The Global and regional actors in the South Caucasus

The Global and regional actors in the South Caucasus

By Dr. Stepan Grigoryan

The Armenian elite’s way of thinking and Armenia’s foreign policy have been influenced by the history of the Armenian people, particularly the tragic events of 1915, when near 1.5 million Armenians were exterminated in the Ottoman Empire and a million people were spread all over the world, forming the Diaspora.

That was again underscored by the Armenian-Turkish relations issue. The initiatives of Armenia’s president Serzh Sargsyan for normalization of relations were met with skepticism by Diaspora representatives in most countries, and in some countries the Diaspora was totally opposed to normalization unless Turkey recognizes the genocide of 1915.

There are problems in Armenia as well. Even many democratic, liberal parties that demand democratization of Armenia, resist election fraud and protect human rights, have an uncompromising stance towards Turkey and resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This is true for the parliamentary opposition and for a large part of the non-parliamentary opposition.

> Nagorno-Karabakh Map
In this report, I shall cover two issues having both regional and international importance, also referring to the role of international players having interests in the South Caucasus, and to the issue of Russo-Azerbaijani relations.

Armenian-Turkish relations are the first issue. We welcomed the initiatives of the president of Armenia for normalization of relations without preconditions. We consider that the protocols signed on 10 October 2009 supposed an important mutual compromise. By the protocols, Armenia would have recognized the border between two states and would not demand an immediate recognition of the genocide by Turkey; Turkey, in turn, would not mention the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. This could be derived from the text of the protocols.

> Turkey - Armenia Map
However, since signing of the protocols it has become clear that the factors impeding normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations were not counterbalanced, so neither Turkish nor Armenian parliaments have ratified the protocols. Turkey experience serious problems in this respect. There was strong pressure by Azerbaijan, as Azerbaijan’s leadership considered opening of the border between Turkey and Armenia a security threat. There was also internal tension within Turkey, where the parliamentary opposition was against opening of the border. It turned out that Turkey has not been ready to normalize the relations with Armenia without preconditions and connects that with the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

What may be done in the present situation? I suggest that the best would be to take a short break, during which both sides should abstain from making statements against each other. The Armenian-Turkish rapprochement has an objective basis and matches the interests of both countries, so it may certainly be resumed soon.

Azerbaijan’s position deserves attention. Worried by the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement, Azerbaijan began applying political and economic pressure on Turkey. For instance, Azerbaijan refused to sell natural gas to Turkey at a discounted price. Moreover, for the first time in many years, Azerbaijan agreed to sell gas to Russia, letting Turkey know that Azerbaijan may have an alternative solution.

Azerbaijan’s actions were rather unexpected and, it seems, were situation-based. Azerbaijan’s relations with Russia are quite complicated because of several reasons: Azerbaijan’s participation in pipeline projects circumventing Russia; membership in the GUAM, which is considered by Russia as an antagonist of the CIS; Azerbaijan’s refusal to let Russian military presence on its territory; and the border issues – Russia many times blamed Azerbaijan for alleged support to the fundamentalist factions in the North Caucasus.

The main problem in Russo-Azerbaijani relations, however, is the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Baku has been blaming Moscow consistently, because of the erroneous belief that the Kremlin has the ultimate key for conflict resolution.

The role of global players in the Armenian-Turkish relations is interesting. The United States and the European Union have been trying hard to help to normalise the relations, since they are interested in peace and stability in the South Caucasus and in stable functioning of the energy grids. The new element is that Russia has not recently been against opening of the border between Turkey and Armenia. There are several reasons for that: beginning with economic interests, as Russian monopolies having strong position in Armenian economy might be able to enter Turkish markets, ending with Russia’s attempt to decrease Armenia’s dependence on transit via Georgia, as after the war in 2008, Russo-Georgian relations will remain hostile for a long time.

The second issue concerns Nagorno-Karabakh. In the recent period, the negotiations have been rather intensive – and that is very welcomed. In 2009, presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met six times. Within the OSCE Minsk Group, intensive work has been going on, with the Madrid principles on the negotiations table. Here, there are three fundamental principles – territorial integrity, the right to self-determination and peaceful conflict resolution. It seems that there are all preconditions for a settlement agreement, but the sides do not agree. Why does it happen?

Lack of confidence between the conflicting sides may be the main reason for the absence of an agreement. Unfortunately, there is lack of confidence not only between the state officials, but also between the societies. The propaganda of hostility has been the important component of political actions in our countries. That is especially true for Azerbaijan, where the highest state officials have been repeating hostile statement and threats against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Certainly, when such tension and hostility is in place, it is not possible to implement even the best compromise resolution model. It is clear that such issues as confidence-building and promotion of tolerance and readiness to compromise among the citizens should be included in the agenda of negotiations in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group, next to the main Madrid principles; these issues should not be left only to the civil societies in Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is a known fact that the leading media, first of all the television, are controlled by the authorities in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. So, those media should be used to promote confidence-building.

Let me now consider the position of global players on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Presently, the U.S. and Russia have a consensus on the need to normalize the Armenian-Turkish relations and on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Importantly, both U.S. and Russia consider that the Armenian-Turkish relations and the Nagorno-Karabakh issue should be separated from each other. Notably, the European Union also considers that two processes are not interconnected. Azerbaijan remains a vocal opponent of such approach, demanding that normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations should occur only after a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

It seems that both the U.S. and Russia now consider it impossible to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict fast, but they have different motivations. Russia, being not sure about likely post-conflict developments (for instance, which countries will form the peacekeeping force) does not want the conflict to be solved quickly. The U.S. would prefer a quick solution but have no effective leverage for that and there is also an understanding that an artificial stimulation of conflict resolution may result in resumed fighting.

With consideration of the Russo-Azerbaijani relations, it may also be noted that these relations are also troubled because Azerbaijan is suspicious about Russia’s wish to deploy its peacekeepers in the conflict zone. An additional sign of the tension was decision of Azerbaijan’s ministry of foreign affairs to declare persona non grata a number of Russian citizens, including five members of the Duma, who participated in the monitoring mission during the parliamentary elections in Nagorno-Karabakh on  May 23, 2010. Azerbaijan’s ministry of foreign affairs made its decision despite Russia’s declaration about not recognizing the elections in Nagorno-Karabakh.

It is very important that, as the resolution adopted on 20 May 2010 showed, the European Parliament has been paying more attention to the South Caucasus and, particularly, to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. I would, however, invite your attention to some parts of the resolution, to such expressions as “withdrawal of Armenian forces from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan” or “the status quo created by force and with no international legitimacy”.

Usage of such expressions shows that the authors of the resolution did not know that the war in Karabakh had been launched by Azerbaijan; I would even praise the leaders of Azerbaijan, as they have never denied the fact that Azerbaijan started fighting against the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh. So, the resolution authors’ inclination to blame only the Armenian side for the present status quo in the conflict zone is misguided.

Besides, the European Parliament’s resolution mentions that “an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh could offer a solution until the final status is determined”. Fine, but then let us know what kind of interim status is that, so we would be able to propose such a solution in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. What we certainly must do in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh – to be ready for a compromise solution. It would be fine if Azerbaijan also showed readiness to compromise.

In conclusion, I would like to mention the following: different states and organizations use different leverages in the South Caucasus. August 2008 showed that some are ready to use military force. I suggest that unlike that, the EU may increase its influence in the South Caucasus by means of cooperation with independent civil society institutions and, most importantly, by demanding from the authorities of the South Caucasian countries to implement democratic reforms, to respect human rights, to conduct free elections, to respect the rule of law and to fight corruption effectively.
Dr. Stepan Grigoryan, Chairman of the Board of the Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC)

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