Tag Archives: nagorno-karabagh peace negotiations

When Being ‘Politically Correct’ About Karabakh Backfires

Sarsang Reservoir in Drmbon, Nagorno-Karabakh
Sarsang Reservoir in Drmbon, Nagorno-Karabakh

This morning I read an interesting, although lackluster, article supposedly about tourism in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) that was published by AFP on July 21, written by Mariam Hartutyunyan. There are some questionable, even disappointing points made in the article that I thought should be addressed. Below are quotes from the article and my responses.

“Seized from Azerbaijan by Armenian-backed separatists in a brutal war that claimed an estimated 30,000 lives as the Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990s, Nagorny Karabakh remains frozen between war and peace.”

Although Azerbaijan declared independence from the Soviet Union on October 18, 1991, only seven weeks passed before Nagorno-Karabakh itself in a referendum, with the disapproval of the Azeri minority, chose a path of complete sovereignty. This was an extremely volatile time as anyone who reads history knows. I also disagree with the phrase “Armenian-backed separatists,” since the Armenian side in the conflict did indeed comprise an organized army with separate regimens, although volunteer soldiers took part in the defense struggle. And nothing was “seized,” the control of lands shifted due to war and the demand for self-governance. I also have a problem with “Nagorny Karabakh remains frozen between war and peace,” as it is quite clear that nothing but peace prevails throughout Karabakh, although there are skirmishes along the line of contact between Azerbaijan and Armenia (Karabakh itself by and large is protected by a buffer zone). It is the peace process itself that remains frozen. So the terminology is a bit dubious despite the attempt in maintaining objectivity.

“Nagorny Karabakh is still recognised as part of Azerbaijan by the United Nations, but its population is almost completely ethnic Armenian after the Azerbaijani community fled in the wake of the war.”

What other ethic populations are there in Nagorno-Karabakh today? The statement “almost completely ethnic Armenian” is a bit strange. Unless the reporter can provide evidence that proves otherwise, which she doesn’t, it’s likely an assumption. Has she traveled to places where Greeks, Assyrians, and Kurds continue to live, for instance? It would be revealing to know if they’re still there.

“Soldiers along the heavily fortified frontline exchange gunfire almost daily, with both sides blaming each other for violating the ceasefire. So far this year some 20 soldiers from both sides have been killed.”

Again, this is occurring along the border between the Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan. There is also no clear evidence reported that gunfire is exchanged “almost daily.” That does not mean I am suggesting it happens infrequently.

“In fact, it is impossible to escape the grim reminders of the region’s brutal conflict, which often saw neighbour turn on neighbour and the entire 600,000-strong Azerbaijani population of Nagorny Karabakh and seven surrounding districts forced to flee.”

Unless I am mistaken, there have never been more than 200,000 people living in Nagorno-Karabakh with the overwhelming majority of the population having been ethnically Armenian. That would mean that more than 400,000 Azeris lived in what is largely a mountainous, inaccessible territory of “seven surrounding districts”–based on what I have seen with my own eyes–with the exception of Agdam (she claims 50,000 Azeris lived there) and some territory to its east. This number seems unlikely and probably hard to prove, but the damage is done. She does not cite a Soviet-era census source to back her claim, which is essential in professional journalism, especially in such a volatile discussion where complete objectivity is obviously difficult to maintain. The “grim reminders” she alludes to unfortunately are quite blatant in Shushi and Agdam.

“But for those willing to risk the journey, tour operators argue that there is plenty to attract tourists to Nagorny Karabakh–a spectacular highland area of rugged mountains and thickly forested hills.”

There is nothing risky or frightening about traveling through the Lachin corridor (unless someone drives too fast along the serpentine road). It is completely protected by Armenian forces. And there are no imminent dangers in traveling throughout Karabakh, either (with the exception of the minefields along the border, of course). The reporter must have realized this as she traveled to and around the region. “Take the long journey” rather than “risk the journey” would have been more appropriate. And why do tour operators “argue” that tourists have good reason to visit the area? “Believe,” “insist,” “are convinced” are better alternatives.

“Despite the region’s uncertain future, tourists like Andrey Hoynowski from Poland say they will be recommending a visit to their friends back home and that the added attention might even help Karabakh move on.

Karabakh has clearly moved on, it does not need “help” in doing so. The reporter herself alluded to this fact in other parts of her article. The problem is that the world community has not by failing to accept Nagorno-Karabakh’s legitimacy as a sovereign nation even 18 years since the ceasefire was declared. Peace is maintained in Artsakh by the will of the Armenian people living there, and so does its obvious determination to progress and grow economically.

The people of Nagorno-Karabakh are some of the most self-confident, secure individuals I have ever met anywhere. I will go so far as to say that I have not encountered another society where insecurities are virtually invisible on faces and demonstrated body language. This is quite evident when you stroll down the streets of Stepanakert and see how people interact with one another. And when you converse with people, you will find only resilience and determination in their voice. They as proud citizens of their nation, “self-proclaimed” in the eyes of the world, are cultured, mature and inspirational figures. Moving on is not a matter of aspiration, it is indeed an unwavering, luminous reality and has been for two decades.

So it’s a disheartening article, especially coming from an Armenian journalist. The terminology was arguably subjective against Armenia in some of the parts I mentioned, which is a real shame. Even the headline reeks of negativity. Karabakh deserves much better publicity than this, especially 18 years after the ceasefire. The tone of the article seems to suggest it happened only yesterday, with people struggling to find their place in the world. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

‘Karabakh Is Ours’

we_are_our_mountainsDuring a visit last weekend to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, commonly known as Artsakh to Armenians, some thoughts came to mind about the current state of affairs, the “no war, no peace” situation as it is sometimes referred to.

Initiatives have been undertaken to bring youth from both sides together, on neutral ground like Georgia, to discuss issues related to the conflict in the hopes that some understanding of the “enemy” can be reached. These efforts should be applauded, as non-governmental representatives of the two opposing sides naturally need to talk one another to exchange ideas and try to work out differences in thought and opinion on the public level. But no matter how much discussion takes place, no matter the friendships forged in such workshops between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, both sides are always likely going to walk away saying the same thing: “Karabakh is ours.”

It’s been 18 years since the cease fire, and Azerbaijanis have still to come to grips with the reality that Nagorno-Karabakh will most certainly never be part of the Republic of Azerbaijan. That the people of Artsakh will agree to hold a referendum as part of a peace deal to decide upon their status — when they had already determined it in 1991 by declaring independence — is an absurd expectation. The bonds between Armenia and Artsakh are tightly wound together; there is no separating the two without another senseless, brutal war. And despite Baku’s biweekly threats of renewed hostilities, that’s certainly something no one wants.

In my view, it is not the OSCE’s Minsk Group that will force the two sides to sign a peace agreement. Indeed, if the three group member states really wanted to settle this matter once and for all an agreement would surely have been found in the last 15 years. These meetings being held, the discussions behind closed doors, and the subsequent statements issued are all part of an elaborate charade, a long-running theatrical production that is becoming more tiresome with every season.

Ultimately, it is Russia that is going to decide when the deal has to be made and under what conditions, something that not too many people following the issue want to believe. A recent “extremely frank” meeting held between Russian President Dimitry Medvedev and Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev may lead the two sides closer to agreeing upon the principles of a peace deal, although given Baku’s stubborn, backtracking track record that seems unlikely. We have to keep waiting for an agreement in the meantime.

The Armenians of Artsakh, on the other hand, made their decision in 1991. For them, there’s nothing, not one inch of land, to give. And they’re not even being asked to.

OSCE Minsk Group Undermines Karabakh’s Resolve

Karabakh Holds Parliamentary Elections

Artur at The Armenian Observer Blog wrote a post yesterday about the OSCE Minsk Group’s reaction to the Nagorno-Karabakh parliamentary elections that were held on Sunday. He comments that:

More than 70 percent of some 95,000 eligible voters turned out to vote in the poll, where 33 parliamentary mandates were contested on split proportional and majority lists. The elections were peaceful, well organized, and quite democratic, even if no party formed any real political opposition to the incumbent president, and prime minister’s party won the majority.

He was justifiably irate that the Minsk Group, which is supposed to be officiating the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, released the following statement:

MOSCOW/PARIS/WASHINGTON, 24 May 2010 – The Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Ambassador Igor Popov of Russia, Bernard Fassier of France, and Robert Bradtke of the United States, released the following statement today:

The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs (Ambassador Bernard Fassier of France; Ambassador Robert Bradtke of the United States; Ambassador Igor Popov of the Russian Federation) took note that so-called parliamentary elections took place in Nagorno-Karabakh on May 23, 2010. Although the Co-Chairs understand the need for the de facto authorities in NK to try to organize democratically the public life of their population with such a procedure, they underscore again that Nagorno-Karabakh is not recognized as an independent and sovereign state by any of their three countries, nor by any other country, including Armenia. The Co-Chairs consider that this procedure should not preempt the determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh in the broader framework of the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The OSCE Minsk Group has been operating since the mid-1990s, they’ve been there every step of the way since the cease-fire in 1994. The group knows exactly what the people of Nagorno-Karabakh obviously wanted and what they were fighting for–self-governance and self-determination. So how can they say the “so-called parliamentary elections,” also referred to as a “procedure,” “…should not preempt the determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh.” Of course it does. It has been since 1991, when Nagorno-Karabakh declared itself independent. Why would Russia of all countries put its name on this tersely worded statement? Russia started this mess to begin with during Stalin’s reign. Has the OSCE forgotten?

Does Armenia and even Azerbaijan actually trust the Minsk Group and its efforts in helping to establish peace? What has the group actually accomplished in all these years, save for making vague statements about mutually acceptable conditions for peace and undefined security guarantees? It’s very proud of the so-called “Madrid Principles” that you often read about in the news without having a clear understanding of what they actually are, since they are supposedly kept secret (although rumor has it that all territories are expected to be returned to Azerbaijani control, with Karabakh given some kind of neutral interim status until the “final status” is determined in some sort of “referendum”).  But who is really taking the group seriously anymore?

Why does this process continue if there doesn’t seem to be any trust? With this statement, the Minsk Group is not showing any support or respect whatsoever for what the people of Nagorno-Karabakh want and died for. Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence is not recognized by any of the three Minsk Group member states, that’s certainly true. Yet its resolve must be recognized. The Karabakh people clearly know what they want. Problem is, the Minsk Group after all these years still undermines that. That’s precisely why a solution hasn’t been reached until now.

Photo credit: Photolur

Sarkisian, Erdogan Don’t See Eye to Eye

Seems there’s nothing positive that can be said about the Sarkisian-Erdogan meeting in Washington, DC that took place on April 12 on the sidelines of the nuclear security summit hosted by President Obama.

Both leaders have been tight-lipped about their meeting and their own separate sit-downs with President Obama, and there really isn’t a lot of information available regarding what was said. RFE/RL however wrote this:

According to the Turkish daily “Sabah,” Erdogan told Sarkisian that the existing “political atmosphere” does not bode well for their ratification by Turkey’s Grand National Assembly. He blamed it on recent decisions by U.S. and Swedish lawmakers to recognize the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

“If the protocols are brought to the agenda of the parliament while U.S. and Swedish parliaments are taking decisions on the issue, they will be rejected,” he reportedly said. “Sabah” also quoted Erdogan as also linking protocol ratification with decisive progress in international efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict.

Sarkisian, Erdogan Don't See Eye to EyeI think it became clear last autumn when Turkish leaders started insisting that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict be settled first before the protocols be ratified that Ankara was backtracking from its commitments for establishing formal diplomatic relations. Perhaps they thought that Yerevan was so desperate it would cut a quick and dirty deal with Azerbaijan just to get the Turkish-Armenian border opened, or else they wanted to show just who’s the boss to foreign powers with interests in the region. Lately, the Turks have been indicating that they want direct involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and have some role in the Minsk Group. But I don’t understand why Turkey would think that Armenia would unquestionably go along with its preconditions.

Meanwhile, Yerevan is playing hardball, insisting that there is no way worldwide Armenian Genocide recognition efforts can be suppressed. The Armenian leadership is still adamant that no preconditions can be attached to ratifying the protocols, namely regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution. It’s also absurd that Turkey actually thinks Armenia would sever ties with the Armenian Diaspora, its main support base, just because it wants that to happen. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured Sarkisian in their meeting on April 13 that the US was still pressing for normalization of relations without preconditions.

Quite honestly, I believe this whole charade between Turkey and Armenia that’s been playing out for well over a year now has been a grand chess match. And eventually, it was going to end in a stalemate. I don’t think Sarkisian really had any intentions to open the border at all costs and by whatever means necessary, as he led many to believe last year. He was simply trying to prove to the world that he was indeed a legitimately elected, relevant president and was willing to appease his neighbors, but not to the point of selling out his nation’s geopolitical and strategic interests. Many in the diaspora and Armenia who were taken aback by the protocols last August, myself included, started to panic. Maybe that’s what Sarkisian wanted–the protests in the diaspora served an effective way to ruffle Turkey’s feathers and see how it would react. And as we remember, it went on the offensive.

Now it’s a question of who is going to look more noble in the eyes of the world when this impasse is declared deadlocked–Erdogan or Sarkisian. President Obama’s address to Armenian-Americans on April 24 will be telling.

Rumors Spreading About a Sarkisian-Ter-Petrosian Alliance Against Kocharian

There is unsubstantiated speculation that President Serge Sarkisian may join political forces with Levon Ter-Petrosian in a political alliance to thwart any chance of Robert Kocharian’s return to power. Although Kocharian has repeatedly denied intentions of returning to political life, there are indicators that suggest otherwise.

On Tuesday at the Armenian National Congress rally in Yerevan, Ter-Petrosian made mention of a “seance” recently being held in Dubai– Kocharian had assembled various oligarchs there to hold a secret meeting. But Ter-Petrossian didn’t elaborate on the details.

However, according to rumor he purportedly told his supporters that it was necessary to get rid of Sarkisian for making perceived foreign policy blunders, and that he needed their backing to overthrow him once the time came. Among them was Hovik “Moog” Abrahamian, the president of the National Assembly and a member of the Republican party of which Sarkisian is of course the leader.  Purportedly, Abrahamian, who is rumored to be backing Kocharian, agreed to lend his support so long as he in the mix of things became President of Armenia for at least four days, as the president of the National Assembly is second to the throne until a new president is elected according to the Armenian constitution.

Since these revelations were brought to light several of Abramahian’s relatives working as public servants were dismissed from their positions in various administrative and governmental departments, like the Customs House where one of them had a senior position, according to a source which I can’t reveal.

Kocharian’s press office released a statement in reaction to Ter-Petrosian’s speech on Tuesday which has appeared on various news sites in Armenian. A1 Plus managed to translate it into English. Here’s an excerpt.

Ter-Petrosyan and the Armenian National Movement diverted me a lot. They are involved in a strange activity. They decide that I dream about returning to politics and then start fighting against my return. After a while, they find out that I haven’t returned, are shocked and say their actions stopped me. Each of my trips or speeches becomes an occasion to break into an outrage.

I would advise those men not to be so tense, or else they may acquire an aging hemorrhoid by not being accustomed to the overload.

The last statement alone just shows how precarious Kocharian’s intentions and even emotional stability are. The disastrous events of March 1 are still fresh on people’s minds; no one can dare forget about what happened and how it was covered up. If society ever allows him to take power again, there’s something dreadfully wrong.

But if there is a power struggle, it will most likely mean a war between oligarch clans. Serge has already announced his intentions to run for president in 2012, so he’ll be ready to put up a fight to thwart any attempts at being overthrown. There have already been clashes reported in the news between the Republican party and Prosperous Armenia–which is backed by Kocharian–over who has the most clout on the Yerevan city council. These clashes of course were denied in news reports but nevertheless, the news is out there and there’s no reason to doubt it. Now it’s just a question of where allegiances truly lie.

Another separate rumor claims that if Serge does not cut a deal to appease Turkey and Azerbaijan in a supposed, behind-the-scenes package deal to ratify the protocols and agree to a final Nagorno-Karabakh peace settlement, he will be forced to resign by the foreign powers that be. That would leave room for Kocharian to potentially take power again, or else Ter-Petrossian somehow since there’s no one else powerful enough and supported internationally to take the reins at the moment.

I think it’s safe to say that no one can accurately forecast what’s really going to happen in the near future, but one thing’s for sure–all this speculation is certainly intriguing.