Interview of Dr. Gayane Novikova to Regnum News Agency

March 21, 2012

1) The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia said recently that the return of part of the territories of Karabakh to Azerbaijan is included in the negotiation package of the OSCE Minsk Group. This is nothing new because the Madrid Principles were published earlier. However, quite recently the representatives of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia mentioned that Armenia has nothing to return to Azerbaijan, and the Nagorno Karabakh Republic has to make any decision about the return of the territories. In your opinion, could the very fact that the society does not know the details of the negotiations torpedo the conflict resolution? Is Armenian society ready to return a part of the Karabakh territories?

Let us clarify the formulation of the question from the very beginning. I prefer to use the expression “transfer of the territories” instead of “return of the territories.” In any discussion in regard to the territories it is necessary to take into account the completely opposite approaches of the parties to the conflict: on the one side Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, and on the other side – Azerbaijan. The difference is very visible in the terms in use: the Armenian sides refer to the territories as “liberated,” while the Azerbaijani side refers as to them as “occupied.” Nevertheless, both terms indicate the priority of the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict for the Armenian and Azerbaijani societies.  In this context they have the same meaningfulness.

Thus, the transfer of a section of the territories adjacent to the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Republic is a strategic issue for at least four state entities: Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh Republic, Azerbaijan, and Iran. This issue is more serious for the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR) and Armenia because, above all, the defense line of the NKR runs throughout these territories. Their transfer would lead to a weakening of the Armenian defense line, to the emergence of a variety of economic and communication problems, to changes in the demographic situation in the territories surrounding Nagorno Karabakh, and to possible demographic shifts in Karabakh itself. A subjective factor is also of great significance: namely, the pride of the Armenian side owing to its military victory in the Karabakh war. As a consequence of all these factors, in the strategy of the two Armenian state entities – the internationally recognized Republic of Armenia and un-recognized Nagorno Karabakh Republic – the preservation of the status quo is considered as a high priority.

The issue of the transfer of the section of the territories around Nagorno Karabakh to Azerbaijan is for the most part outside the framework of the on-going discussion in the Armenian society. First, these territories are considered as historical Armenian land; second, as mentioned, they maintain strategic importance; and third, it is necessary to pay attention to the Constitution of the NKR, where it is stated: “Until the restoration of the state territorial integrity of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic and the adjustment of its borders, public authority is exercised on the territory under factual jurisdiction of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh.”

As a whole, this means that the two Armenian societies are not prepared to transfer the mentioned territories to Azerbaijan. One could find here some parallels with developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the Israeli side rejects any transfer of territories to the Palestinian control before the signing of a peace agreement and recognition of the State of Israel by the Palestinian side. In the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, I believe, there cannot be any transfer of any part of the territories controlled by the NKR, to Azerbaijan (please recall that Azerbaijan is occupying now the Shahumian region that belonged to the  Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Republic in the Soviet period and the Armenian enclave Artzvashen which was under the jurisdiction of the Armenian SSR)  before a peace agreement is reached and before it is signed not only by the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also by the NKR president.

In the current situation around the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict there is a lack of guarantees that the reached agreements (if any) would be or could be implemented completely. The terminology and the provisions of the future treaty must be very clear and unambiguous; they must eliminate any possibility for a double-reading of any provision of the document (documents). The Turkish-Armenian Protocols constitute a recent example of the ‘dual’ reading’ of the same set of terms.

In addition, a clear analysis of the level of gains and losses by the Armenian sides in the case of a transfer of a part of the territories controlled by Nagorno Karabakh to Azerbaijan is absent (or at least it is unknown to broader strata of Armenian society).

I do not think that immediately after completion of a comprehensive agreement, which will possibly include a provision for the transfer of some territories to Azerbaijan, the latter would then open the border with Armenia and “ask” Turkey to do the same. An inclusion of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh into all existing and future energy and communication projects as well as a securing of the political and human level of relationships between two peoples and the three state entities is also unlikely.

As a whole, the lack of widespread awareness in all three societies about the details of the negotiations allows on the one hand preservation of a certain degree of maneuverability in the negotiation process per se and on the other hand, however, it increases the tension in those societies at present unprepared to accept compromises.  Furthermore, the exclusion of representatives of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic from the negotiations not only slows down the conflict resolution process, but also misrepresents the very essence of the conflict.

As for the question whether unawareness of negotiations details could torpedo the resolution of the conflict or not, my answer would be “no.” It is impossible to torpedo something that does not exist. The conflict remains unresolved, not a single document has been signed, mistrust between the parties to the conflict is growing, and the militarist rhetoric of the highest Azerbaijani leadership is becoming tougher daily. For Azerbaijan, to keep the society informed on the negotiations through sporadic “emission” of merely technical information, such as who met where with whom, and also only through partial disclosure of the substance of negotiations, is a tool to mobilize mass activity in support of the state position in the negotiations.  Of course, direct threats articulated by the Azerbaijani side and addressed to Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia do not promote a searching for a compromise acceptable to all parties to the conflict. The latter cannot even agree upon the basic principles. Thus, the conflict will remain at this stage for quite a long time. However, I do not exclude the resumption of full-scale military action in the conflict area.

 2) High-ranking Armenian officials try to convince the society that they are making efforts to achieve an international recognition of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic.  Does this mean, in your opinion, that Armenia is seeking to persuade some other nations to recognize the NKR prior to its public recognition by Armenia? What country (or countries) in this case should recognize Nagorno Karabakh first?

The discussions on recognition or non-recognition of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic can be meaningful if they evaluate adequately the consequences of recognition for the NKR. I don’t consider as an issue of great importance what country might be the first to recognition the independence of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. Essential is that de jure recognition should be accompanied by the intention of at least a part of the international community to take Karabakh out of Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction and to consider it as a full-fledged,  self-established state. In this case Nagorno Karabakh has every opportunity to preserve itself as an independent state.

A recent example of border revision is the recognition of Kosovo’s independence. However, the high interest of the leading European countries and the U.S. in the preservation of peace on the European continent was a guarantee per se that prevented escalation of the conflict into a new, overt, stage.  There is no such imperative commitment in the Nagorno Karabakh case.

Another example is the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia, Venezuela, and two island states. In the mid-term perspective, the future for South Ossetia involves integration into Russia. The prospect for Abkhazia is as a protracted Russian protectorate that will perpetually attempt to balance itself between Russia, Turkey, and Georgia.

A very interesting case is the forthcoming referendum on independence in Scotland.

I believe that time works in favor of Nagorno Karabakh. Accelerated and unilateral recognition, first of all, will narrow the possibilities of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh on the political level; secondly, it will make all the negotiation formats and proposals senseless; and, thirdly, it will sharply increase an already very high level of tension in the region.

For Nagorno Karabakh itself, the recognition only by Armenia would lead to a deadlocked situation; in the best case, this scenario could be followed by integration of this state entity into Armenia. In turn, this development will lead to a questioning of its legitimacy whenever it is viewed in terms of international law (however, it is possible to appeal to the ‘divided nation’ precedent).

I think that the Armenian diplomacy and efforts of the policy-makers should prepare – and perhaps even push gradually – the international community to acknowledge that:

– Nagorno Karabakh can serve as a strategic obstacle against any intensification of Islamist moods and activities of the Islamist organizations in the area of the Broader South Caucasus;

– As a de facto state with its specific democracy-building experience, NKR cannot be placed under the jurisdiction of an authoritarian state: Azerbaijan;

– Any resumption of military action – against the background of threatening regional developments and an arms race, into which Azerbaijan is drawing the entire region, will lead to economic and humanitarian catastrophe; it will affect not only direct parties to the conflict, but also the neighboring countries.

It is possible to involve the Nagorno Karabakh Republic in the international development projects without any preconditions in regard to de jure recognition of its independence, and to do so with simultaneous stimulation of the peace process within the OSCE Minsk Group format.

3) EU representatives have already openly indicated the willingness of their organization to play a more active role in resolving the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.  The EU Parliament document assumes the implementation of a peacekeeping mission in Karabakh (Resolution 2216/ 2010). Moreover, the EU wishes direct, without Azerbaijan’s permission, access to the Karabakh territory..  How would you evaluate the perspectives of an increasing EU role in the resolution of the conflict? Could Armenia admit the EU peacekeepers into the conflict area?

The EU intention in regard to direct contacts with the NKR authorities and a direct entry in Karabakh was articulated several years ago. However, Peter Semnebi, who was the EU Special Representative in the South Caucasus, whose mandate includes also a stipulation “to contribute to conflict resolution,” has not visited Nagorno Karabakh.  It is not a question of whether Armenia or Azerbaijan should allow direct entry to the territory of Nagorno Karabakh, or not, but whether Brussels can ignore opinions in Yerevan (which does not conceal its interest in visitation by EU and other international organizations representatives NKR) or Baku, and whether Brussels can send its representative to Stepanakert.

Resolution 2216, adopted by the European Parliament in May, 2010, to which you refer, is quite contradictory.  The EU role in conflict resolution is stated in the paragraph related to all conflicts in the South Caucasus:  “The EU has an important role to play in contributing to the culture of dialogue in the region and in ensuring the implementation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions.” Within the context of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict resolution, with a few small exceptions, the 2216 Resolution, actually operates with the terminology that was in use near the initial stage of the negotiations.  It ignores the provisions of the Madrid Principles, and all the previous statements of the EU itself in regard to this issue. In particular, it refers to the status quo as “created by force and with no international legitimacy.” Furthermore, it completely neglects the fate of the Armenian population forced to flee Baku, Ganja (Kirovabad) and other cities and towns of their compacted living environment. Finally, it repeatedly appeals to an imprecise intermediate status for Nagorno Karabakh.

Of course, shifts in the conflict resolution process would be welcomed, including those that could involve active participation of the European Union. However, the EU is currently mired in its own economic and political troubles, and we should not forget that any peacekeeping mission is a very costly arrangement. In addition, the peacekeepers can enter into the conflict area only after a peace treaty has been signed.  Since there is not even a signed framework agreement, to say nothing regarding a comprehensive peace treaty, all discussions about the peacekeeping operation, the institutional affiliation, or the ethnicity of the peacekeepers remains at a purely speculative level.

4) Armenia has been moving away from the policy of complementarity, rejecting economic integration with Russia in favor of future economic integration with the EU. The Armenian Prime-Minister has stated that Armenia cannot be a member of the Custom Union because it does not possess a common border with its member states. However, he did not explain why the same lack of a common border is not an obstacle to establishment of Free Trade Zones with the EU and CIS countries.  What did the Prime Minister understate?  

I do not agree that Armenia has been moving away from the policy of complementarity. Just the opposite: it is trying to return to this policy. The decision not to participate in the Custom Union with Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus fully fits with the desire to correct and balance, above all, the political priorities of Armenia. The level of bilateral relations between Armenia and these three states, all members of the Custom Union, is very high, especially with Russia. And, finally, all of them sign agreements on free trade areas in the CIS.

Intensification of cooperation with the EU will enable Armenia to enlarge its political and economic opportunities and contribute to the further democratization of the country. It can play also a role in the settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.