[lg policy] Nagorno-Karabakh: Are Baku and Yerevan Getting to Yes, or Going Nowhere?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 30 21:31:20 UTC 2011

Nagorno-Karabakh: Are Baku and Yerevan Getting to Yes, or Going Nowhere?
June 27, 2011 - 2:54pm, by Shahin Abbasov and Marianna Grigoryan

Once again, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his Armenian
counterpart, Serzh Sargsyan, failed during their recent summit to
reconcile their differences on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. If
this is starting to sound familiar, it should. The two countries have
spent almost four years getting nowhere on finalizing the supposed
“basic principles” for a Karabakh peace deal.

Ironically, given their track record, international expectations for
Aliev’s and Sargsyan’s June 24-25 summit in the Russian city of Kazan
ran unusually high. Like any master of ceremonies, Moscow and obliging
Russian media encouraged those expectations; Russia’s Foreign
Ministry, in fact, predicted that the get-together could prove “a
milestone for a breakthrough in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Pre-summit phone calls to Aliyev and Sargsyan from US President Barack
Obama and letters from French President Nicolas Sarkozy played a part,
too. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, eager to burnish Iran’s
peacemaking credentials, phoned both men as well.

But the breakthrough didn’t happen. The blame game, though, continued.
Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian claimed that Baku’s
surprise introduction of a dozen changes to the “basic principles” was
the reason why the talks fell flat. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani Foreign
Minister Elmar Mammadyarov countered that Aliyev and Sargsyan were
unable to compromise on “some key issues” because “the Armenian side
demands the maximum compromises from Azerbaijan,” the Trend news
agency reported. Neither diplomat provided details that could support
their respective contentions.

The “basic principles,” proposed in 2007, provide for the return of
areas surrounding Karabakh to Azerbaijani control, and the
establishment of a land corridor between Armenia and Karabakh. The
region itself would have an interim status, until a referendum would
determine its ultimate status. Internally Displaced Persons, a
category largely made up of ethnic Azeris, would be free to return to
their homes in the territory.

Yet if the proposed principles proved to be a stumbling block, some
predictable areas for agreement did emerge. Both sides underlined
their willingness to continue with the talks. Azerbaijani Foreign
Minister Mammadyarov assured Trend news agency that both Aliyev and
Sargsyan “intend to work hard” on a peace deal, while Armenian Foreign
Minister Nalbandian observed in an official statement that there is
“no other way” to reach an agreement.

Aside from these assurances, the summit ended with a joint statement
that both sides had reached “a mutual agreement upon a range of
issues.” Details were not provided.

One Azerbaijani analyst argues that part of the reason for the Kazan
meeting’s failure is that the two sides remain far apart on the talks’
fundamental question -- how to resolve the ultimate status of

“The positions of Baku and Yerevan are still very different,”
commented Elhan Shahinoglu, head of Baku’s Atlas Research Center. “The
Armenian side puts the question on the terms of the referendum in
Nagorno-Karabakh [on independence from Azerbaijan], while Azerbaijan
would never agree to [that].”

Instead, Azerbaijan favors a deal similar to that between Rome and
Italy’s autonomous, majority-German-speaking province of South Tyrol,
Aliyev told Euronews on June 23. Stressing Baku’s “large financial
resources,” Aliyev claimed that “it would not be a problem to launch
serious economic and social programs for Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Such a prospect would contain few charms for Armenia, which sees
itself as bound by ethnic and historical ties to retain some role in
the majority-ethnic-Armenian region. Sargsyan himself is a Karabakh
native who headed the breakaway region’s fighting forces from 1989
until 1993.

Getting Armenia to yield on such points would require significant
encouragement; former Azerbaijani presidential foreign policy aide
Vafa Guluzade argues that the United States, France and Russia have
not done enough to put “serious pressure” on Armenia. “It makes
Yerevan confident enough to block a peace deal,” Guluzade alleged.

Independent Armenian political analyst Yervand Bozoian directed some
criticism at the talks’ host, Russia. “No doubt, Russia could have
played a bigger role in terms of reducing tensions, but it cannot
impose [its position],” said Bozoian.

Some foreign analysts fear that fatigue with the negotiations could
lead to an exploration of military options for resolving the conflict.
At a post-summit military parade held for Azerbaijan’s June 26 Army
Day, President Aliyev repeated past assurances that Azerbaijan’s
“territorial integrity will be restored by any means.”

Many in the West have taken such pronouncements – and Azerbaijan’s
accompanying military build-up – as a worrying omen. But Guluzade
disagrees. Azerbaijan may be “really strong now,” but “we cannot
confront the superpowers” by getting into another war with Armenia and
Karabakh separatists, he said.

Some Armenian observers say representatives of Karabakh’s de facto
government should be given a voice in the peace process. The breakaway
territory was excluded from the talks at Azerbaijan’s insistence.
Negotiations will remain deadlocked so long as Karabakh
representatives are kept on the sidelines, one Armenian analyst
predicted. “[T]he one clinging to the status quo is the one protesting
against Karabakh’s return to the negotiation table,” foreign policy
expert Karen Bekarian said at a June 25 Yerevan news conference,
referring to Azerbaijan. “Until that happens, the talks will proceed
following the same logic.”

Azerbaijani foreign policy analyst Tabib Huseynov expressed hope that
the two sides somehow narrowed their differences, even if the
participants are reluctant to discuss it. Even “[i]f we do not see
concrete results from the Kazan meeting, it does not mean there are no
results,” Huseynov said.


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