Due to the recent events surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, IISA has contacted experts from Armenia as well as Azerbaijan for strategic comments. Unlike in standard Western media this is a constantly recurring topic in the Caucasus, and heavily discussed on social media. N.b. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of IISA.
In Part II we present thoughts from Razi Nazrullayev. He is an Azerbaijani politician and political analyst. He is the Chairperson of Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA) and he established the New Democracy Movement. He is also a head of “Region” International Analytical Centre (RIAC), a Baku-based think-tank in Azerbaijan working on policy issues in Post-Soviet Space.
1) Why has the Nagorno Karabakh conflict triggered recently? Who is responsible?
Razi: All protracted conflicts will burst one day. The OSCE Minsk Group was formed this year, with chairmanship held by three countries – the USA, Russia and France – to mediate between the belligerent sides. During the unsuccessful negotiation years prior to this, the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia met over 22 times, but without positive results. The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs put forward at least 5 documents to suggest settlement of the conflict. However, most of these were declined by Armenia, which forces me to say that Armenia was trying to maintain status-quo.
The more time passes, the bigger the chance that Armenia has to implement its malicious plan to either annex Nagorno-Karabakh, or to see it become independent altogether. Azerbaijan will never agree to the loss of its soil. Azerbaijan has reached the end of its patience, and will no longer consider compromises. It offered Nagorno-Karabakh the broadest possible autonomy with even some state attributes. Yet, this was declined, which means Armenia is not interested in peaceful settlement of the conflict
Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan is heavily challenged by domestic politics. The opposition demands his resignation and people have been out on the streets protesting his social and political policies for more than two years now. Several times he was on the brink of losing power, which he is clinging on to. In order to divert attention from domestic challenges to Nagorno-Karabakh and prolong his stay in power, he continues to violate the ceasefire agreement in the contact frontline. Each ceasefire cost several lives, and shelling from the Armenian side each time killed several civilians. The world community and OSCE Minsk Group each time just condemned the ceasefire and asked the sides to keep the agreement. In the end, Azerbaijan had to show Armenian armed forces their place and on the 2nd of April, four days of war began.
I think, Azerbaijan has all the power and possesses modern weapons to restore its territorial integrity. However, in these days small states are not free to act on their own. The Russian president and foreign minister called several times and I think, they forced our side to stop hostilities. Azerbaijan announced a unilateral ceasefire twice, and each time Armenia violated it trying to regain the contact line that it has lost. Shelling and airstrikes have devastated Azerbaijan’s infrastructure, which is evidence for one of the biggest injustices in this world.
2) Is there an appetite for an all-out war in Yerevan or would the current ceasefire hold?
Razi: Truly speaking, the Azerbaijani people were fully ready for war. Each martyr brought from the frontline gathered tens thousands of people to see them off to another world. You can hardly find one person in Azerbaijan, who could hesitate to go to the sacred war to liberate the lands under occupation. On the other hand, the wounds never heal; as many as one million internally displaced persons and refugees from Armenia remind us of this every day. Refugee and IDP children are now 22 – 27 years old; they have never seen their fatherland.
Ceasefire was announced by Azerbaijan on a unilateral base and then Russia made Armenia observe it. Russia took control, and the other day Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in Baku to negotiate the further steps. As it is known from his words, Russia will try hard to find the quickest solution. Actually, Russia is the big player in this conflict and should Russia withdraw from behind Armenia, Azerbaijan could easily free the lands from occupation. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has come to Azerbaijan on the same mission. If a solution is found, then the ceasefire continues; if not, then war may break out any time. Ceasefire is never a permanent enterprise.
3) What role is Russia playing, if any? How do people see the EU?
Razi: Russia has the biggest role in the conflict. Armenia would have never been able to seize 20% of Azerbaijani lands if it did not receive Russian military assistance. Today Russia still fully supports Armenia and many in the world consider Armenia an outpost for Russia. Everybody believes that Russia has the key to the conflict. The conflict is a good leverage in Russia’s hands to exert pressure on the sides and keep them under control. This is also legitimate for their EU stance. The EU has long negotiated with Azerbaijan for an Association Agreement within the Eastern Partnership. However, Azerbaijan has declined it, mostly with Russia in mind. Azerbaijan fears to face Ukraine’s fate and see conflicts similar to Nagorno-Karabakh in other territories.
Today, I would not say that Azerbaijan is paying for its pro-EU stance. From the beginning, Azerbaijan did not join in on the sanctions against Russia. On the contrary, it has by all means possible tried to help Russia, both politically and economically. This stance of Azerbaijan has made the EU unhappy, but the current escalation of the conflict has nothing to do with EU aspirations.
4) Does the instability in the Middle East and Ukraine etc. plays a role in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict?
Razi: Short answer: no. However, it creates an air of war and always keeps people on edge. It that sense, there is also a motivation. Several thousand kilometers away, people fight for lands, liberation, integrity, independence and democracy, so our people feel it and put picture themselves in their shoes. They also want to take up arms and drive out an enemy that occupies one fifth of the land. So, talk of war, and the ongoing wars in Middle East, keep people’s minds busy with arms and liberation.
5) What role should international community play in addressing and eventually resolving the conflict?
Razi: The UN adopted four resolutions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 1993, demanding an immediate withdrawal of Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh and the seized surrounding seven regions. Until now neither of the resolutions has been implemented. The world community seems to be happy with the status quo, but current ceasefire could explode into a full-fledged war any time. It hangs in the air. The world recognises Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions as Azerbaijan’s territory, the UN respects Azerbaijan’s sovereignty in its current recognised borders including Nagorno-Karabakh. OSCE, EU, the Council of Europe, PACE, the World Islamic Organization and all other international structures do recognise Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. However, in several cases they decline calling Armenia an aggressor. When there is a dual policy and hypocrisy, it becomes harder to resolve conflicts. When it comes to Syria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, when it involves their direct interests, they act immediately, and the UN Security Council decides to apply armed intervention. In Azerbaijan’s case it is ignored.
6) How do people of Azerbaijan see recent hostilities? Is there a support for government?
Razi: The government has never seen more support than now. This time, the whole nation, even hardline opposition, stands by the government. We all put aside all our political differences and unite for the Karabakh cause. The Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, under my leadership, prepared a Road Paper for Nagorno-Karabakh following the current ceasefire, and submitted it to the government and other political forces. The Paper says that all the political parties, public unions, media and intelligentsia agree that they will not use the conflict for political purposes. So, we proposed that the government should set up a Unique Decision Council, where all the political parties and other stakeholders participate and adopt one decision on all issues. The President may take that decision, knowing that the decision he takes will not create any problem back home.