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      Glimmer of hope on the Karabagh horizon

Glimmer of hope on the Karabagh horizon   19/07/2005


Glimmer of hope on the Karabagh horizon 

Observers who have watched over the years intractable international problems like the Northern Island and Palestinian issues, will certainly greet with a grain of salt some hopeful signs shaping up on the Karabagh horizon.

However, recent flurry of diplomatic activities involving Warsaw meeting of Presidents Kocharian and Aliyev, most recent Paris meeting of Foreign Ministers Oskanian and Mamedyarov, as well as OSCE shuttle diplomacy seems to have moved the problem to the verge of a breakthrough.

We have, in the past, visited hopeful stages in negotiations, especially at Key West meeting of Aliyev, Sr. and Kocharian, to be disappointed once again, when Aliyev, Jr. insisted on returning to square one in the negotiating process.

Hopefully, this time around, at Kocharian and Aliyev meeting in the Russian city of Kazan, they will have a more tangible context of a treaty to finalize the agreement.

It seems that the OSCE negotiators have diligently crafted the draft of an agreement to make sure that a no-winner, no-loser formula is adopted to save face for both sides.

Gathering from news reports, the following picture of a draft agreement emerges.

1. The mainframe of that future agreement is an internationally supervised referendum in Karabagh to take place within 10-15 years to determine the final destiny of the Nagorno-Karabagh and its population. The referendum will offer three alternatives to the population: a) to return to the jurisdiction of the Baku government, b) to declare independence, and c) to join Armenia. If everything goes as planned, Armenians in Karabagh will have only one choice: to join Armenia.

But there are many pitfalls in the process because the demographic profile of the region may sway either way, depending on the principles to be adopted and the loopholes to be used by both parties. The last Soviet census resulted in a ratio of 80% 20% in favor of Armenians. 40,000 Azeris have left Karabagh during the war and Azeris are notorious in population growth. Their cousins, Turks have used demographic gerrymandering in Northern Cyprus by shipping Turkish peasants from the mainland to alter the ethnic makeup of the island to influence the outcome of a referendum. They will certainly teach their Azeri cousins to use the same methods. Therefore, that remains an open issue to be resolved during the negotiations.

2. The Armenians will be returning five out of seven Azeri regions they have captured during the war; namely Kubatlu, Zankelan, Fizouli, Jebrayil and Agdam. The regions of Kelbajan and Lachin will be discussed later.

The return of these territories will result in the lifting of the blockade by Azerbaijan and Turkey against Armenia. But this tradeoff had always two sticking points to be resolved:

a) The territories were captured through war and cannot be recaptured without bloodshed, once they are returned, if the other parties reverse their decision and reinstate the blockade. b) Those territories were captured for strategic reasons, because they were being used as launching grounds for assaults against Karabagh population. Therefore, if the Azeris will repopulate those regions, they have to be kept demilitarized under international supervision.

3. Upon lifting of the blockade rail and land routes will become operational and both sides will benefit at that stage. Especially the routes linking Azeri town of Agdam to the Azeri exclave Nakhichevan will pass through Karabagh and Armenia and in the first place will reinforce Baku's administrative grip over the exclave, thereby sealing the destiny of Nakhichevan for long time to come. Armenians cannot hope to control for the foreseeable future that historically Armenian region. Also Azeri territory will be sandwiching the Armenian homeland, which is not healthy strategically.

However, the benefits of the reopening of the communication and transportation lines may outweigh, in the short term, the future dangers, because the roads will be supervised by international peace keeping forces (Turkish and Russian forces being mutually inadmissible) and then the Paul Goble idea of land swap will be laid to rest. That idea almost materialized at Key West, where Armenia had conceded sovereignty over Azeri roads to cross over the Meghri region of Armenia.

4. The most significant development is that the government in Baku will recognize the current status quo in Karabagh, until the outcome of the referendum. Therefore there is a respectable government in Karabagh, which conducts democratic elections. That status will be further reinforced as time passes.

The international law is very flexible for any powerful nation to manipulate. There was no autonomous government in Northern Cyprus before the invasion. Turks created one and all UN or bilateral negotiations have been considering that status as a fait-accompli, whereas Karabagh had an autonomous status during the Soviet period, before the war, and it quit Azeri jurisdiction in observance of the Soviet constitution in existence at that period, yet the UN and the major powers – including the ones supposedly friendly towards the Armenians – subscribe to the theory of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Hopefully the wait and the referendum will break that mold and the principle of self-determination will prevail.

One may ask what are the factors that contributed to the development of this hopeful stage?

1. Turkey and Azerbaijan were not able to break Armenia's back through their blockade and threats. Armenia survived, although with great difficulties and prospered economically at a rate better than most former Soviet republics.

2. Azerbaijan's November 6 Parliamentary elections put Aliyev's autocratic government in a precarious situation, threatening it with a colorful revolution.

3. The oil factor. Indeed, now that Baku-Ceyhan pipeline became operational, interested parties are less inclined to encourage Aliyev to embark on a military adventure. The flow of oil must be guaranteed by the stability of the region.

4. Pressure of the European Union on Turkey to lift the blockade. Turkey had to lift the blockade sooner or later, to gain points with the European Union. They are not doing a favor to Armenia. They are doing a favor to themselves. Only the timing will make it look like they are taking a positive step in response to Armenia's relinquishing Azeri territories.

Erdogan's recent speech at the Parliament in Baku was a dress rehearsal for this concession. He sounded very adamant that without territorial concessions by Armenians, Turkey was not ready to lift the blockade. That also won some brownie points for Erdogan with Azeris.

5. Finally, the American factor is most crucial. Today no international problem can be solved without U.S. concession and blessing.

Washington has managed to win over the governments in Baku and Tbilisi. In order to complete its control of the Caucasian scene, Armenia, thus far remained the odd ball.

Recently, the Singapore Prime Minister was complaining in a TV interview with Charlie Rose that the U.S. has been resorting to military power to enforce its policies, yet "soft power" may equally work well in some instances. It seems to be the case in point for the application of that soft power. The generous economic support, coupled with a positive stand on recent developments seems to have worked with authorities in Yerevan, who have responded in kind by sending peace-keeping forces to Kosovo and Iraq. The latter at the resentment of its populace.

Is peace at hand? We cannot say that for certain. Opposition groups in both countries have been criticizing the deal, understandably. Any rash action, or any wrong move by the negotiating parties may rock the boat.

Today, at best, we are at the stage of cautious optimism.

July 19, 2005


© 2010 - La Lettre de l'ADL
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