely irrelevant because for a country of Islamic heritage, Azerbaijan is remarkably secular, so don’t try to play the Muslims vs. Christians card with an audience that happens to know something about this, beyond any doubt, non-religious conflict. Russia, you say? If the world has hesitated to recognize the legitimacy of what was essentially Armenian occupation of Karabakh for 30 years, do you honestly think Russia, after what has happened in Ukraine, is in a position to annex more land right now? You can go on and on to no avail about how precious the Armenian cause in Karabakh is but Russia will be out of there sooner or later. And the Armenians of Karabakh will have a unique chance to keep enjoying their 1,500-year presence in Karabakh by coming to terms with their past and accepting to live on their land as Azerbaijani citizens. There is really no other realistic solution. You cannot have lost a war for secession, displaced a whole bunch of people in the process, razed cities and villages to the ground, and still expect to be allowed to secede. That doesn’t happen.

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  • May 22, 2022 at 11:42 pm
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    Kuzio is in the service of one of the most dreaded post-Soviet dictators who happens to be the son of the head of KGB of the USSR, so facts have zero meaning to people like Kuzio.

    Human rights organizations have been telling the world that the Azerbaijani dictator Aliev is extremely cruel to his own Azerbaijani people. Yet Kuzio wants Armenians to gladly accept him as their leader. Such arrogance!

    Taras Kuzio rules that “25,000” Armenians in Karabakh do not require “autonomy” (apparently he feels dropping the number “1” in front of the number “25,000” with a slight of hand is a smart thing to do). Anyway, we hope that he will produce a table for the public in the future to show which numbers warrant what type of autonomy and where (he seems to have a preference for independence for a certain part of estern Europe but frowns upon those near the North Sea, in North America, etc.)

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