Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict in the Caucasus

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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. 

It Is Unthinkable That People of Different Nationalities and Religions Die on the Field of Nagorno-Karabakh In the 21st Century. 

Exclusive interview for Geopolitica granted by His Excellency Azer Khudiev,  former Ambassador of Azerbaijan in Ukraine.

His Excellency Azer Khudiev, former Ambassador of Azerbaijan in Ukraine.

Corneliu Pivariu (C.P.): Excellency, I am much obliged for your kindness of granting an interview for my blog Geopolitica. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has a history of more than 30 years.

What is the historical evolution of Azerbaijan’s position during the mandates af the two Azerbaijani presidents: Heydar Aliyev and Ilham Aliyev?  Does Azerbaijan still believe in a diplomatic solution for solving this conflict? Why (not)? Do you consider Armenia preferes a military solution for for solving this conflictt? Why (not)?

His Excellency former Ambassador  Azer Khudiyev (H.E.A. Kh.): Taking this opportunity, I would like to express my gratitude for the interest to the problem that Azerbaijan has faced for decades, and for giving me the opportunity to talk about the realities in my country.

I would like to start with the fact that, by the will of fate, in 1996-2003, I had the opportunity to work with the national leader of Azerbaijan, President Heydar Aliyev; he was a person of large-scale political caliber, a person who had a good life experience and a special political school.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Azerbaijan, along with some former republics, inherited such a difficult legal legacy as the loss of territorial integrity: the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan, the Transnistrian conflict in Moldova and the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict in Georgia.

Neighboring Armenia occupied 20 percent of our historical and legal lands, and as a result of ethnic cleansing, more than a million Azerbaijanis were forced to leave their homes and homeland. In those difficult times for Azerbaijan, when the economy and social situation in the country was in a ruined state, and the country was cut off from communications with the outside world, Heydar Aliyev led the country and achieved the suspension of bloodshed. In the shortest possible time he was able to organize the settlement of refugees throughout the territory of Azerbaijan. He had formed the state vertical of power, established relations with outer world. Having established stability, he managed to attract huge investments, primarily in the oil sector.

He has always been committed to resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict exclusively by peaceful diplomatic means. For this, many high-level meetings were held at various international platforms. But unfortunately, despite all his diplomatic efforts, certain political circles in Russia and the West always hindered him.

President Aliyev succeeded in preserving the statehood and independence of Azerbaijan on the global political map. The next President, Ilham Aliyev, followed his political course and managed to develop and establish Azerbaijan in the international arena. President Ilham Aliyev chose a strategy to open up to the world, to make our country more attractive; we have entered the stage of new regionalism and made our country multi-cultural, highly developed, socially stable and economically attractive.

Today, according to the statements of some Western leaders, after 27 years it is already clearly visible who has been the enemy of peace in the Nagorno-Karabakh region all these years. Each time, assisted by Armenia’s western curators, the peace negotiation process did not come out of the impasse. E.g. we saw periodic destructive statements by France, although it is a member of the OSCE Minsk Group as well as a co-chairing country in regards to our conflict. An important factor in this protracted conflict is the fact that the guarantor of the security of the Republic of Armenia is the Russian Federation, which has deployed its military bases on Armenian territory.

As a diplomat with over 20 years of diplomatic experience, I would like to state that my country has been making daily efforts to resolve this issue peacefully. We understand that any war deepens the suffering of any people; war is a crippled fate and lost lives. But in recent years, especially with the arrival of the new Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and as a result of his populist statements and defiant actions, the process of peace negotiations only aggravated. Especially, the feelings of the Azerbaijani people and leadership were infringed by its frequent ostentatious visits to our occupied territories, in particular, the city of Shusha, which is the soul, the cradle of culture and music of the Azerbaijani people.

Most recently, Shusha on a weekly basis hosted, provocative for us, events and festivals of various levels including with invited foreign guests. One of the latest resonant statements by PM Nikol Pashinyan that: “Karabakh is Armenia, period!” caused a violent reaction of the Azerbaijani people as well as aroused its anger.

On July 12, 2020, as a result of another military provocation by Armenia, the Azerbaijani military were killed including the General of the Azerbaijani Army Pollad Gashimov, on the territory of Azerbaijan bordering Armenia and Georgia, a place far from the front line; this was followed by a new wave people’s anger and an appeal to the Government of Azerbaijan to suspend negotiations and return Karabakh by any means. On September 27, 2020, the Azerbaijani civilians were shelled from the territories of the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh causing military casualties also. This incident prompted the Azerbaijani government to start counter-offensive operations to liberate the occupied territories.

I would like to especially stress that it was Pashinyan and his team that really needed this war to distract Armenian people’s attention from the internal political tension that had developed in Armenia. First of all, it is a deplorable socio-economic and demographic situation, which has not been successfully resolved, despite his promises during the “velvet revolution” in Armenia. By the way, none of his promises to the Armenian people have been fulfilled. The social standard of living of Armenian citizens is deteriorating from year to year. Thousands of people leave Armenia massively, especially young people, in search for a work, mainly in Russia. An interesting fact is that Armenians, in hunting for a job or a better life do not hesitate to migrate even to Turkey. All these problems pushed the Armenian people to the need to change the government.

Secondly, owing to N. Pashinyan’s populist and inconsistent activities the peace negotiation process nearly stopped, thereby causing great discontent on the part of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen. Armenia was rapidly moving towards the loss of the last signs of independence of its foreign policy. Therefore, Pashinyan needed a more impressive reason to justify. And apparently, together with his patrons, he finally found a formula for solving his political problems. This is a traditional Turkic threat only thanks to which Armenian establishment can ‘justify’ its military, political, information and diplomatic adventure.

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

There is intel (information) according to which Armenia would have transfered YPG-PKK fighters in order to occupy the territory in Nagorno-Karabakh and to train militias there in fighting Azerbaijan.

How do you comment on this intel?

There are also speculations  according to which Turkey would have transfered fighters from the Free Syrian Army  (north of Syria) and Libya to Azerbaijan in order to fight the separatists. 

Can you comment on this claim?

H.E.A.Kh.: Exactly a year ago, Armenia began a massive settlement of people from the Middle East to of our occupied territories, particularly ethnic Armenians from Syria, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries. This process was carried out openly, with no hiding.

Official Baku has repeatedly informed the OSCE and other relevant international organizations about this. In recent months, official Baku had information about the involvement of mercenaries and Kurdish militias from the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). The other day, the Special Service of Azerbaijan published a radio interception, where PKK militants express regret that they came to the conflict zone and were deceived by the Armenians. Photo proofs of PKK mercenaries’ presence were released. Thus, Armenia started a very dangerous business, engaging Middle East terrorists into the war in Karabakh against Azerbaijan.

There are numerous facts confirming this. At the same time, Armenian top brass falsely accused Azerbaijan of using the ISIS fighters. By this, official Yerevan wants to present the operations to liberate the occupied territories as a war between religious radicals, and to catch the entire Christian world’s eye. Of course, these are all despisable attempts by a weak but aggressive state. Azerbaijan has a population of 10 million, which is almost 4 times the population of Armenia, which minimizes the need to recruit mercenaries. It is a well-known that there is a hybrid and information war going on.

In this context, the Armenian side does not squeamish, and has never did, the release fake information. To date, not a single international organization including, first of all, the UN and the EU and especially the OSCE Minsk Group member states, is making no feasible effort to stop the occupying country – Armenia. Only, brotherly Turkey is making every effort on both international arena and regional level to restore Azerbaijani territorial integrity and historical justice.

Azerbaijan is grateful to Turkey for moral and diplomatic support. There is a high political dialogue between our countries as well as military-technical cooperation. Azerbaijan purchases from fraternal Turkey modern precision weapons, drones and other military-technical means, which the Azerbaijani army successfully uses in military operations to liberate the occupied territories.

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

H.E. E.A.: In geopolitical terms as of our region, Azerbaijan and Turkey create a new concept of regional security and act as a single stabilizing force contributing to the formation of a new reliable and stable system of regional and global security. In this context, of course, Russia’s influence will slightly weaken, and its role of the major regional player will shift into another channel. In other words, Russia in the South Caucasus are losing their strategic and geopolitical positions. Russia is also a strategic partner of Azerbaijan and our country, unlike Armenia, has always been a predictable and reliable partner in political and economic terms.

Armenia, on the other hand, has long become an unnecessary burden for Russia with its eternal problems; in a word, they are like a “suitcase without a handle” – hard to drag but grieves to dump it. In my opinion, Armenia’s biggest mistake is that it is trying in every possible way to draw Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) into this conflict. But Russia is now showing restraint as never before and does not want to be drawn into this war that started. And this is not because Russia or the CSTO are not strong enough, but because Russia knows that by interfering now it will definitely lose a reliable partner, Azerbaijan, as well as influence in the South Caucasus.

C.P.: What is the limit of Turkey’s backing/support for Azerbaijan which the Russian Federation will not tolerate?

H.E.A.Kh.: It is a well-known fact that Armenia and Russia are members of a regional international organization called the CSTO. Its purpose, among other things, is to protect the independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the member states on a collective basis; at that, the priority in achieving this goal is given to political means. In other words, Azerbaijan, without encroaching on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Armenia, does not give any reason for Russia’s military intervention at the moment, since the Azerbaijani army is conducting a liberation operation to de-occupy territories within the internationally recognized Azerbaijani borders. Our country has used the UN Charter’s  Article 51 and is complying with all norms and principles of international law.

If Russia decided to intervene and provide Armenia with support, then fraternal Turkey with its no less powerful army would instantly find itself on a par with the Azerbaijani army. This was declared by the entire top leadership of Turkey. It is gratifying to emphasize that these powerful states and our strategic partners are still refraining from direct interference. I think this is very correct.

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

H.E.A.Kh.: This year the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary. The main goal and task of this organization is to preserve and strengthen lasting peace and stability. But today we see that conflicts and wars are raging in many regions and many regions are faced with a humanitarian disaster. As you can see, the UN activities are not as effective as expected.

Recently, the issue of reforming the UN has been increasingly raised at its annual general assemblies in order to increase its effectiveness. Unfortunately, the bureaucrats there show stubborn resistance to the process of renewal and new changes. In my subjective opinion, today’s UN is like a toothless old woman who, for the sake of respect, is listened to but not considered. Despite four UN Security Council’s resolutions call for a ceasefire and clearly stipulate the immediate withdrawal of Armenian military formations from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, unfortunately none of these resolutions have been implemented to this day.

The OSCE Minsk Group has not yet resolved a single conflict in the post-Soviet space including our conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. I myself represented my country for 4 years in this organization and witnessed that the OSCE does not have the necessary mechanisms for resolving conflicts. Within the framework of this organization, there are only discussions around some issue or topic. And this is already diplomatic and moral nonsense! This shows that international organizations lost their diplomatic and moral consciousness and traditional humane essence, and are in a deep crisis!

In this context, the behavior of France, which is one of the OSCE Minsk Group member states, causes great concern. France openly supports the aggressor. I think that after all the statements by official Paris, France cannot and does not have the moral right to continue its activities in the OSCE Minsk Group. France, in fact, blocks the path leading to a peaceful settlement of the conflict and this harms not only its democratic image, but also puts the EU in a very difficult position.

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

H.E.A.Kh.: Azerbaijan has always been committed to the peaceful regulation of this issue, otherwise we would not have waited 28 years for its resolution in a peaceful way. There are the Madrid principles, which are the basis for a phased settlement of the conflict. These principles were agreed by all parties including the Minsk Group member states. Basic principles include:

• Return of territories around Nagorno-Karabakh under the control of Azerbaijan; this means five regions that have nothing to do with the Nagorno-Karabakh region;

• Granting interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh;

• Providing a corridor linking Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh;

• Defining the future final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will;

• Return of all refugees to their places of former residence;

• International security guarantees and deployment of peacekeeping forces.

 But unfortunately, in recent years, the Armenian side began to reject and ignore the previously agreed principles and stopped their further discussion. In order to really start solving the Karabakh problem it is necessary to pave the way for mutual trust. For that matter, above all, the first condition must be fulfilled: five regions near Nagorno-Karabakh should be returned. But the Armenian side continues imitation and strives for status quo that is not acceptable for the Azerbaijani side. The unacceptability of the status quo has even been repeatedly stated by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. Ignoring all the calls of the co-chairs and manipulating, the Armenian side itself brought the peace negotiation process into a final deadlock. Unfortunately, there are no compromises on the part of Armenia.

C.P.: Territorial independence (AZ) vs. Ethnic autonomy (AM). What are, in your opinion, the actual compromises Azerbaijan could make, on the one hand, and Armenia, on the other hand, for an amiable and lasting solution of the conflict? 

H.E.A.Kh.: Given the tense geopolitical dynamics in the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, one can conclude that if the South Caucasus strong powers do not observe international law, do not act fairly and continue to support and curate the aggressor, then the global security system will suffer greatly. Moreover, one cannot exclude that a large-scale war will break out with the participation of big states.

As a representative of a progressive and humane mankind and as a diplomat who appreciates and strives for peace, I am very sorry that people of different nationalities and religions are dying on the fields of Nagorno-Karabakh. This should not be the case in the 21st century.

C.P.: If  Your Excellency would like to add something for my readers, kindly do it……

I thank you very much and wish peace for Azerbaijan and the world.

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.

For impartiality purposes I asked unseccessfully for an interview on the same theme with an embassy of the Republic of Armenia known to me. In exchange, I was recommended an expert in Yerevan  whom I contacted  and he had the kindness to answer promptly to my request. His answers are presented simultaneously on the blog.

Azer Khudayar oglu Khudiyev Born 1975.
1992-1997 – Faculty of Engineering of Land Vehicles, Azerbaijan Technical University 1997-2001  Faculty of Administrative Management, Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2009-2011 – Faculty of International Relations, Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine 2011 (February-July) – Strategic Researches and State Defense Management courses, Military Academy of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2015, 2016, 2017 – Black Sea Security Program, Harvard UniversitySince 2000 several post in Foreign Affaires Ministry and in 2016 – On September 6, by the Order of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan he was appointed Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to Ukraine, until 2020. 2016 – On October 27, by the Order of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan he was simultaneously appointed Permanent Representative of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development-GUAM

Source: text and photo  – by the kind attention of His Excellency Azer Khudayar  

About the author:

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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