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Caucasus Report

Has The Karabakh Peace Process Reached A Dead-End?

Azerbaijani Ilham Aliyev (left) and his Armenian counterpart  Serzh Sarkisian
Azerbaijani Ilham Aliyev (left) and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian
By Liz Fuller and Richard Giragosian
Weeks of pronouncements hailing the chances for a "breakthrough" in the Nagorno- Karabakh peace process at the planned June 24 meeting in Kazan between the Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian presidents have proven misplaced.

Despite international diplomatic pressure, Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev did not, after all, sign the so-called Basic Principles for resolving the conflict, successive versions of which have been on the negotiating table for five years. 

Each side subsequently blamed the failure to reach agreement on the other's intransigence. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov was quoted on June 25 as saying the two sides "unfortunately failed to reach agreement on a number of key issues because the Armenian side is demanding maximum concessions from Azerbaijan, distorting the essence of the negotiating process begun seven years ago."

But the real obstacle is not so much negotiating tactics as a fundamental division.

It is difficult, if not unrealistic, to hope for progress when the conflict itself is based on at least two completely opposed views -- largely defined by the inherent contradiction between the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity.

A Maximalist Approach

And although the very mission and mandate of the OSCE Minsk Group mediators is to forge a delicate balance between that seemingly insurmountable contradiction, the real key is political will coupled with the courage to make concessions that many will immediately denounce as unacceptable at best, and at worst a betrayal of national interests.  And the lack of political will, coupled with an Azerbaijani diplomatic strategy that appears to be based on a maximalist, all-or-nothing approach, does little to inspire optimism.

That maximalist approach proved impervious to sustained diplomatic pressure at the very highest level. At the Deauville G-8 summit in late May, the presidents of the U.S., France and Russia, the three countries that jointly co-chair the OSCE Minsk Group, issued a joint statement arguing that the status quo is "unacceptable."

President Aliyev construed that statement as a demand that Armenia should withdraw from the districts of Azerbaijan bordering on Nagorno-Karabakh that are currently under its military control.

High-Level Diplomatic Pressure

The three presidents argued that the most recent version of the Basic Principles "lays a just and balanced foundation for the drafting of a comprehensive peace settlement," and warned that any failure to sign it at the upcoming Kazan summit would call into question the professed commitment of Armenia and Azerbaijan (a commitment enshrined in a document Aliyev, Sarkisian and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in Moscow in November 2008) to a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (center) is reportedly so disenchanted with the deadlock that he may decline to host further mediation efforts between Sarkisian and Aliyev

In the run-up to the Kazan meeting -- the ninth hosted by Medvedev over the past three years -- U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned both Sarkisian and Aliyev to encourage them to finalize the Basic Principles.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy similarly sent a written message to both presidents urging them to opt for "the path of wisdom, courage and peace."

Yet even such high-level diplomatic pressure was not enough to achieve a breakthrough in resolving the longest standing "frozen conflict" in the South Caucasus.

Upping The Ante

On the contrary, the high expectations and external attention may have encouraged Baku to up the ante: Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian told journalists after the June 24 talks that the Azerbaijani side had tabled about a dozen last minute changes to points on which agreement had been reached earlier. 

Meanwhile, tension is mounting along the Line of Contact separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, as is the threat of a resumption of full-scale hostilities, as both the scale and scope of military attacks steadily intensify.

But while last year most analysts agreed that the most likely scenario was a "war by accident" driven by miscalculation and faulty threat misperception, the question now arises whether Azerbaijan might now go beyond periodic sniper attacks and attempts to infiltrate the Armenian lines, and deliberately launch a more serious, but still limited offensive.

The Day After Diplomacy Died

Pundits who construed the failure of the two presidents to sign the Basic Principles as heralding the death of the formal diplomatic search for a peaceful solution to the conflict are likely to adduce the military parade in Baku on June 26 -- two days after the Kazan talks -- as a further alarming indicator.

June 26 was formally designated Armed Forces Day by President Aliyev's father and predecessor Heydar Aliyev in 1998. It is celebrated annually, but the last military parade was in 2008.

This year's parade involved 6,000 servicemen, armor, weapons systems (including ground to air missiles), 14 armored personnel carriers (APCs), 35 combat helicopters, warships, and domestically produced weaponry, including sniper rifles and 60 mm and 82 mm mortars.

To quote Aydin Mirzadade, deputy chairman of the Azerbaijani parliament's committee on defense and security, that display of military muscle was clearly intended to convey the message that Azerbaijan has "one of the strongest armies in Europe."

Addressing the parade in his capacity as commander in chief, President Aliyev stressed that his country will continue to build up its military potential "until our territorial integrity is restored," and that if peaceful means fail, it will resort to "any other methods."

A Challenge to Credibility

The formal statement issued following the Kazan talks, saying that the two sides "reached common understanding on a number of issues whose resolution will help create the conditions for approval of the Basic Principles," failed to mask the limitations of the Minsk Group-mediated peace process.

Yet, as British expert Dennis Sammut has argued, writing off the Minsk Group and starting from scratch with a new set of mediators is not an option, as it would take years for any new mediation process to reach the stage the Minsk Group is at now.

Now may be the time for the European Union to step in and assume a greater role is supporting and supplementing the Minsk Group diplomacy. Nagorno-Karabakh is, after all, the only conflict in wider Europe where the EU has no role whatsoever.

The statement apparently leaked to the Russian daily "Kommersant" by an unidentified Kremlin official that President Medvedev is so disappointed and disenchanted by the failure of his mediation efforts that he may decline to host a further meeting between Aliyev and Sarkisian unless both give firm assurances they will sign the Basic Principles is almost certainly more blackmail than a simple statement of intent.

Meanwhile, Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani, possibly sensing a window of opportunity opening on the eve of his planned visit to Azerbaijan on June 30, today told the Azerbaijani news agency 1news.az that "regional conflicts should be resolved by means of talks within the region, without the involvement of the Great Powers."  Such talks, Larijani continued, would stand a better chance of success as the countries of the region "are better able to understand each other."

Richard Giragosian is director of the Yerevan-based regional Studies Center
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by: Andrew from: Prague
June 28, 2011 19:21
So let's see. Talks fail over Karabakh, after nine meetings. That is kind of rough. But look over at Moldova too, Surprise. Talks about Transdnister also failed. Who is leading both negotiations? Who also is selling arms to both the Azeris and Amerians AND keeping a large ammo depot in Transdniester (albeit an ageing one) + 1200 troops? Really, what is the negotiators real intent? Perhaps a more neutral negotiator (Switzerland, Norway, Sweden) might get some results?
In Response

by: Jan Jigar from: Washington DC
June 29, 2011 00:53
Andrew from Prague is correct. Look further at Georgia and its regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or constant problems Ukraine has with Crimea. Liz Fuller is a very biased writer who teamed up with an Armenian analyst to produce yet another pro-Armenia, anti-Azerbaijan piece of news. Why is Azerbaijan "maximalist" for wanting what the 4 UN SC resolutions calls for?!

by: Anar from: Azerbaijan
June 29, 2011 02:28
Wow, what a biased article, putting the blame squarely on Azerbaijan for "the maximalist approach," etc. But then, when I looked at the authors' names it all made sense... One is an Armenian, and the other a Reuters reporter well known in the Azeri community as having long resisted the common-sensical call to stop characterizing the Azeri-Armenian conflict as a Muslim-Christian one. Shame on Radio Free Europe for turning itself into the mouth-piece of biased parties. And shamed on the authors, especially on Mr. Giragosian for such unprofessionalism. And please ahead and remove/censor this comment. This is only to be expected.

by: Kamal from: Polen
June 29, 2011 06:11
It is funny, Liz Fuller does not even hide her ties with Armenian Lobby , she made RFE/RL, a government-funded news agency just a cheap tool for spreading of Armenian propaganda.

by: Kamal from: Polen
June 29, 2011 06:28
Minsk group will NEVER work for peace in South Caucasus.
Minsk group consists of France, USA and Russia. Armenian lobby is politically well organized and reach in those countries, though recently FBI have discovered the source of their wealth. It turned out that Armenian Gangsters steel money from American tax payers via drug trafficking, murder, assault, fraud, identity theft, illegal gambling, kidnapping, racketeering, robbery and extortion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Power) Buying voices of American congressmen (http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/1010/Dem_donor_arrested_in_Medicare_ring.html?showal)
Armenian Lobby makes sure that USA gives every year a significant amount of its taxpayers money to Armenia. Congress has granted approximately $1.55 billion in economic aid to Armenia from 1992-2003 (CRS RS20812 ). In December 2005, the MCC approved plans to sign a five-year, $235.65 million compact with Armenia (CRS Report RL32427). In general Armenia has got 3 billions from US for the past 10 years. Those billions are used of course by Armenia for the same purpose: to buy weapon.



Russia owns about 70% of Armenias assets, it provided Armenia, its only ally in this region, all the time since the beginning of conflict with weapons and troops (Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report RS20812). Azerbaijan may be involved in the future in building of Nabucco gas pipeline to central Europe via Turkey. A gas pipeline, which would pass outside Russian control sees as a threat to Moscow, which wants to have Russian Gazprom as the only energy provider to EU. That is one more reason for Russia to prolong Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and weaken Azerbaijan.

In Response

by: Donovan from: PA
June 29, 2011 23:50
How is kebab business coming along in "Polen"?:)

by: maja from: Berlin
June 29, 2011 06:31
Under these curcumstances, when 20% of Azerbaijan is occupied; when neither EU or US are willing to help Azerbaijan; when Armenia wants to provoke a new war and introduced military training at schools for many years ago - Azerbaijan does not have any other choice-but invest in defence industry.
The bilding up the army is the only option for Azerbaijans nation if it wants to survive ; this is the only way to reach finally the peace in South Caucasus and end up the ethnic cleansing of Azeri, which Armenians started for 200 years ago and which is going on today.

In Response

by: Vazgen from: Artsakh
June 29, 2011 14:53
Armenia wants another war? Armenia did not start the last war and wont start any new war never! Azerbaijans plan is to remove Armenia from the world map with its high military budget the only thing stopping the war is russian base in Armenia, and that balance needs to be kept! if one of the sides becomes to powerful wich Azerbaijan is trying its hardest to do what will happen?

If Azerbaijan thouht they would be able to destroy Armenia now they would do it is Armenias exsistance with is at very large threath not Azerbaijan,

Azerbaijan doesnt build up the military in fear of an attack they build it up becase they themselves want to attack

Azerbaijan started the war Azerbaijan had a superior Army with superior equipment but they managed to loose and now play the victim PATHETIC

by: Ben from: Yerevan
June 29, 2011 09:03
I am an American living in Armenia (not of Armenian origin in any way). I wanted to make a couple of points: First, I would recommend readers do a bit more research before making statements about the authors (I am referring only to Richard Grigosian here). Mr. Grigosian is an Armenian/American who is one of the most intelligent people in this country trying to improve it. Every time I have heard him speak, he has been unbiased and well-intentioned (including remarking on Armenian/Azeri and Armenian/Turkish relations).
Now, that being said, I do in fact agree with what most of the other comments have said. Of the articles I have read here, this is the most anti-Azerbaijan.
You probably assume that as an American living in Armenia I would be very supportive of the Armenian side. But in fact, I am not. Living here has given me an up close experience with Armenian propaganda. It's no surprise that Azerbaijan is normally condemned for its propaganda, since it is an authoritarian regime (Armenia is not much of a democracy itself), but, this leads to everyone ignoring the propaganda used by the Armenian government.
Finally, I would say this: both sides are to blame. Both countries need to decide if it's worth it to fight another war and experience all of the pain and death that will come with it. If it's not worth it, then citizens of both countries need to put their pride aside and demand peace. The path that both countries are on now is only going to end in disaster.

by: Onnik Krikorian from: Yerevan, Armenia
June 29, 2011 12:32
I disagree with the notion that self-determination and territorial integrity are two opposing principles. Instead, what is the problem is how the sides interpret what self-determination means. At the least it means autonomy of some form (the Azerbaijani position) and at the most it means independence (the Azerbaijani position). This is the problem not the contradiction of the two principles, but rather how the two sides view the principles to support their positions.

by: A. from: Switzerland
June 29, 2011 20:49
Let Azeri refugees going back to their homes. All other is not humanitarian.

by: Tsait from: here
June 29, 2011 23:43
The four UN resolutions called for the immediate cease fire on ALL sides and retreat of Karabakh forces to previous locations. It is not about Armenia it is about native people defending themselves and the government of Azerbaijan systematically violating the three UN call for ALL sides to cease fire. Armenians did not retreat because Azeris kept attacking thus breaking every UN resolution. Only after the fourth UN resolution did Azerbaijan realize that by breaking the UN call for stopping the attacks resulted in more loss of territories. Proof: after the fourth resolution Azerbaijan abided by the rules and lost no more territories.

Secondly, Aliyev has clearly proclaimed that there will be no compromise on his side, therefore those who are blaming Liz Fuller for being biased in saying "Azeri maximalist approach" do not know what the heck they're talking about, or worse, they are being wilfully ignorant.

by: Farko from: USA
June 30, 2011 08:46
Well, indeed Liz Fuller is biased in her article (as usual she is) and she mostly presents Armenian side of Kazan meetings by referring to Nalbandian's statements. I don't think she has an independent information whether Azerbaijan requested last-minute changes, she just goes with what she reads in Armenian media. For example, Azerbaijani MFA says that even previous agreement on withdrawal of Armenian troops from surrounding rayons now is broken by Armenian side again. And again after presenting two poles in conflict, Liz Fuller for some reason calls Azerbaijan maximalist while Armenia similarly retains maximalist position at another pole. I would really ask Liz Fuller to provide objective information and assessment of situation supported by both sides of story to the readers of this website funded by US-taxpayers.
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About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.