Friday, August 12, 2022

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict in the Caucasus II

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Motto: “When the game is over, both the king and the pawn end up in the same box.” Italian proverb

By Corneliu Pivariu.

The conflict in the South Caucasus – Nagorno-Karabakh, which broke out forcefully especially after the beginning of the USSR’s collapse in 1990 worried regularly the great powers and the regional powers – especially when the military actions resulted in important loss of life and material destruction yet no permanent resolution was reached. This situation facilitated the outbreak of the September/October 2020 conflict which is still ongoing.

The situation in South Caucasus is not a singular one at the periphery of the former Soviet empire as it is part of the model Moscow created in order to secure, through the creation of would be conflict zones,  the control of the zones at the USSR’s periphery and not only. Here there are some examples: Transdnistria, Abhazia and Osetia. 

In the four volumes of geopolitical analyses published during the last 10 years I provided room for the developments in the South Caucasus, too. This is why the present conflict  drew my attention as well especially through the development and likely consequences and I try to present based on interviews with important personalities the situation and the evolutions seen by the two sides. As always, the positions and information are rather contradictory. I will publish an ampler personal analysis after this new military clash will end with a …temporary agreement as I think that the sides do not want yet a comprehensive solution. Right now, I start with two interviews made with the two sides hoping that the human loss and material destruction will stop as soon as possible.

On October 9, in Moscow after ten hours of negotiations, the delegations of the two countries headed by the ministers of foreign affairs Zohran Mnatsakanyan – Armenia and Azeri Jeyhun Bayramov  mediated by the Russian minister for foreign affairs Sergei Lavrov agreed upon a ceasefire. I do welcome this understanding and express my hope that it will represent a new beginning towards a more durable peace and not an opportunity to replentish and restrengthen the military machines in order to resume the conflict more forcefully. 

No conflict resolution is possible unless there is not truth between people

Interview exclusive for Geopolitica, granted by  Hrant Mikaelian, Senior Researcher at Caucasus Institute – Yerevan

Hrant Mikaelian, Senior Researcher at Caucasus Institute – Yerevan

Corneliu Pivariu (C.P.): Dear Mr. Hrant Mikaelian, I thank you for your readiness of granting an interview for my blog Geopolitica. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has a more than 30 year-long history. 

Question:  What is the historical evolution of Armenia’s position during the mandates of the four Armenian presidents: LevonTer-Petrosyan, Robert Kocharyan, Serzh Sargsyan and Armen Sarkissian?

– Does Armenia still believe in a diplomatic solution for solving this conflict?  Why (not)? 

– Do you consider Azerbaijan preferes a military solution for solving this conflict?  Why (not)? 

Hrant Mikaelian (H.M.):  Levon Ter-Petrosyan believed in solution based on bold concessions from Armenian side. His conflict resolution philosophy was based on the alleged possibility to resolve Armenian-Turkish conflict and become good neighbors. Ter-Petrosyan was sure development in terms of conflict is not possible and hoped for resolution to achieve economic prosperity. Robert Kocharyan did not support one-sided concessions but if NKR independence was recognized was ready for territorial compromise. He believed that Armenia could develop economically without resolution of the conflict and proved it.

Serzh Sargsyan was president during period of high oil prices and more aggressive Azerbaijan. He tried to resolve conflict generally based on the same principle as Kocharyan, but he understood (especially after 2016) that this conflict will not be resolved quickly and started preparations toward long-term controversy.

Armen Sarkissian does not make decisions on Armenia’s position, now it’s PM Pashinyan. Pashinyan does not have connection to Karabakh movement (as LTP) or Karabakh war (RK and SS) and he does not have own shaped position. He said he will approve the decision that will be acceptable for majority and it is basically “no concessions.” He held negotiations with Azerbaijan based on compromises but probably he knew that there will be no agreement signed, and if signed – accepted by the society. So, it was more time waste than actual try to achieve agreement which was already obviously not achievable.

– In Armenia the voices against any talks to Azerbaijan are strong as ever, but still majority would prefer diplomatic solution. Same refers to the political class of the country.

– I think yes. Because Azerbaijan’s diplomatic position is “all or nothing.” It wants to restore territorial integrity. None of Armenian leaders will agree to this. So diplomatic solution will not be achieved. And statements by Azerbaijan that they might start a war instead were so many that in some periods they were repeated weekly. Main reason for that is unacceptance of Armenian factor in the region, another is alleged resource superiority based on population and economy size, oil and Turkish support.

C.P.:  What is this time different or new in the military escalation of this conflict aside from the general mobilization decreed by both sides? 

There is intel (information) according to which Turkey would have transfered fighters from the Free Syrian Army (north of Syria) and Libya to Azerbaijan for fighting the separatists. What is your comment on this intel (information)?

There are also speculations according to which Armenia would have transfered YPG-PKK fighters in order to occupy the territory in Nagorno-Karabakh and train militias to fight Azerbaijan. Can you comment on this claim?

H.M.:  There are some differences. The scale of fire, number of victims (overall as of now number could be close to 5,000), but generally nothing new. Turkey directly supported Azerbaijan in 1992-4, 2016 and 2020. It’s Armenia speaking out more about that. This time it was not unexpected at all. BBC reported about mass mobilization in Azerbaijan on September 24, 2020.

Concerning foreign fighters, this is anything but new. In 1992-4, Azerbaijan used Afghani, Chechen and Ukrainian fighters. Generally, Azerbaijan widely uses imported human resources. In sport, in healthcare (in July, 115 Cuban doctors arrived to combat covid) and now Syrians (mainly Turkmen, who’s language is close to Azerbaijani). Those coming from Lybia are still Syrians. There were official statements by French, Iranians, Russians, Syria itself and other countries, as well as media reports in US and UK top level press.

Concerning Kurds. Turkey always used this allegation to attack Armenia; same it did to attack Syria. Armenia is open and transparent country. If in Azerbaijan it is impossible to hide Syrians, then in Armenia it would be even harder to hide Kurds. What’s logistics? (flights from Turkey and Lybia have been tracked by FlightRadar). Who are they? There are Armenian Yazidis, who basically share same language with Kurds, who do actively participate in the war from Armenian side, but they do not have any connection to the PKK.

C.P.:  In the Nagorno-Karabah conflict Azerbaijan enjoys an open backing/support from Turkey.  What is this backing/support exactly? 

H.M.:  On the first instance it is political support and Armenia’s deterrance. Also there is a lot of military help.

Turkey warned Armenia not to use “Iskander” or Turkey will attack Armenia directly. Turkey keeps it’s armed units in Nakhichevan, which became Turkish-Azerbaijani stronghold near Yerevan. Turkey helps Azerbaijan on the diplomatic level, providing aid from many Islamic countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan. Turkey is providing Azerbaijan with the bold support on the surveillance and intelligence data. Turkey is arming Azerbaijan with some of its best weapons including Bayraktar UAVs.

In 2010 they had an agreement with Azerbaijan on military issues and according to it, Turkey is protecting Azerbaijan, while in February 2020 Erdogan declared himself side of the conflict, saying: “Karabakh issue is Turkish issue as much as Azerbaijan’s”. Turkey is providing Azerbaijan with institutional support especially in Army, Azerbaijani Army is being built copying Turkey. Turkey is providing Azerbaijan with instructors in the place, which have been captured by local media. Turkey is holding joint military exercise with Azerbaijan: in 2019 about 10 times. Turkey has sent foreign fighters and guerilla to Azerbaijan in 1990s and in 2020. Turkey is keeping Armenia isolated, border closed allegedly because of NK’s capture of some Azeri territories. And, in 2020 they shot down Armenian plane with F-16 and NYT journalist has found satellite picture proving F-16 was in Ganja in the beginning of October 2020.

Basically – anything except direct invasion to Armenia. So, in Armenia it is considered that although majority of the fighters on the ground are Azeris, generally Armenia is fighting with Turkish expansionism, also noting that if not hard Turkish support and even pressure to do so.

C.P.:  What is the limit of the backing/support granted to Azerbaijan which the Russian Federation will not tolerate?

H.M.:  Russia would not never accept two things: permanent Turkish military presence and Jihadi fighters. However, generally Russia is not happy with the fact of the war occurring and Turkish activities in its backyard. Also, Russia would never accept direct Turkish invasion to Armenia.

C.P.:  What is the backing/support you think Russia could grant Armenia in this conflict? How would things change in such a scenario? 

H.M.:  Russia tries to stay neutral in it but it is hard in the light of active destabilizing efforts of Turkey’s Erdogan. So, for stabilization of the situation, Russia has to neutralize Turkish influence in the region. In the second instance, to stabilize, Russia needs to restore status-quo. Currently, Armenia’s only major problem on the field of war are Azerbaijani UAVs, in the mid-term it’s supply of the weapons.

C.P.:  Why do you think the mediation efforts of the international community – UN, the OSCE Minsk Group and the states of the region have failed – and what each of those could/should do for an amiable and lasting solution to the conflict?

H.M.:  In my opinion, international community has to make more addressed statements. If Azerbaijan violates terms of ceasefire, international community must stop it and not stating that „Armenia says Azerbaijan has started the war, Azerbaijan says it was Armenia.” Both sides will always do. But we need effective mechanism of control of ceasefire, effective measures to identify, who began and bolder dialog on what is acceptable and what is inacceptable on the negotiations table. For example, Aliyev’s statements that conflict should be resolved in the frame of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan mean that he does not want any solution. 

Also sides should be prepared to long-term peace. That mediators do understand. But they usually expect it only on Armenian side, while growing hatred in Azerbaijan, sponsored, promoted and spread by the government is not area of their concern. In 2005, Julfa Armenian medieval semetery with many historical monuments was completely destroyed, which lead to no reaction. There were many cases of cultural monuments destruction in Azerbaijan, while in Shushi the mosque is being restored (and not only there). In 2004 (and many times on) Azeri officer beheaded Armenian officer and in 2012 he was heroized in Azerbaijan. Again, no reaction.

Unless there is no trust between people, unless the borders are open, unless people can trade, unless all hatred is removed from the school textbooks, no conflict resolution is possible. Even the best agreement will fail if people hate each other. Even ordinary people might start fighting in the streets the very next day they will be in contact and war will restart. So the international community failed to understand that the nature of the conflict is unacceptance of Azerbaijan of the rights of Armenians to live in the region. Ilham Aliyev was claiming not only Artsakh (Karabakh), but Syunik (Zangezur), Sevan (Goycha) and Yerevan (Erivan) are Azerbaijani.

C.P.:  Ethnic autonomy (Armenia) vs. Territorial independence (Azerbaijan).  What do you think are the actual compromises Armenia can make, on the opne hand, and Azerbaijan, on the other,  for an amiable and lasting solution of the conflict? 

H.M.:  First of all, hatred, closed borders, external players should be off the table. When that is done, many options can appear and bring the resolution of the conflict based on reasonable compromises. But discussing compromise while military solution is not completely excluded is a blackmail.

C.P.:  The lessons taught show that any unsolved conflict risks during global turbulences to go into resonance with the conflictual situations in the region and is mutually influenced by other regional conflicts and entails in accordance with the domino principle more and more players if the conflict is made permanent and turns into a full-fledged large scale war. – How would you comment on the evolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in this context?

H.M.:  Nagorno-Karabakh conflict possesses such risk because there is great interest from many sides, but at the same time, there are several mechanism which decrease this chance: Iran and Russia are strictly against any wider involvement to the bordering area and the Caucasus region in general. 

C.P.:  I do thank you verry much.

_______________________

Hrant Mikaelian, PhD in Economy and Governance at Yerevan State University  since 2017.  From September 2010 Senior Researcher in social sciences- Caucasus Institute Yerevan.

Involved in many research projects as a team leader, researcher or research assistant. Prepared reports, articles and books summarizing the research results. Preparing consultancy papers for the customers. Topics of research: economic development, informal economy, IT and labour market, assessment of quality of state institutions and statistical measure of social trends (including demographics, migration, inequality). Contributed to Institute’s organizational activities. He published two books and several articles.

Conducted research for “Armenia” section of Nations in Transit report by Freedom House (years 2010-2016) and Varieties of Democracy (2020).

Corneliu Pivariu: exclusive interview for Geopolitica blog made through on-line correspondence. The emphasis belongs to the author and the titles and subtitles are given by the blog.

About the author:

Corneliu Pivariu. Photographer: Ionus Paraschiv.
Corneliu Pivariu. Photographer: Ionus Paraschiv.

Corneliu Pivariu Military Intelligence and International Relations Senior Expert

A highly decorated retired two-star general of the Romanian army, during two decades he has led one of the most influential magazines on geopolitics and international relations in Eastern Europe, the bilingual journal Geostrategic Pulse.

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