Publications of experts CACDS - Southern Caucasus

Rauf RADZHABOV: “Karabakh conflict: Transformation of quantitative superiority into qualitative…”


The Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Armenia are in a very complex region - the Caucasus, which is characterized by many "hot spots" and conflicting geopolitical and geo-economic interests of many states. Against this background, the official Baku is working on the political settlement of the Karabakh conflict. And I do not believe that the statements of some Azerbaijani politicians that territorial integrity should be restored purely by military means, express the leadership of the country.

Today, efforts are being stepped up, both by the OSCE MG Co-Chairs and the official authorities of the Azerbaijan Republic and the Republic of Armenia to resolve the Karabakh conflict.

The last meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Geneva on January 28-30. with the co-chairs of the OSCE MG Co-Chairs, it lasted for two days (approximately 12 hours in total). The meeting of the leaders of the two warring countries within the framework of the Munich Security Conference on February 14-16 is not excluded.

In recent weeks, there have been no violations of the ceasefire regime on the line of contact between the Armed Forces (AF) of the Azerbaijan Republic and the Republic of Armenia. However, front line violations will continue until Baku and Yerevan sign a comprehensive political agreement to resolve the Karabakh conflict.

And in general, this poses a sufficient threat to the peace in the region, because it is unclear where the limit of patience of the Azerbaijan Republic is? In other words, how far does the course of the negotiation process meet the national interests of Azerbaijan, what caused the activity of the mediators, what are the further prospects for Karabakh settlement?

No need for drama ...

The OSCE MG Co-Chairs' encouraging statements on the peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict suggest that both sides of the conflict, Azerbaijan and Armenia, are likely to give up their mutually exclusive requirements. And this condition was a consequence of reaching a consensus on the political settlement of the Karabakh conflict between the Russian Federation and the United States.

I should note the fallacy and simplicity of the opinion that all the activation of the authorities of the two countries proceeds exclusively under the sign of Russian domination in the negotiation process. The OSCE MG Co-Chairs are interested in bringing Azerbaijan and Armenia closer together, in advancing the negotiation process towards signing the final document. Thus, it is a matter of reaching a consensus today for the OSCE MG Co-Chairs to sign an interim agreement.

But are the parties to the Karabakh conflict themselves ready to sign this document? It is difficult to say, since the conflict has become an issue # 1 on the agenda of internal political struggle in Armenia. On this basis, it is difficult to predict how much the political elites of Armenia will be able to reach a consensus on this issue within the country and Karabakh, as well as the Armenian diaspora, first of all, the USA and France. The next meeting of the heads of state can clarify the situation.

By the way, the negotiation process on the political settlement of the Karabakh conflict was marked by the fact that earlier the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov mentioned the status of Tatarstan in the Russian Federation. This is already a symptom. Earlier, the Azerbaijani negotiators spoke only in general about the highest status of Karabakh, today we have something to discuss and consider specifically. The other question is whether or not some Tatarstan status is acceptable to the Armenian side. The question is rhetorical.

In Azerbaijan, the settlement of the Karabakh conflict is not issue # 1 in relations between the government and the opposition. And while the main challenge in Yerevan is the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, then for Baku, these are more global challenges.

At the same time, Azerbaijan's defense capabilities should not be dramatized. Increasing the country's defense capability must be seen outside the context of the Karabakh conflict. Strengthening defense power, enhancing its potential, strengthening security, addressing certain threats likely in the medium term, and even more so in the long run, are pragmatic, and the modern state should, in principle, do so. However, the security of the Azerbaijani statehood cannot be considered only in the short term. But it is in the short term that the resolution of the Karabakh conflict should be considered.

Other potential threats, risks, challenges that Azerbaijan can expect in the 21st century need to be considered. The Azerbaijani Armed Forces are obliged to carry out any tasks. This is a new model aircraft, and much is being done by the leadership of the country so that, incidentally, they are built in accordance with NATO standards. And the increase in military expenditures should be accompanied by a basic Air Force Development and Modernization Program.

Representatives of the Azerbaijani opposition say they are ready to support the leadership in the issue of the military solution to the Karabakh conflict. In that case, it would be appropriate to suggest that the opposition support the conflict resolution plan that is being implemented today. We need to continue to seek solutions to the Karabakh conflict by political and diplomatic means, increasing Azerbaijan's economic and geopolitical superiority.

One or…

It has been repeatedly said that during the negotiation process between Azerbaijan and Armenia, mediated by the OSCE MG, the parties cannot come to a consensus on the basic issue: the Karabakh conflict should be viewed through the prism of the principle of "territorial integrity of the Azerbaijan Republic" or the principle of "Karabakh Armenian right. However, Karabakh Armenians are seeking to become part of the Republic of Armenia.

It is natural that Baku considers the Karabakh conflict in the context of Yerevan's territorial claims. Therefore, he insists that the Karabakh conflict in the context of international law has no contradictions or conflicts of two principles (territorial integrity and the right of the people to self-determination). It should be considered within the framework of the international "principle of territorial integrity of the state" within the borders, which were recognized by the international community at the admission of the Azerbaijan Republic to the United Nations within the administrative borders of the Union Republic (the former Azerbaijan SSR).

Probably, today, Baku and Yerevan, for various reasons, are considering not a batch, but a modernized so-called, at the negotiating table. "Step-by-step plan" of the Karabakh conflict solution. In other words, a modernized plan for a political solution to the Karabakh conflict involves:

- first, the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the 5 occupied areas around Nagorno-Karabakh;

- secondly, the opening of the Armenian-Turkish (which Ankara repeatedly pointed out) and the Armenian-Azerbaijani state borders;

- thirdly, the return of Azerbaijani and Armenian refugees and displaced persons to 5 liberated Azerbaijani regions;

- fourth, granting Nagorno-Karabakh an intermediate status.

The OSCE MG co-chairs only appeal to two elements - the withdrawal of the Armenian Armed Forces from the occupied areas around Nagorno-Karabakh and the determination of the intermediate status of an unrecognized republic before a referendum on the issue takes place.

But what is the main one? In my opinion, all the issues here are the main ones: the definition of the intermediate status, the withdrawal of the Armenian Armed Forces from the territory of Azerbaijan, and the return of refugees to the occupied five (fully) and two (partially) areas. It is necessary to speak not about two questions. There are actually more of them - and that is where our positions differ. And the fact that they place the decision on the issue of refugee return on Baku and Yerevan, offering to discuss it directly among themselves, does not withstand any criticism. If the process is within the framework of the OSCE MG, then it must be decided there. It is astonishing to say that since the Co-Chairs meet with the head of the so-called during their visits to the region. The NKR, then Karabakh is de facto a party to the conflict and should be a party to the negotiations.

According to my famous model of Karabakh conflict resolution, if Yerevan raises the issue of the participation of an unrecognized republic in the process of political settlement of the conflict, then Armenia should withdraw from it. At the same time, Yerevan should withdraw its occupation forces from the territory of Azerbaijan, liberate five fully and two partially occupied Azerbaijani regions. In this case, Baku will withdraw its troops to places of permanent deployment. But Azerbaijan will acquire more - it will not negotiate, as the format of the negotiations is changing, and dialogue with one of its regions - Nagorno-Karabakh. If the latter is ready for this - please. And the problems that exist between Azerbaijan and Armenia will be solved at the level of subjects of international law, but with the exception of the Karabakh conflict. In other words, the Karabakh conflict will be reduced to the national level, will become internal - between the center and one of the regional structures of Azerbaijan. One can take as a basis the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, existing precedent: the so-called. "Talysh-Mugan Republic", "Lezghin Question" (1993), when Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev showed a model of conflict resolution peacefully.

Of course, the question may be why this has not been done before. For this, a suitable situation had to mature, both domestically and in the region and in the world as a whole, in particular around the Karabakh problem.

Extremes are a dangerous thing

It is important for the Azerbaijani side to gradually move to an "offensive" format in a positive understanding of the word. In particular, it is necessary to continue jointly with the GUAM countries the solution of this problem within the walls of the United Nations (referring to the initiative to resolve all "frozen conflicts" in the United Nations). Naturally, we must go to the European community as well. I do not agree with the statement of European politicians that the known decision of GUAM countries to approach the UN is a hasty one. In my opinion, this statement just shows that Azerbaijan, like other GUAM members, is committed to the idea of ​​peaceful resolution of the conflict within the framework of international norms and principles. When I talk about the threats posed by the statements of the official politicians of the OSCE MG Co-Chairs, I am also referring to the thesis that, for example, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is fundamentally different from those existing in the post-Soviet space. This is not true at all. I'll explain why. It is only worth, say, Karabakh to gain independence, he will join the Republic of Armenia accordingly.

Intermediaries should, however, build one common ground for the negotiation process with common universal principles, not divide the issues under discussion into main and secondary ones. It is not the mission of the mediators to determine the degree or importance of the problems and challenges facing the parties.

When I talk about mediators' bias, I mean bias associated with their own interests. In particular, say, France. As a country playing an important role in the EU, it comes from its new neighborhood policy aimed at establishing a normal partnership with all countries in the region, and the European settlement is a multi-year and fundamental process, the main principle of which is "do no harm". But Europeans do not understand that stretching the process in time can also hurt, as the South Caucasus is a somewhat different space from Europe. That is why the mediators are so actively trying to involve Armenia in regional integration processes. It was no accident that they called last year a "window of opportunity" in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, knowing that everything would be more difficult in the future.

For example, the US desire to solve the Palestinian-Israeli problem is quite understandable. The moment the deepening influence of NATO (read, US) on the Middle East is underway, the Palestinian problem requires its immediate resolution. But here the solution to this question rests on one of the fundamental principles in world law - the principle of territorial integrity of the state. Therefore, in the logic of Baku it can be said that the danger of increasing the territory of Israel due to Palestine is fraught with Azerbaijan by creating a precedent for a similar development of events on the Karabakh conflict solution (in fact - in the case of at least partial implementation of the "deal of the century" - the principle of territorial integrity of the Palestinian state has been violated; it is clear that the format is far from being implemented - but we are talking about a possible precedent). In addition, the EU and other global players have a vision that is diametrically opposed to that of the United States, as is the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is not necessary to wait for the approval of the "transaction of the century" by the UN Security Council.

And at times it is still peculiar to change. And why not consider future forms of cooperation where the Republic of Armenia could in theory become a constituent unit, for example, in the Istanbul-Yerevan-Baku triangle? Yes, to date, Yerevan has transferred to Moscow virtually all of Armenia's main production assets at the expense of the national debt, and not only. To this day, Moscow, in constant military presence, is in no hurry to invest in Armenia, as it fears its possible foreign policy turn to the West…

Is the economic (or investment) aspect of the Karabakh settlement resolved? But Baku has resources for investments. Does the prospect of economic development of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan arise as a long-term model and guarantee to work and live together? Will these aspects bring the peaceful settlement of the conflict closer? The regional security system includes not only the military-political component… The model of cooperation is the long-term benefits of both countries, and most importantly, the peoples.

Current results

At the exit, we still have the following picture. Russia, France and the US have reached consensus on resolving the Karabakh conflict, ie the OSCE MG Co-Chairs recognize three fundamental international principles: “territorial integrity of the state”; «People's right to self-determination»; "Not using force to resolve a conflict." Baku adopts updated Madrid Principles with one caveat - Karabakh can only be in Azerbaijan with the widest autonomy. Yerevan also recognizes the updated Madrid Principles, however, with its prerequisite - Karabakh can by no means be part of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In other words, Baku requires a return to the situation before 1988, ie. the restoration of the territory of the Azerbaijan SSR, and refuses to recognize the right of Nagorno-Karabakh to self-determination. In the foreseeable future, this position will not change.

But the return to January 1988, both from the point of view of Karabakh status and regarding the return of the occupied Azerbaijani seven districts, is not accepted by Armenia and the Armenian community of Karabakh. The security of Armenian statehood (as enshrined in the Military Doctrine of the Republic of Armenia) begins from the "administrative borders" of Karabakh.

With regard to the principle of the "right of the people to self-determination", there are provisions in all international instruments that completely remove its priorities. Thus, the international documents “on self-determination of the people” contain a provision according to which “nothing in this document can be interpreted as a violation of the territorial integrity of the state”. On the other hand, it is noted that "at present, the world community recognizes only the internal aspect of self-determination - the right of existing states to restore independence if occupied or conquered by alien forces."

Baku, in turn, also refuses to discuss the so-called. Karabakh's “legitimate grounds for withdrawal” from the Azerbaijan Republic, noting that the so-called. "Referendums" were held in Karabakh without the participation of the Azerbaijani population, and in the conditions that developed after the ethnic cleansing of Karabakh. Therefore, Baku believes that the current problems of the future Karabakh system must be resolved between its two ethnic communities - Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Moreover, no one in the world at the state level, including the Republic of Armenia, has so far recognized Karabakh as an independent state, and the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is recognized by all international organizations and documents.

Azerbaijan is not a losing party. Yes, part of the Azerbaijani territory is occupied, nothing more. Baku is already winning - in integration, initiatives, perspectives. Azerbaijan is able to transform the quantitative superiority over Armenia into qualitative one.

Today, the solution of the Karabakh conflict in the legal plane is unrealistic because the legal way of resolving the conflict is tantamount to the military-political defeat of Armenia (including domestic political cataclysms inside) and the victory of Azerbaijan with all the ensuing consequences. The above scenario does not suit either Yerevan or Moscow. Therefore, both in Moscow and in Yerevan, the solution of the Karabakh conflict is viewed not in the context of the prevailing norms of international law, but in the format of political expediency, taking into account the results of the past Karabakh war, which cannot objectively not arrange for Baku.

The policy of isolating a party through the negotiation process cannot be considered pragmatic in the long run. In the short term, yes. Armenia's possible participation in certain regional projects is expedient through the prism of building long-term relationships that take into account the interests of the parties. This step would demonstrate that a new stage is beginning in the negotiation process - cooperation to resolve the Karabakh conflict.

Yerevan realizes that today and tomorrow are determined by the economy, and political priorities will depend on economic interests. Hence some changes in the position of Armenia in relation to the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The geopolitical situation in the Greater Caucasus region has radically changed and will change in the future. Yerevan will be increasingly difficult to choose from isolation, and its prolongation will lead to even more stagnation of the state. Yerevan is thought to be aware of this, and they see a way out of the crisis in establishing economic ties with all its neighbors and integrating into the regional economy. But is such a solution to the Karabakh issue closer?

Rauf Rajabov, Orientalist, Head of Analytical Center 3RD VIEW, Baku, Azerbaijan