by Alexander Grigorian

This question is worrying all parties, involved in the conflict – Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. If we throw away the crap of the propagandist lexicon, misused by official Baku, Yerevan and Stepanakert, and look soberly at the current deadlock situation in the peace process, then the way out of it seems more than problematic. And it is not by the reason that the Azerbaijani, Armenian and Nagorno Karabakh authorities do not want the final settlement. The point is that the main condition for reaching the political and juridical resolution of this ethno-political conflict by peaceful means is the mutual confidence, which is absolutely lacking between the societies of the parties to the conflict.

The lack of confidence is not only explained by the heaviest consequences of the armed confrontation, as a result of which tens of thousands of Armenians and Azerbaijanis died and hundreds of thousands were forcibly displaced from the places of their permanent residence. First of all, it was caused by the fact that the Armenian parties (Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh) and the Azerbaijani party are solving different problems in the peace process: Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh – self-determination of the NKR people, and Azerbaijan – its territorial integrity. This is where the main reason of unwillingness of the parties for compromise lies, because there is a lack of the very basis of the compromise, i.e. the political and legal assessment of the conflict.

To begin with, what kind of a compromise might Azerbaijan have, if its leadership denies the problem of self-determination of the Nagorno-Karabakh people, narrowing it to the occupation of the Azerbaijani territories by Armenia? Only in one thing- providing self-determination to Karabakh Armenians within Azerbaijan and preserving Baku’s sovereignty over Nagorno Karabakh. But can such a step by Baku be seen as compromise in Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia? Certainly, not, because the Azerbaijani compromise has nothing to do with the question of self-determination of the NKR people.

And what compromise may be on the part of Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia, if Stepanakert and Yerevan find that the present military realities in the conflict zone are a result of the war, imposed by Azerbaijan, with the aim of complete deportation of the Karabakh Armenians from the places of their permanent residence? Probably in one thing – providing Nagorno Karabakh with actual independence from Azerbaijan while preserving the NKR within the territory of the Azerbaijani state, i.e. in attaching the current political status quo in the conflict zone a juridical force with further withdrawal of troops from the territories around it under the Nagorno Karabakh control with the exception of the Lachin region. However, now Baku will not take such an approach of the Armenian parties as compromise, because attaching the juridical force to the established status quo in the region will practically mean nothing, but realization of the right for self-determination by the Nagorno Karabakh people.

By the way, their part of blame for the present deadlock situation have the international mediators, the OSCE, which voluntarily or not have not dared to give a clear political and legal assessment of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We think that such behavior of the mediators can be explained, first, by their consideration of unreadiness of the societies of the parties to the conflict to take any fixed political and juridical assessment, and secondly, by contradiction of the regional interests of the mediator states (first of all, USA and Russia).

In the first case, an unambiguous political and juridical assessment of the conflict by international mediators would have worked only in favor of one of the parties to the conflict which in the eyes of the other party would have turned the mediators into “lobbyists” of interests of its opponents in the conflict.

In the second case – it would have inevitably narrowed an area for the political maneuvering by the mediator states, which actually have used, and in essence continue using the mediation mission as an instrument for realization of their interests in the region. At the same time, the main political players in the mediation – USA and Russia – are not interested in the resumption of military actions, i.e. in the resolution of the problem by force, as far as this way is fraught with unpredictable consequences for their interests in the entire South Caucasian region.

These are the realities on the eve of 2005. Where is the way out?

Some Azerbaijani and Armenian politician and political scientists think that the absolutely opposing vision of the core of the conflict by the Armenian and Azerbaijani parties will never let them resolve the Karabakh question peacefully and by reasonable compromises. Supporters of that opinion speak for strengthening of the armed forces of their countries with the aim of forcing the opponent to accept their conditions of settlement. This point of view is dominant in Azerbaijan – both in the governmental and oppositional structures.

In Armenia prevailing is the opinion (mostly, in the oppositional circles) that the victory will be won by the party that would manage to introduce the values of the Western world sooner than the other in its own country, wishing to get the Western support that way.

As for Nagorno Karabakh, they convinced that without its equal inclusion into the negotiating process, the settlement will be impossible to reach.

Each of the state entities involved into the conflict believes that the conflict should be resolved in accordance with norms of international law, because allegedly it is fully on its side, and expresses an extreme disappointment that the international community allegedly fully ignores these norms in its search for the ways of the settlement.

No doubt that this year the parties to the conflict will not give their former positions even for a while. Even more, there are all preconditions for Azerbaijan to harden its position in 2005 up to the limit, having completely rejected all possible compromises.

The basic preconditions are:

–  the prospect of the accelerating military and economic growth of Azerbaijan thanks to operation of the strategic routes of transportation of the Caspian oil and gas to the world markets surrounding Armenia;

–  transfer (including by the fault of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh) of the negotiating process mainly to the level of elimination of the consequences of the armed conflict;

–  artificial isolation of the Karabakh party from the negotiating process;

–  the official Baku’s attribution of special importance to its country in realization of their geopolitical and geo-economical plans in the region by the leading world and regional powers;

–  Armenophobia as one of the most important integral parts of the political thinking of the Azerbaijani authorities and oppositional structures.

As for Armenia, we think that it will try to achieve consideration of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status (during the meetings of the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers and heads of the both states) in case, if Yerevan would agree to discuss the step-by-step option of the settlement, which is quite real. For getting political dividends in the peace process, Armenia will try to use the factor of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Turkey.

In 2005 the Karabakh party seems to be destined for the role of a passive viewer of the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations. Although one cannot rule out that Stepanakert’s role will be demanded from time to time by the international mediators, in particular, in the cases when Yerevan, finding that circumstances are not favorable, would tie its agreement for some proposals with the position of the Karabakh party.

The international mediators will be most probably trying to persuade the parties to the conflict to accept just some written obligation on their intention to solve the Karabakh question by exclusively peaceful means, which will be presented to international community as success of the mediation mission of the OSCE Minsk Group. It will let to have a relative stability in the region in the conditions of the unresolved conflict, with is currently sought by the worked powers and regional states.

Their corrections in our forecasted course of developments may make the Azerbaijani parliamentary elections to be held in autumn. If the Azerbaijani oppositions succeeds to united its ranks and agree on having united candidates in all 124 electoral districts (the parliamentary elections in Azerbaijani are held only by majority system), then one may not exclude some post-election clashes, as far as no doubt that the results of voting will be falsified by the authorities. As one of the oppositional leaders Chairman of the People’s Front Party (Reformers) Ali Kerimli said recently, in case of fraud the opposition will defend its victory. That is, the Georgian scenario cannot be ruled out, but which is possible only in case of reunion of all oppositional forces in Azerbaijan. We think it is quite real, because (in spite o the hyper ambitiousness of the leaders of the main oppositional parties) there will be parliamentary elections, not the presidential ones.

So we think that in 2005 the Karabakh problem, one way or another, will not get its final resolution, even in the shape of the formulated real perspective.

January 15, 2005