Twenty years later, Armenians and Azerbaijanis keep each other in the gunsights in South Caucasus.
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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will meet with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev next Tuesday for talks that should focus on the current impasse in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, it was announced on Friday.
A short statement by the Kremlin said the meeting will be held in Russia’s Black Sea city of Sochi. “The visit [by Aliyev] will take place at the invitation of the President of Russia,” the statement said without specifying its agenda.
Aliyev’s office did not immediately confirm the information.
The Sochi talks will come less than two months after Medvedev’s dramatic failure to broker a framework agreement to end the Karabakh conflict at the most recent Armenian-Azerbaijani summit held in another Russian city, Kazan.
Contrary to high international expectations, Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian did not overcome their remaining disagreements on the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement proposed by Russia and the two other mediating powers, the United States and France.
Medvedev subsequently presented Aliyev and Sarkisian with a set of unpublicized proposals aimed at salvaging the peace process. The content of their replies sent to the Russian president last month remains unknown.
It is not clear whether Sarkisian may also travel to Sochi in the coming days. His press office could not be reached for comment.
The Armenian leader is currently on vacation. According to unconfirmed news reports, he is spending it in Cyprus.
Medvedev commented on the Karabakh dispute in an interview with Russian and Georgia broadcasters on Thursday. The interview was dedicated to the third anniversary of the Russian-Georgian war in South Ossetia.
In Medvedev’s words, the five-day war taught Armenia and Azerbaijan a “very serious lesson.” He said both Sarkisian and Aliyev told him in 2008 that “it is better to hold endless negotiations about the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh, about whether there will ever be a referendum [on the territory’s status] there, about how to prepare a peace accord, than to go through five days of war.”
Some Azerbaijani pundits criticized the remarks on Friday, calling them a warning addressed to Baku.
“Instead of telling Armenia to liberate the occupied territories of Azerbaijan … Medvedev is threatening Azerbaijan with a repeat of the August  events,” Vafa Guluzade, a former senior aide to Aliyev’s late father and predecessor Heydar, was quoted by the Regnum news agency as saying.
Zardusht Alizade, a prominent Azerbaijani analyst, also claimed that Medvedev warned Baku that it could face “a repeat of the Georgian events.”
Reporters Without Borders is very concerned that both Armenia and Azerbaijan have been denying entry to foreign journalists amid an increase in tension between the two countries over Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory within Azerbaijan that has a mostly Armenian population. The media have become a hostage to this conflict.
“We urge the Armenian and Azerbaijan authorities to leave the media out of their diplomatic dispute,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Journalists must be free to do their work, which involves covering matters of general interest, including ones as sensitive as the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. They must be able to able to move about without having to obtain permission from either side. Compiling blacklists of journalists for exclusion is both unacceptable and ineffective.”
In the latest case, Yuri Snegirev, the correspondent of the Russian daily Izvestiya, was banned from entering Azerbaijan on 1 July as a result of two articles about Nagorno-Karabakh that were published on 29 and 30 June. The ban was announced by foreign ministry spokesman Elkhan Polukhov, who accused Snegirev of just reflecting the Armenian viewpoint. The ministry also complained that he had used the Armenian names for the cities of Stepanakert and Shushi (Khankendi and Shusha in Azeri) although they are the names usually used in Russian.
Three days before that, on 28 June, Bloomberg photo-journalist Diana Markosyan was denied entry to Azerbaijan on landing at Baku airport. The authorities initially claimed that Bloomberg had changed the name on its accreditation request at the last moment. But Markosyan told Reporters Without Borders she had been in regular contact with Polukhov during the three weeks prior to her arrival and that her news agency had sent all the requested documents.
Polukhov finally recognised that the reason for the ban was Markosyan’s Armenian-sounding surname although she has US and Russian dual nationality and had never been to Armenia. “Bloomberg management was informed that Azerbaijan is at war with Armenia,” Polukhov said. “For this reason, there would be problems providing security for the Armenian Diana Markosyan. We asked the agency to send another photographer instead of Markosyan.”
“If it was impossible, why didn’t the authorities tell me earlier?” Markosyan told Reporters Without Borders.
Sergei Buntman, the deputy chief editor of the Moscow-based independent radio station Ekho Moskvy, was banned from visiting Azerbaijan on 23 May. Paralleling his later action with Snegirev, Polukhov announced the ban the day after Ekho Moskvy broadcast interviews conducted by Buntman with the leaders of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Like Snegirev, Buntman had also upset the Azerbaijani authorities by travelling to Nagorno-Karabakh without requesting their permission. The region is nonetheless a de facto independent state and impartial coverage of the issue necessitates a visit.
Nagorno-Karabakh is not the only story that has resulted in foreign journalists being denied entry or deported from Azerbaijan. A TV crew from Sweden’s First National TV was arrested and escorted to the airport while trying to cover an opposition demonstration on 17 April.
A few days later, a leading New York Times reporter was told he would not get a visa if did not submit the articles he had written about Azerbaijan and explain why there was so much “negative information” about Azerbaijan in the United States. “This is all rather stupid and ridiculous,” the journalist told Reporters Without Borders. “In the 21st century, you can be in Australia and interview someone living in London, Moscow or Baku (...) All they will achieve this way is that our stories will not longer include their views or comments because they refuse to talk to us.”
Although apparently a less repressive country, Armenia preceded its neighbour in barring journalists. A four-member crew that wanted to film interviews for a documentary that the Lithuanian TV station Komanda was making about Nagorno-Karabakh was denied entry on arrival at Yerevan airport on 11 March. They finally left after waiting for 28 hours at the airport.
Several Armenian news media then claimed that the documentary’s producer, Andrius Brokas, was a spy working for Azerbaijan and a senior Armenian foreign ministry official told the media that “it is obvious that their aim was to damage Armenia’s reputation.” In response to a query from Reporters Without Borders, foreign ministry adviser Tigran Mkrchyan said in a 22 March letter that the crew was turned back “for security reasons.”
Although inhabited mostly by Armenians, Nagorno-Karabakh was incorporated into Azerbaijan by Stalin. Its declaration of independence in 1991 triggered a violent armed conflict and an exodus of around a million refugees. The dispute has been on hold since a 1994 ceasefire and Nagorno-Karabakh has continued to govern itself during a series of unsuccessful attempts to reach a solution. The past few months have seen a series of bellicose statements by Azerbaijan proclaiming its readiness to recover the lost territory, accompanied by skirmishes along the border.
EU Foreign Affairs High Representative Catherine Ashton briefed the MEPs on situation in Nagorno-Karabakh during European Parliament’s plenary session.
In her speech she stressed that preserving status quo in this situation is unacceptable, AZE.az reports.
According to her, resolution of the conflict will play a positive role in the development of the entire region and lead to its economic stability. Besides, settlement is strategically important for the EU, she said.
Therefore, Ashton believes that the parties must redouble their efforts to reach agreement on the basic principles by the end of 2011.
EU official also touched upon the last meeting of the presidents in Kazan, noting with regret that there was no breakthrough in the negotiations and no compromise was reached. However, Catherine Ashton stressed, the parties should continue to seek options for resolution of conflict by diplomatic means.
EU High Representative also added she was going to visit Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss the situation in Karabakh.
A solution to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict can be found only if the interests of both sides are taken into account, a US academic has commented.
Analyst Ronald Grigor Suny, director of the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies at the University of Michigan and emeritus professor of political science and history at the University of Chicago, made the comments after the latest meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents, mediated by the Russian president on 24 June, ended in failure to reach agreement.
"Nagorno-Karabakh is a problem that can be solved with the recognition of the interests of both sides," Ronald Grigor Suny told APA.
"Such a solution was available about 12 years ago, but that opportunity was lost. The facts that Armenians are the majority and ought to be able to govern themselves in Karabakh has to be reconciled with the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, possibly through a federal status that is real, gives Karabakh full autonomy but maintains a de jure association with Azerbaijan. Neither side will like that solution but it might be a step toward greater cooperation and less hostility," Suny said.
He said that the main problem of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia was that "these three have fallen into a pattern of mutual hostility, based on exclusivist claims to territory, to the rightness of their cause, their own victimhood, and seeing others as enemies".
"How those attitudes will be overcome is very difficult to say, but it is the first important step toward integration into the Euro-Atlantic structure, which is based on forgetting the negative aspects of the past. The Caucasus weakens itself through these conflicts", Suny told APA, adding that negotiation and compromise was the only way out.
Talks on June 24 in the Russian Volga River city of Kazan were billed as crucial for trying to resolve the decades-long conflict surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, the mountainous, mostly Armenian-populated region inside Azerbaijan.
But Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia's Serzh Sarksyan failed to agree on a set of "basic principles" that could have marked the start of a path toward resolution.
On June 25, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian blamed the failure on Azerbaijan in a statement, saying "Kazan did not become a turning point because Azerbaijan was not ready to accept the latest version of the basic principles." He said Azerbaijan wanted "about 10" changes to the document.
Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov denied that his side had been solely responsible for the stalemate.
"Unfortunately, we have been unable to reach a compromise decision on a number of principal issues, because the Armenian side requires maximum concessions from Azerbaijan, distorting the essence of the negotiation process..." he said, adding that the Armenian Foreign Ministry should refrain from "engaging in PR, but [should] work intensively to change the existing negative status quo."
Nonetheless, Mammadyarov did say that he "got the impression" that both the Armenian and Azarbaijani presidents intend to continue "working intensively" toward finding a definitive solution.
Audronius Azubalis, the OSCE's chairman in office
These hopes were echoed by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis, the chairman in office with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has been helping to mediate in the dispute.
"I welcome the efforts in reaching common understanding on a number of issues whose resolution will help create the conditions for approval of the basic principles," he said. "I hope the work to address the outstanding issues will be continued, to pave the way towards resolving the conflict."
Russian television showed the two leaders of the neighboring Caucasus Mountains countries walking around Kazan on June 24, escorted by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who led the mediation efforts. The United States and France are also mediators.
The conflict began in 1988, three years before the Soviet collapse, when Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh. The hostilities killed more than 20,000 people and forced a million into exile. Armenia gained control over Karabakh and seven neighboring regions inside Azerbaijan, around 13 percent of the country's territory.
Playing Down The Failure
A ceasefire in 1994 ended the conflict, leaving Armenian forces in control of the region, which has been simmering ever since. Gunfire and mines routinely kill dozens of people on both sides of the border each year.
Both countries had been under tremendous pressure by the mediators in the lead-up to the summit on June 24. U.S. President Obama called Aliyev and Sarkasian on June 23 to urge them to back an agreement.
The talks were seen as the best chance for a breakthrough because upcoming elections in Armenia and the mediating countries will lessen the changes for a deal.
But Russian state television news, which played up Medvedev's mediating role, also played down the failure, reporting the summit as only the latest installment of regular talks on the issue.
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan said some progress had been made on June 25. A Kremlin statement said they had agreed on "a number of questions whose resolution helps create conditions to approve the basic principles."
Under the settlement framework, Armenia would withdraw its forces from the Azeri regions outside Nagorno-Karabakh, which would be given "interim" status. Hundreds of thousands of refugees would be allowed to return to the region and international peacekeepers brought in to help maintain the ceasefire. Nagorno-Karabakh's final status would be decided in future years.
Despite years of negotiations, the presidents of both countries continue to make inflammatory statements about the region, amid growing concern over a new war. Azerbaijan has been beefing up its military, spending about $3 billion of its oil wealth a year on its army.
There are fears a fresh conflict would draw in Turkey, Iran, Russia and other countries in the region.
written by Gregory Feifer in Prague
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev have failed to reach a breakthrough in negotiations on the longstanding dispute over the breakaway Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Ahead of the two-day summit hosted by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Kazan, Russia, analysts and officials had expressed cautious optimism that the two leaders would agree on a set of basic principles for resolving the conflict.
But on the summit's first day, after more than three hours of negotiations, a short statement issued by the Kremlin said Sarkisian and Aliyev had reached only "mutual understanding on a number of issues whose resolution would help to create conditions for the approval of the basic principles."
Aliyev, Sarkisian, and Medvedev did not make public statements.
On June 24, Kazan will play host to a meeting between Presidents Ilham Aliyev of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Serzh Sargsyan of the Republic of Armenia, with the participation of Dmitry Medvedev, President of the Russian Federation. The meeting is designed to play a landmark role in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement. We expect that Baku and Yerevan will respond constructively to the joint statement that was issued on 26 May in Deauville by the Presidents of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries – the Russian Federation, the United States of America and the French Republic – which calls for the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia to show political will and complete the discussion of the draft Basic Principles for Peaceful Settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict during the Kazan summit.
The document to be discussed in Kazan is the result of an important period of joint work by the parties and the co-chair countries, and constitutes the real basis for further movement forward and the subsequent preparation of a comprehensive Peace Agreement.
We hope that on this basis, the parties will come to an understanding in the interests of the peace, prosperity and development of the region.
Call it a sleeping volcano, the elephant or perhaps even the mammoth in the room. The Armenian-Azeri conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is the longest-running unresolved dispute in the former Soviet Union, dating back to 1988. Much is at stake, from the ordinary human predicament of more than 1 million people displaced by war to the strategic map of the South Caucasus, which has been tied up by this dispute for a generation.
The peace process for Nagorno-Karabakh, mediated by the co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, France, Russia and the United States, does not get much attention, for understandable reasons. It has dragged on for years without results. There is nothing newsworthy about it. Negotiations are conducted behind closed doors between an inner group of about a dozen individuals, making it very closed — in fact, far too closed for its own good.
A few near successes trumpeted by the mediators over the years inevitably evoke cynicism about the latest initiative. Many Armenians, having won a military victory in 1994, do not want to give up captured territory in return for an uncertain future. Many Azeris, flush with oil and gas revenues, believe they can wait until circumstances turn more in their favor in a few years.
This time could be different, however. President Dmitry Medvedev has convened a meeting of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan in Kazan on Friday. He is calling on them to agree to a framework deal, the Document on Basic Principles, which the parties to the conflict have been discussing in various drafts since 2007 and whose basic ideas were first formulated in 2004. In other words, a small document has been under discussion for a period longer than World War II. It is truly a moment of decision.
The outline of the Document on Basic Principles was released into the public domain in two declarations made at the Group of Eight summits at L’Aquila and Muskoka in 2009 and 2010. It consists of six elements that seek to reconcile the Armenian aspiration for Nagorno-Karabakh’s secession with Azerbaijan’s claim to territorial integrity.
The six elements, as stated at Muskoka, are: “The return of the occupied territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh; interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh guaranteeing security and self-governance; a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh; final status of Nagorno-Karabakh to be determined in the future by a legally binding expression of will; the right of all internally displaced persons and refugees to return; and international security guarantees, including a peacekeeping operation.”
The most eye-catching elements in this package are the second and fourth points, which try to square the impossible issue of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status. They are designed to persuade the Armenian side to give up the Azeri territories it captured outside Nagorno-Karabakh and has kept as a “security zone” pending a decision on the future status of the disputed enclave. The innovative term “interim status” will fascinate diplomats and international legal scholars as they ponder similar sovereignty disputes. It means a status that falls short of independence but gives Nagorno-Karabakh a place in the international system it does not have at the moment. The “legally binding expression of will” constitutes the theoretical promise of a vote on independence for the Armenian side. The timing and modalities of such a vote are the main target of concern for the Azeri side as it goes to Kazan.
The declaration made at the G8 summit in Deauville in May by Medvedev, U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy crystallized the impression that the mediators have decided that now is the moment — five years on — to make the leaders bridge their differences on the Document on Basic Principles. The differences on paper are small enough for Medvedev to raise the stakes and demand his two colleagues to close the deal.
Medvedev has personally involved himself in this process. This is the fifth meeting he has convened, and he has edited the document himself. His central role usefully turns the spotlight on Aliyev and Sargsyan so that they have fewer places to hide. It also exposes him and his reputation to the risk of failure.
Up until now, resistance in the region to a peace settlement has always been stronger than international pressure. The suspicion has always been that the Armenian and Azeri leaders are too comfortable with their status quo, bad as it is for their citizens, and prefer not to step into terra incognita, unleash domestic opposition and make peace with the enemy. Leaders on both sides — especially Azerbaijan, the losing party in the conflict of 1991-1994 — continue to use strong nationalist rhetoric at home, even as they negotiate peace in private in foreign capitals. For peace to begin to happen on the ground, there needs to be a “rhetoric cease-fire” in which trust can start to form gradually between the two conflicting parties.
It is worth underscoring the amazing fact that for all the years of diplomacy that have gone into it, the Document on Basic Principles is only a framework agreement. If it is agreed, there will then be a push to sign a comprehensive peace treaty several months down the line. That also means there will be a dangerous moment of hiatus in which even if initial agreement is reached, heavy domestic Armenian and Azeri opposition will remain against the deal.
Medvedev’s mini-summit in Kazan could usher in a fundamentally new phase in this protracted conflict, but there will still be a lot of work to do. If there is a breakthrough, it will require much greater international commitment to make peace a reality on the ground. If there is disappointment, expectations will have been raised and will have to be handled. There will be a greater risk of conflict, and the other international actors — primarily the United States — will need to move in and apply pressure to hold things together in the Caucasus.
President Obama made phone calls today to Armenian President Serzh Sargsian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in advance of their upcoming summit on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that Russian President Dimitriy Medvedev will host in Kazan, Russia on June 24th.
The President reaffirmed the message expressed in his May 26th joint statement with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs President Nicholas Sarkozy and President Medvedev that the moment has come for all the sides to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to take a decisive step towards a peaceful settlement.
President Obama strongly encouraged the two leaders to finalize and endorse the Basic Principles during their meeting with President Medvedev in Kazan. Once the Basic Principles are agreed to, the parties can begin negotiating a final settlement based on the Helsinki principles of non-use of force or threat of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples.
President Obama told both leaders that now is the time to resolve this conflict and to offer the people of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh a better future for themselves and for their children. The United States will continue to support both leaders and the Minsk Group Co-Chairs in their important efforts to advance security and prosperity in the region.
THE Soviet Union had three years left when rumbles hinting at its imminent collapse began to reverberate in the Caucasus. In 1988 leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory populated mainly by ethnic Armenians, demanded a transfer from Soviet Azerbaijan to Soviet Armenia. The Kremlin refused and a nasty war between Azeris and Armenians followed. As Thomas de Waal, an author on the Caucasus, writes, “it was the first stone in an avalanche that swept away the entire multinational construction of the Soviet Union.” Some 20,000 people died in the war and over a million became refugees. Armenia won, gaining control over seven Azerbaijani regions next to Karabakh. A ceasefire came in 1994. Pipelines sprang up to ship oil and gas from Azerbaijan. Karabakh has gained some features of a state, but is the most combustive spot in the region.
Worryingly, Azerbaijan has poured energy revenues into its army—it spends $3 billion a year (5% of GDP). It makes menacing noises about reconquest. A new war would risk Azerbaijan’s petro-wealth, but irrational behaviour is all too common in the Caucasus. A renewed conflict in a region that includes Turkey, Iran, Russia and Georgia is the stuff of nightmares.
Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, is the latest mediator. This weekend he will sit with his counterparts, Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliev and Armenia’s Serzh Sargsyan, in the Russian city of Kazan to cajole them into accepting some basic principles first drafted in 2007. The idea is that Armenia should withdraw from Azerbaijani regions outside Karabakh and that the disputed territory should win “interim status”, giving it some international legitimacy but falling short of full independence.
Mr Medvedev has invested time and effort in what will be his fifth trilateral meeting. Yet many experts who have watched these peace talks fail repeatedly remain sceptical. The two countries’ semi-authoritarian leaders seem to prefer process to results and have done nothing to prepare people for peace. They may negotiate compromises in private, but they make fiery “no surrender” speeches in public.
There are doubts over Russia’s motives. A benevolent explanation is that it has leverage over its ally, Armenia. Helping to resolve a complex conflict would win Mr Medvedev kudos. Grigory Shvedov, editor of Caucasian Knot, an online news agency, argues that Russia’s strategic goal is to increase its political and economic influence in the Caucasus. Dominating negotiations, he says, may be more important than a solution that increases Turkey’s influence.
Turkey would indeed benefit from a peace deal, but its sway over Azerbaijan is limited despite its big Azeri population. In a typical case of tail wagging dog, says Mr de Waal, Azerbaijan sabotaged moves to reopen the border between Turkey and Armenia in 2009. Yet he sees Mr Medvedev’s initiative as the best chance for peace. The Armenians are signalling that they accept the draft. Azerbaijan has not rejected it but has not hinted at its agreement either.
The Americans and French, the other two mediating powers with Russia, are increasing the pressure. At the recent G8 summit in France, all three presidents stated that “further delay would only call into question the commitment of the sides to reach an agreement.” If the two leaders agree in Kazan, it will be a big step, even if it leaves room for new disputes. Were Armenia to withdraw from its “security zone”, the question arises of who would replace it. Russia may hope its role would give it an edge for providing peacekeepers, but that may not appeal after the August 2008 war in Georgia. Any notion of involving NATO troops would be fiercely resisted by Russia and Iran. One thing is certain: making peace in Nagorno-Karabakh requires the skill of walking over a minefield.
When the presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia meet this week, flanked by U.S. and French diplomats, they’ll attempt to budge a geopolitical bolder -- and not let it fall back on them.
That’s the metaphor of choice for Thomas de Waal, a South Caucasus analyst at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has tracked the long-standing conflict between Baku and Yerevan over the breakaway Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
"I've compared [the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process] to the Greek myth of Sisyphus where he rolls the rock up the hill and never quite gets to the top and it rolls down again," de Waal says. "And we've obviously reached one of those moments."
Indeed, in the years since a cease-fire ended the bloody 1988-1994 war over Nagorno-Karabakh, the international community has seen its efforts to resolve the conflict repeatedly stymied. With tensions still simmering, and the territory’s ethnic Armenians maintaining an uneasy de facto independence, each setback in the peace process has threatened to reignite an all-out battle.
But now, many observers believe that there is finally cause for cautious optimism.
Since the beginning of the year, events have rocked places that seemed locked in time. One outcome has been utterly unpredictable oil prices -- $114 a barrel one month, and the low $90s for a barrel of crude that we see now. Shorn mainly of the Arab Spring, oil prices would be somewhere in the $60-$80 range per barrel, according to market watchers such as ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson and Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal. Traders say the Middle East trouble poses risks to the world oil supply, especially if another big oil producer goes off the market, such as Saudi Arabia.
One place the market is excluding from its calculus is Azerbaijan, 1,400 miles further east, which has been shipping between 800,000 and 1 million barrels of high-quality oil into the global market for the last five years. As we've discussed, I myself don't usually think about Azerbaijan in terms of market-shaking instability. Yet, no one expected what we are currently observing in the Middle East, either. As we know from history, including the start of World War I, loose tongues, swollen heads, and distracted minds can lead inadvertently to war. Hence, Azerbaijan merits a look.
Tomorrow, the leaders of this Caspian Sea nation and its blood enemy, neighboring Armenia, are to meet in the Russian region of Tatarstan in an attempt finally to begin to bury their 23-year-long, on-and-off violence (Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President Serge Sarkissian pictured above, respectively, with Russia's Dmitry Medvedev). When the countries fought in actual combat -- from 1988 to 1994 -- Azerbaijan lost badly. Armenia captured about a fifth of its territory, including the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia continues to hold this turf, from which all Azeris have long fled or been expelled.
Yet, for at least the last couple of years, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and some of his ministers have engaged in a loud-mouth, trash-talking contest with Armenia. Earlier this month, a spokesman for the Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense said that ultimately his country would "meet the expectations of the people, the government, and the supreme commander-in- chief and will liberate the occupied land from the enemy." Here is a collection of such statements from both sides. In a piece this month, the New York Times' Ellen Barry said she found an antsy, pro-war mood in Baku.
Azerbaijan has spent the last several years rearming, spending more than the entire national budget of Armenia on its military. Thomas de Waal of Carnegie has written compellingly of the chance that one side or the other could miscalculate and trigger a resumption of combat. Seventeen years after the initiation of the current ceasefire, it is at least conceivable that time has softened Aliyev's memory of the mauling that Azerbaijan's soldiers suffered. It is also in the range of possibilities that Armenian President Serge Sarkissian could perceive the imminence of an Azerbaijan attack, and decided to pre-empt.
In either case, global oil prices would run amok. Considering what happened last time, I also personally think that Azerbaijan could be overrun. De Waal says the outcome locally would be a "catastrophe."
In the talks tomorrow, I was told by diplomats that both sides are likelier than ever to close an initial deal, which would lead to a much longer period of talks. Friends tell me to temper the optimism. It is worth listening to them if only to be braced.
Orkhan Gafarli: Before a ceasefire took effect in 1994, the Nagorno-Karabakh War took the lives of over 20,000 people. Now, the “frozen” conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is threatening to heat up once again. Both countries must implement democratic reform if a lasting peace is ever to be reached.
The situation between Azerbaijan and Armenia could be resolved if all of the parties involved realized the fact that the paradigm of the 21st century promotes multi-ethnicity and unity in diversity, a senior Azerbaijani strategist has told Today's Zaman.
The region, and the issues surrounding especially the South Caucasus, is not an easy one to manage, says Dr. Gulshan Pashayeva, deputy director of the Center for Strategic Studies in an exclusive interview. Pashayeva indicates that Turkey and Azerbaijan are cooperating on a variety of issues pertaining to the South Caucasus region and adds that currently more should be done in order to solve the knotty issue that exists between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
However she adds that Azerbaijan already very much appreciates Turkey's efforts in pressuring Armenia to find a reasonable solution that would satisfy all parties. Pashayeva says that Armenia should realize that today's realities are much different from those of 1994.
“Azerbaijan has greatly developed politically, economically and militarily since then. Balance of power between Azerbaijan and Armenia has dramatically changed.
“At the same time it is good to hear the voices of the people like Levon Ter-Petrossian, giving interviews to the Western media where at least we can hear Armenians who provide more rational assessments about current situation in Armenia,” she reiterates.
According to Pashayeva, should there be any kind of progress on Armenian Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh then it will be possible to open the borders to Armenia from both sides, the Turkish and Azerbaijani sides, which in turn will benefit all parties in helping them further prosper.
“All parties including mediators should understand that there is a damaging stalemate at the moment. That is why everybody, including Russia, is doing their best in order to bring the conflicting sides together.”
“And while doing that, Azerbaijan is not trying to put Armenia into the hard position; our approach is to move step-by-step. Let us start with small steps and define interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance of this region,” Pashayeva suggests.
Regarding the Turkey-Azerbaijan relationship Pashayeva agrees that there is room for further cooperation in all levels. For example she mentioned that two Centers for Strategic Studies (SAM) from Azerbaijan and Turkey signed Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in March 2011 in Baku and it provides an excellent opportunity for further fruitful cooperation.
According to Pashayeva, one of the main gaps that exist between Azerbaijan and Turkey is the assumption that the two sides know each other thoroughly. “It seems we are very similar to each other and know each other very well, perhaps because of existence of ethnic, linguistic and cultural ties. However, there are some differences as well which can create misunderstandings at times,” she explains.
In order to address these differences, the interaction at all levels in Turkey and Azerbaijan should gain momentum, she says, adding: “For example, more visits should be conducted at the governmental and civil society levels and furthermore, the representatives of NGOs and the mass media should come to each other's countries. This will open the door for people on both sides to have access firsthand information about, for instance, the occupied territories and their histories, cultures and stories.”
“The two countries have diasporas and by extending their cooperation, they could have a strong influence on American policies just like the other lobbies, for instance. At the same time if we are one nation and two states, perhaps we need one diaspora,” Pashayeva suggests.
The strategic cooperation in the energy field is another important one for both Azerbaijan and Turkey, according to Pashayeva, and the relationship in this field is also developing. She mentions the pipelines of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum where Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia are in full cooperation in the energy field.
In concluding Pashayeva notes that such partnership between the three countries created a very good base for further cooperation in the energy area.
The European Parliament discussed the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh at a plenary session on Wednesday.
Starting off the debate, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton, said that what are known as the Basic Principles for a settlement should remain part of the process.
"Efforts to find an agreement on the Basic Principles must continue and I welcome the fact that both parties recommitted themselves to the diplomatic process and to finding a peaceful solution. But we need to see more than that in the coming months. The parties need to redouble their efforts to find an agreement before the end of the year. This will then happen before domestic priorities take over before 2012," Catherine Ashton said.
The Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents failed to reach agreement on the Basic Principles for a settlement at their latest meeting in Kazan on 24 June, mediated by the Russian president.
Catherine Ashton advocated the development of the EU's ties with Azerbaijan and Armenia as a way of promoting a settlement.
"Perhaps our most important contribution will be to strengthen our bilateral relationships with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The new European policy, which was discussed earlier today, found an ambitious agenda for the countries of the South Caucasus: new association agreements for deeper comprehensive free trade areas, for increasing and facilitating mobility, for increased sector cooperation and participation in EU programmes and increased support for civil society and open society."
She stressed the benefits that a resolution would bring to the region: "A peaceful resolution of the conflict - a key strategic interest to the EU - a resolution to this conflict will transform the South Caucasus region on the path of economic stability. Borders could not open only between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also between Turkey and Armenia, thus the region could become closer to one another."
The foreign policy chief said that the EU stood ready to support the OSCE Minsk Group, the international body directly involved in the negotiating process. "We hold regular consultations with the OSCE on what assistance can be given in this matter."
In the subsequent debate, MEPs said that the conflict could not be considered frozen, while the continuing status quo was also unacceptable.
Estonian MEP, former Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland, called for resolution of the conflict to be based on the principle of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and adopted in accordance with the European Parliament resolution passed in 2010, which calls for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territories, APA reported.
Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek called on Armenia to withdraw its troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. She also called on Azerbaijan to reduce the buildup of arms.
Lithuanian MEP Inese Vaidere said that the EU was not active enough in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. "We have sufficient experience and resources for this," the MEP said.
She said that Armenian troops should be withdrawn from the occupied territories and refugees and IDPs should be able to return to their homes. The MEP said that a visit by Catherine Ashton to Armenia and Azerbaijan would contribute to resolving the conflict. Ashton was to have visited the region in June, but that trip has been postponed.
Inese Vaidere commented that, while Russia was a mediator in the conflict, it was also supplying arms to both sides.
German MEP Elmar Brok talked about the importance of the withdrawal of snipers from the contact line separating Armenian and Azerbaijani troops, something the OSCE Minsk Group mediators have long advocated.
"We need to be clear that we are on the side of the refugees, we want them to go back to the place of their initial residence, and about snipers we need to get rid of them, and the six principles [Basic Principles] that the Minsk Group has adopted and which have been accepted by both sides need to be properly implemented, and other pretexts not to implement them should not be found."
Bulgarian MEP Kristian Vigenin, head of the EU delegation to the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly, which brings together MPs from the EU's Eastern Partnership countries and the European Parliament, expressed his concern about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
"The unsuccessful results of the Kazan meeting perhaps show that the Minsk Group has exhausted its capacity, but the sides should also make more efforts to resolve the conflict," Vigenin said.
He stressed that the European Parliament should also try to play a more important role in resolving the conflict by promoting dialogue between the two countries and was hopeful that the Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw in September could make a contribution to a settlement.
"The European Parliament has a role to play too, in trying to achieve better relationships between the two countries. The representatives of the two countries have played an active part in events and in the Eastern Assembly, as have MEPs. I think we have an opportunity on both sides to take part and to make sure that cooperation between the peoples concerned is the way forward. I am counting on the Polish presidency and on the whole summit to provide a boost in the search for a solution to this conflict."
Russia has again called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to agree on some basic principles as a way to start resolving their longstanding dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.
After Wednesday talks with his Armenian counterpart in Moscow that reportedly lasted for about an hour, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed Russia’s commitment to the joint statement of the conflict mediating powers, also including the United States and France, that Yerevan and Baku must hammer out a framework agreement or face questions regarding their commitment to peace.
“Today this process has reached the final stage, in fact, it is time for making decisions,” stressed Lavrov.
Talks between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan hosted by President Dmitry Medvedev in the Russian city of Kazan late last month failed to produce a deal. Instead, it ended in a statement that the parties had reached “a mutual understanding on a number of issues whose resolution would help to create conditions for the approval of the basic principles.”
“This creates prerequisites for agreement around the basic principles,” said Lavrov, adding that President Medvedev, acting with the support of the other two mediating powers, the United States and France, has “analyzed the situation created after the Kazan summit and will soon make a decision about further steps.”
The Russian minister also reminded the sides about their commitment to resolve the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh exclusively by means of negotiations.
Earlier, the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group, the principal international format for brokering a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, urged the sides to use ‘the momentum’ of the outcome of the Kazan meeting “to reach agreement on the principles as soon as possible.”
In their joint July 5 statement the international mediators also stressed that “the remaining differences should not prevent the sides from accepting the Basic Principles and moving on to the treaty-drafting phase of the peace process.”
At a meeting in Kazan on Friday, presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan Serzh Sargsyan and Ilham Aliyev, contrary to expectations, failed to agree on a “road map” to resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, pledging to continue negotiations. However, future talks may take place without the participation of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
According to information received by the Russian-language publication Kommersant, the Russian president is so disappointed at the outcome of the Kazan summit that he was ready to terminate his mediation mission. He is prepared to organize the next Aliyev-Sargsyan meeting only if the two presidents finally sign a document on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, reports Kommersant.
Although Baku and Yerevan say they are ready to continue negotiations, after the failure of the Kazan summit, the fate of their dialogue remains in question. According to the Kommersant source, unexpected contradictions arose between the diplomats involved in the negotiation process which the mediators had long considered to be resolved.
“The differences are technical as well as substantive, such as the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh,” the source explained. “But the problem is not even the differences as much as the fact that the parties have changed their position several times — but you can’t do that.”
“The failure of the Kazan meeting may have direct implications for the peace initiative of Dmitry Medvedev, who since the fall of 2009 has been actively engaged in the reconciliation between Armenia and Azerbaijan and has already organized 9 trilateral meetings in Russia.
“If in the near future, Armenia and Azerbaijan do not show willingness to resolve the accumulated problems, we will consider the mediation mission complete,” said the source.
Moreover, according to him, Medvedev has actually put forward an ultimatum to the conflicting parties: the next trilateral meeting will take place only when the parties express willingness to sign a document on resolving the Nagorno-Karabkakh conflict, the source said.
MOSCOW — The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met Friday in the Russian city of Kazan to see whether they could finally agree to begin peace talks over a region that has been disputed since the two countries fought a war nearly 20 years ago. They couldn’t.
At issue was Nagorno Karabakh, an unrecognized enclave within Azerbaijan run by ethnic Armenians. Russia, the United States and France have been pushing the two sides to negotiate for years, even as they continue to trade shots over the border. Friday’s meeting was sponsored by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and President Obama called the two leaders Thursday urging them to reach an agreement on the conduct of further talks. But after more than three hours they broke up without a resolution.
Lower-level talks were continuing Friday night.
“The two sides are simply too far apart, but the meeting is a helpful strengthening of diplomacy over war,” said Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center in Yerevan, Armenia.
Each side has been stepping up its threats toward the other recently, to the alarm of Russian, American and European officials who have no desire to see an escalation of the fighting in a region close to Georgia, Iran and the Caspian oil fields.
“War by miscalculation” is the biggest danger, Thomas de Waal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Friday night. “Obviously, time is beginning to run out on Medvedev’s initiative. It doesn’t look good.”
KAZAN, Russia, June 24 (Reuters) - The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan failed on Friday to agree a framework document which would have set the stage for a resolution of their two-decade conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia's Serzh Sarksyan held talks in Russia on Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenian-backed forces wrested from Azeri control in a deadliest war to break out as the Soviet Union splintered apart two decades ago.
The two presidents and their Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev said in a statement after the talks that the sides "confirmed reaching a mutual understanding on a range of issues whose resolution will help create conditions for an approval of the Basic Principles".
The Basic Principles is 14-point framework document that would set the stage for talks on a peace settlement.
The Time has Come: Sarkozy Urges Sargsyan to Show People the Path of Courage, Peace
French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent a message to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan on the eve of the trilateral meeting of the presidents of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan set to take place in Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan, Russia, on Jun. 24.
According to a statement issued by the RA president’s press office, Sarkozy noted that in continuation with the joint statement made by him US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Deauville, he would like to express his conviction that the time has come to affirm the principles on the basis of which genuine settlement negotiations can take place. According to the French president, there are times during the course of history when state leaders have to show their people the path of courage, wisdom and peace. According to Sarkozy, that time is now.
“Know that in all cases, I, as a friend, and with me is France, which considers itself Armenia’s sister, grant you the most genuine wishes for success at this crucial meeting. My country will spare no efforts to support you on this path,” said Sarkozy, according to the statement.
The White House says U.S. President Barack Obama has telephoned the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to urge progress in talks to end the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian-majority enclave located within Azerbaijani borders.
The phone calls came ahead of the June 24 summit between Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. The summit is being held in Kazan, Russia, and hosted by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The White House said Obama urged the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders to sign a "basic principles" agreement aimed at moving toward a resolution of the dispute. Last month, the U.S., Russian, and French presidents jointly called on the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides to take a decisive step toward a peaceful settlement without "further delay."
The "basic principles" set out guidelines for determining the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh. It envisages an Armenian withdrawal from territories in Azerbaijan that surround Karabakh, the return of refugees, and international security guarantees.
Ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia won control of Nagorno-Karabakh in a war that ended with a cease-fire in 1994.
The leaders of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are to meet in Kazan on June 24 to talk about the Karabakh conflict resolution, expecting the parties to sign a set of peace principles putting an end to the problem. Chances are high as the dialogue is mediated by Russia.
This is the fourth forum on the issue, following the meetings in Moscow, Astrakhan and Sochi, all of which resulted in progress due to Dmitry Medvedev’s close contacts with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, that helped them to define their positions and speak about controversies. Russia’s good relations with both countries will play a positive role again, believes a CIS expert Vladimir Zharikhin
"The recent meetings under Russia’s mediation have positively contributed to the conflict resolution and I believe that the Kazan forum will be another brick in the wall of regulation. Russia’s role as an internationally and locally acknowledged mediator was very constructive which is admitted by the Minsk Group mediators (the USA and the EU)"
Nagorno-Karabakh is a breakaway unrecognized enclave in the South Caucasus, whose declaration of independence from Azerbaijan triggered the Nagorno-Karabakh War. On May 12, 1994 the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan have signed a ceasefire but the region’s status is still undefined. Baku stands for its territorial integrity while Yerevan backs the unrecognized republic.
The conflict is mediated by the OSCE Minsk group.The head of the OSCE Marc perrin de Brichambaut hopes for the forum’s success
"The process of seeking a set of peace principles for the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has been going on since 1992 and we’ve had both high moments and difficulties. We had few moments when the expectations were as high as they are now. The personal commitment of Dmitry Medvedev and the involvement of the Minsk Group reflected in a very strong Deauville statement, which clearly calls for the two parties to make a move forward and adopt 14 peace principles which have been elaborated throughout many years of negotiations."
The principles envisage a gradual withdrawal of Armenian troops from the territories surrounding Karabakh, the return of Azeri refugees, peacekeepers in the region and a referendum on the republic’s status.
The Minsk Group and the parties to the conflict hope that the Kazan talks will succeed.
The United States, the European Union and Russia don’t seem to agree on much these days. But in the volatile South Caucasus, they concur that Armenia and Azerbaijan need to sign an agreement on Friday if they are serious about finding a peaceful solution to the decades-old Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia has invited the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders to the city of Kazan on Friday and expects they will finally put their signatures on a “basic principles” text they have been wrangling over since 2007. This will be the ninth meeting that Medvedev hosts with his Caucasian counterparts.
To some, the deal on the table may not seem like much. After all, it would still only mark the start of a process, not its conclusion. But if Medvedev can get them to put ink to paper, it will be a rare and significant step forward in this confrontation and a validation of the Russian leader’s persistence.
The signs seem promising. In a strongly worded statement issued at the May G-8 summit meeting in Deauville, France, Presidents Obama, Medvedev and Nicolas Sarkozy of France, representing the mediators of the “Minsk Group” charged with settling the dispute, highlighted the Kazan meeting and demanded no further delay. Indeed, time is running out because this autumn campaigning will begin in the region and in the Minsk Group countries for 2012 and 2013 elections, thus complicating matters for some and driving the issue lower on the priority list for others.
Nagorno-Karabakh has been pushed down the ladder for too long. It has often been described as a “frozen conflict” ever since a cease-fire deal was signed 16 years ago leaving Armenian forces in control of the mountainous territory and surrounding areas, at least 13 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory. However, shooting across the line has been killing dozens of people every year. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have been trying to outdo each other buying sophisticated weapons — with Azerbaijan spending as much on arms as Armenia’s total state budget — in expectation of a major war. Pressure to reverse the status quo by force is especially increasing in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital.
A final settlement would allow some 600,000 internally displaced people to return to their homes and offer a sense of security for the approximately 150,000 people currently living in Nagorno-Karabakh. It would put an end to fears of a regional war, in which, because of existing security accords, Russia could step in on Armenia’s side and Turkey on Azerbaijan’s, and Iran would be unlikely to stay on the sidelines. .
It is now up to President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan to decide if war or peace is more threatening. They have done very little to prepare their people for peace and a lot to prepare them for war. But they could still convince their citizenry of the advantages of compromise. If a deal is forthcoming in Kazan, they will need to do a lot to prevent spoilers from surfacing.
The deal on the table includes withdrawal by Armenian forces of most of the Azerbaijani territory they occupy around Nagorno-Karabakh, the deployment of international peacekeepers, the establishment of an Armenian security corridor, return of displaced persons, interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh, and the promise of a “legally-binding expression of will” to determine the future status of the territory at the end of the process.
This is very balanced. But it will take 10 years or more to implement. Armenians and Azerbaijanis have spent the past two decades building up reservoirs of hate and don’t trust each other to respect their commitments. The Armenians want quick implementation to ensure that Nagorno-Karabakh gets independence, Azerbaijanis are in no rush to let go of a territory that Aliyev says will remain part of his country as long as he is president. Even with a deal, the United States, the European Union and Russia will have much to do after the ink is dry. They may have to begin the painstaking work of drafting a comprehensive peace agreement and start physical planning for implementation. The occupied territories have been destroyed, massive reconstruction will be needed, as will international peacekeepers. The E.U. especially will need to quickly provide civilian, military and economic assistance. If there is no speedy follow up to an agreement in Kazan, and firm international commitment to support it, the deal risks unraveling.
Or, if the presidents don’t sign, the international actors will have to start preparing for a renewal of fighting that would be drawn out. With so much violence already happening in the broader region, this is not an eventuality that the United States, the E.U. and Russia can afford.
Sabine Freizer is Europe program director of the International Crisis Group.
The European Union urged the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan on Wednesday to finalize the basic principles of settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying that the status quo is untenable.
“I underlined the strong European Union support for a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” the head of the EU’s executive European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said after talks with Azerbaijan’s visiting President Ilham Aliyev.
“It is high time to make additional efforts to finalize agreement on the so called basic principles,” Barroso told a joint news conference in Brussels. “Negotiations will resume in two-days time to discuss the settlement of the conflict.”
“I hope that the two parties will be able to move forward as I stated the status quo is not an option,” he said.
Aliyev reportedly did not comment on chances of a breakthrough at his crunch negotiations with Armenia’s Serzh Sarkisian that will be hosted by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the Russian city of Kazan on Friday.
Azerbaijani news agencies quoted him as saying only that the Karabakh dispute should be settled on the basis of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and that all Azerbaijani refugees and internally diplaced persons should be able to return to their homes “very soon.”