What is needed for the sustainable resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

081414_0In April of this year, hundreds of soldiers and civils were killed in the deadliest four-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This was the most deadliest since the ceasefire signed in 1994. The incident, which both side blamed each other in stirring, also showed that how “frozen” Nagorno-Karabakh conflict can escalate beyond control and bring both sides into full scale war in matter of days destabilizing whole South Caucasus region. The status-quo lasting for more than 20 years now increases tension between two countries threatening the region with military conflict and sustainable solution to the conflict should be found.

The military conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia broke out after ethnically Armenian population of the Nagorno-Karabakh, autonomous republic within borders of Azerbaijan, raised claims of unification with Armenia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Raised tensions spiraled into full scale military conflict which resulted in around 30,000 deaths from both sides and over a million of refugees and displaced persons from Azerbaijan. Today, the Nagorno-Karabakh is self-proclaimed republic not recognized by any country including Armenia, while 22 years of peace talks yielded no results.

Minsk group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which includes Russia, the USA and France, is tasked to mediate a solution between sides, but failed to produce any attainable results. However, even if both sides can find a compromise on the Presidential level, given the current secrecy of negotiations, it would be very difficult to convince the population of two countries to agree on concessions about something that both sides view as their historic land.

For example, in late-90s Heydar Aliyev and Levon Ter Petrosyan, then presidents of two countries were close to struck a deal which contained plans about swap of territories between Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, failure to evaluate the situation at home and possible reactions of various political players resulted in resignation of Petrosyan, while main foreign policy aides of Aliyev resigned in a protest to the deal forcing Aliyev to deny the peace agreement which was dubbed as “Goble Plan”. The events of late 90s showed that public and political elite of two countries were not ready to accept the deal reached between two heads of states who failed to calculate domestic reactions.

Therefore, in order to avoid such miscalculations and to achieve sustainable solution to the conflict, both governments should consult with domestic actors on negotiations and involve them in the process. For example, presidents can set up a domestic committee, which would include representatives from opposition parties, civil society organizations, “think thanks” and intellectuals who have authority among public. Establishment of such body would not only provide legitimacy to the government’s position in the negotiations in the eyes of Azerbaijani public, but will also bring more expertise and diverse opinions to the table contributing to the success of the peace talks.

If main domestic actors come together and agree on the common position and steps to be taken in the negotiations, the government can ensure that public will agree on the result of negotiations and compromises which are unavoidable and necessary for the sustainable solution of the conflict. Despite the authoritarian regimes in both countries, at least Azerbaijani opposition is ready to cooperate with the government which they have done in the past by joining the ruling party in a statement regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh.vienna-meeting-on-nk

The second important factor for the sustainable resolution of the conflict is to lift the secrecy surrounding the negotiations and inform public of both countries on the course of discussions and plans on the table. Unfortunately, the current state of information available to public is very limited. For example, an average Azerbaijani citizen is not aware of the fact that 2 of occupied regions surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh may not be returned to Azerbaijan in the near future even after the peace deal is struck or highest degree of autonomy that Azerbaijan is ready to grant the Nagorno-Karabakh may allow the latter to have its own police forces. It is very difficult to anticipate the public reaction to the harsh concessions that both sides will have to make in order to reach lasting peace agreement in the light of such scarce information available to public.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and presidential aides should regularly inform public on the status of negotiations via TV and other media outlets. Needless to say that allowing communication between civil societies of two countries would contribute to the decreasing hostility against opposite side and would lay foundation for much needed public diplomacy. Therefore, both governments should refrain from persecutions and public smear campaigns against civil society and other actors trying to build communication with the opposite country.

Without securing the support of main domestic actors – opposition, civil society and intellectuals – and informing public about the details of the negotiations, neither of governments will be able to make concessions. In the absence of domestic support, even if presidents succeed to reach a peace agreement, they would be able to mobilize public consent to back it. Only available option for leadership of two sides is two blame “big powers” for pressuring them to compromise. However, the result of such rhetoric cannot be predicted.

The article is published thanks to The Council of State Support to Non-Governmental Organizations under the Auspices of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Razi Nurullayev is an Azerbaijani politician and founder of “Region” International Analytics Centre (RIAC) who is also a popular political scientist.

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