The situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone is tense again: over the last few days, the sides have been actively exchanging artillery attacks and acts of sabotage and have lost lots of men as a result. And each of them is blaming the other. They don’t want a big war yet but they are actively preparing for it. Some sources say that the Azerbaijanis do not have enough capacities for a serious military success but the fact is that they are enhancing them.
The last year’s events will hardly recur and there are several reasons for this. The Azerbaijanis will have to be restrained this summer, first of all, because most of the big external players, primarily, the Turks, are focused on the Middle East crisis. Both the Turks and the Russians have made it clear to their Azerbaijani partners that they must not be too aggressive for the time being but neither the Turks nor, alas, the Russians, have warned them against minor attacks.
The Armenians are also responsible for this as they are taking no decisive steps to resolve the conflict. Until they make their goals known to the Russians, they will not be able to ask them to keep the Azerbaijanis in check.
Even though the Azerbaijani authorities are more aggressive, their position is much clearer. Seven districts outside the territory of the Soviet-time Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast are fully or partly controlled by the Armenians. So, the Azerbaijanis’ precondition for any peace process is that the Armenians should withdraw their troops from those territories. The latter term those lands a “security belt” and do not wish to cede them. Their precondition is that Nagorno-Karabakh should be given an interim status and should be allowed to conduct an independence referendum.
If the Azerbaijani authorities accept this precondition, they will face unpredictable consequences. So, instead, they are trying to use all possible means to force the “occupants” out of the abovementioned lands.
The Armenians’ position is also sensible: any step back from the current contact line would mean growing appetites in Baku and a higher risk of war. One more reasonable argument from the Armenian side is that, first of all, it is necessary to deal with the cause of the conflict – the legal wish of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians to be self-determined.
Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh are two separate parties to the conflict but they have almost identical military-political and diplomatic positions and are both reluctant to give back the Azerbaijani lands until they see continuous and guaranteed peace established. In contrast, the Azerbaijanis continue to be aggressive and this is their way to show their dissatisfaction with the current status quo.
The Armenians’ strategy is based on defense while the Azerbaijanis’ strategy is the strategy of an attacker. Politically, the Azerbaijanis are not right but since their aggressiveness is receiving no appropriate diplomatic response from the Armenians, the world community is beginning to take it for granted.
The results of the so-called four-day war in Apr 2016 have proved that Armenia is acting on the defensive. Before that war, the Armenian authorities said that if the Azerbaijanis dared to undermine the status quo, they would recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence. They failed to do that. They even refrained to call for Nagorno-Karabakh’s involvement in the peace process. Nor did they sign any “big agreement” with their Nagorno-Karabakh allies concerning guarantees of security and mutual assistance in case of future Azerbaijani aggressions.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s statement about wish to see itself within enlarged borders - within a territory including part or all of the controlled districts – would also be appropriate. That would mean the following: “If the Azerbaijanis wish to know what borders we are talking about, they will have to see us at a negotiating table.”
It was a chance for Armenia to stop being a “defender.” The Armenians have lost it and are already reaping the fruits of their indecision.
The global and regional powers must have taken this indecision for reluctance to change anything. This is why they have been so indifferent to Azerbaijan’s recent aggressions: if Armenia is unable or reluctant to change anything, why should Russia or anybody do anything?
Armenia is the only one to blame here. The Armenian authorities still have chances to turn things into their advantage but they are showing no signs of wish to do it.
The “the status in exchange for the territories” formula is no longer on the agenda. The highlight of the talks is now the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia keeps saying that the talks cannot be effective without Nagorno-Karabakh but continues negotiating its status in its absence.
The recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence by Armenia might change a lot in the peace process. This would be an effective counteraction to Azerbaijan’s borderline provocations. But Armenia refrains from taking this step and its argument is that this would wreck the talks and would give Azerbaijan a carte blanche for starting a new war.
But de facto Azerbaijan is already waging a war, while real talks have not been even started as for already 20 years, the Armenians have said that no real talks are possible without Nagorno-Karabakh. But how are they going to bring Nagorno-Karabakh back into the peace process if they have not even recognized its independence to date?
For Azerbaijan, the casus belli would be not so much Armenia’s decision to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as the latter’s indecision to do it. Armenia’s belief that such a decision would provoke Azerbaijan into a war is wrong as it makes the Azerbaijanis even stronger in their own belief that they are right. Now that oil is cheap, the Azerbaijanis are facing lots of problems, so, the best tactics for the Armenians would be to say, “If you are pushing things towards a war, we will be the first to start it.”
Does this mean massive preventive counterstrikes? Why not? Defense has long proved its inefficiency for both Armenian republics. If their enemy keeps defying the ceasefire agreement signed in May 1994, they have the right to punish the aggressor, don’t they?
Of course, before doing it, the Armenians would make this known to external players. We wonder how Russia, the United States and the European Union would react and what they would do to prevent the war. Such a drastic measure might well be a stimulus for both the conflicting sides and their international sponsors.
It seems that the Armenian leaders have gotten used to living under unstable conditions. As a result, their punitive attacks are followed by appeals to international organizations. Over the last few days, their most popular phrase has been “target-focused statements by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.” By saying this, they mean that the co-chairs specific calls can bring the Azerbaijanis to reason and can turn them from potential aggressors into consistent peacemakers.
One can hardly imagine a bigger nonsense, can one? The Armenian authorities’ attempts to get any response from the world community while they are losing more and more men on the border looks like an extreme example of self-deceit and the wish to shift own responsibility onto others.
Vyacheslav Mikhaylov, specially for EADaily