In an interview with EADaily’s correspondent in Yerevan, Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia Shavarsh Kocharyan speaks about prospects of the Karabakh peace process.
Mr. Kocharyan, Armenia is marking the 30th anniversary of the Karabakh Liberation Movement these days. What triggered that fight? Could you brief on the genesis of that conflict?
Experiencing constant discriminations by Baku, in different periods, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh appealed to the USSR authorities for leaving Soviet Azerbaijan, which it was transferred to by Stalin’s arbitrary decision, and uniting with Soviet Armenia. In 1988, authorized representatives of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region made a decision to address the issue to governments of Soviet Armenia, Soviet Azerbaijan and the USSR. Baku responded severely committing pogroms of the Armenian residents of Sumgait. Pogroms of Armenians spilled over to other populated areas of Azerbaijan, including Baku. Nagorno-Karabakh appeared to be the only area where Armenians managed to resist Azerbaijan’s policy of ethnic purges.
As to the above request by Nagorno-Karabakh’s authorized representatives, the Supreme Council of Soviet Armenia welcomed the idea, the Supreme Council of Soviet Azerbaijan rejected it, and the Supreme Council of USSR did not satisfy the request, but passed a decision to place Nagorno-Karabakh under its administration thereby taking Nagorno-Karabakh out of Azerbaijan’s administration.
The Soviet Law adopted in April 1990 to regulate the procedure of union countries’ withdrawal from the USSR became a way out of the legal stalemate. Under the law, if a union country initiates a process of withdrawal from the Soviet Union, its autonomous unions and territories densely populated with non-titular nations will be granted a right to determine their legal status independently. On August 30, 1991, Azerbaijan declared independence on the basis of that law. The procedure implied a referendum. On September 2, 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence and independence referendum was held on December 10 of the same year. Noteworthy that the independence referendum in Azerbaijan was held later, on December 15.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, on December 21, 1991, two subjects with equal rights, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Azerbaijani Republic, emerged in the territory of the former Azerbaijani SSR. Actually, the legal bases of Nagorno-Karabakh’s self-determination are flawless from the viewpoint of both the international law and the then effective USSR Law.
If the legal bases of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence are so flawless and the negotiations have brought no evident progress over the last 30 years, why doesn’t the Armenian side try to settle the issue through an international court?
In fact, there is a tripartite mediation format of Russia, U.S. and France - the OSCE Minsk Group having an international mandate. This is a very reputable format co-chaired by three of the five permanent members of UN Security Council. If we chose the path you have mentioned, this will mean that we are withdrawing from the negotiations. This is what Azerbaijan strives for. Azerbaijan seeks to get rid of “tight hugs” of the co-chairs and constantly tries to shift the Karabakh issue to other international platforms. The co-chairs have suggested the Madrid Principles that will help the sides settle the conflict on the basis of bilateral concessions.
What is the Minsk Group format’s advantage over international legal organizations?
The OSCE Minsk Group was assigned with two missions – to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the issue through mutual concessions and prevent ceasefire violations. This implies observation of the ceasefire agreements of 1994-1995 signed by Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, despite its commitments under these agreements, Baku still seeks military settlement of the conflict, wages propaganda war, and keeps building up its military capacity. Azerbaijan’s armed attack in April 2016 just proved its militarist policy. Azerbaijan’s April attack was a failure.
The world community harshly condemned Baku’s actions. The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs initiated high-level meetings in Vienna and St. Petersburg to overcome the consequences of Azerbaijan’s aggression and create favorable conditions to promote the peace process. At the Vienna Summit, the sides made an arrangement that was later reaffirmed in St. Petersburg. They agreed to set up an OSCE mechanism to inquire into ceasefire violations, increase the number of OSCE observers on the Line of Contact of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan and on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as to expand their powers. The sides reaffirmed their commitment to peaceful resolution of the conflict and stressed the need for strictly observing the ceasefire of 1994-1995. What is the essence of these mechanisms? Since the co-chairs’ mediation mission is limited and they cannot name the side violating the ceasefire, Baku perceives that fact as overindulgence. Introduction of the mechanisms will lead to effective investigation of incidents on the frontline and allow the mediators to point at the initiators of incidents. Therefore, Baku vehemently denies the arrangements to create the mechanism of inquiring into incidents.
What is the reason behind stagnating talks and lack of success over the last 30 years?
The main reason is that Azerbaijan is not ready to implement its commitments. At some points, the sides were very close to a consensus, for instance in Key West and Kazan, but Baku walked back both the times. What we have now and what we had in the past: there are two, at first sight contradictory stances – the Armenian sides promote the principle of the people’s right to self-determination, whereas Azerbaijan insists on the principle of territorial integrity of states. The co-chairs say they have found an internationally acceptable point of contact of these two principles: yes, self-determination but within the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh and a corridor reliably linking Artsakh and Armenia. For Azerbaijan they suggest territorial integrity but without Nagorno-Karabakh and corridor. Of course, this is far from what Armenian sides strive for, but it is a concession-based resolution. How Azerbaijan responds to it. At first, it accepts the suggested principles as a basis for talks, and then acts ignoring those principles.
With its militarist states and actions, Baku acts against the principle of non-use of force, rejects the Nagorno-Karabakh people’s right to self-determination and misinterprets the territorial integrity principle, running contrary to the UN Statute. Under the UN Statute, the principle of territorial integrity of a state cannot be opposed to the people’s right to self-determination.
We can speak about prospects of the conflict’s resolution only after Baku takes a constructive stance. So far, Azerbaijan with its anti-Armenian policy just makes everyone realize, even those who have not realized yet, that Artsakh cannot be part of Azerbaijan and that any resolution of the conflict will inevitably result in international recognition of the Artsakh Republic.
Considering the current state of affairs and all the aforementioned, one should not expect any change of the status quo within the coming decades, should one?
Who is constantly complaining about the status quo? Baku does. Despite this, all its steps are aimed at maintaining it. It appears that status quo is in favor of Azerbaijan’s leadership. Unresolved conflict helps the ruling clan in Azerbaijan retain their power, suppress the opposition and decedents and keep assimilating the peoples residing in the territory of Azerbaijan. They explain all their actions with the need to unite against external enemy.
Mr. Kocharyan, no final resolution of the conflict is possible unless Stepanakert returns to the negotiating table. Do you anticipate this any time soon?
Sure, it’s true. Even the mediators said this openly. I’ll disclose a small secret. In Kazan, in 2011, it was due to happen, as it was supposed that the Madrid Principles would be approved and Stepanakert was to give its consent then (there are issues Yerevan is not authorized to decide without Karabakh: the first is the status that the Karabakh people shall decide through a referendum and second is the territorial integrity of the Republic of Artsakh). However, Azerbaijan set 10 pre-conditions and “we were sent back to the drawing board.” At present, there are no chances for a breakthrough yet. Anyway, it is clear that no breakthrough is possible without Stepanakert.
The Armenian side has repeatedly expressed its readiness for bilateral concessions for resolution of the conflict, including for territorial concessions (I am speaking about the territories under control of Artsakh – security belt around NKR), however stances of the Armenian sides on this issue appear to be different. Stepanakert insists that a territorial concession may threaten Artsakh’s security…
As I have mentioned before, the last word rests upon Stepanakert in this issue. Besides, let’s not forget that some of Artsakh’s territories are under control of Azerbaijan. I am speaking about part of Martuni and Martakert regions and the entire Shahumyan region. So, speaking of territories that as it claims are controlled by Nagorno-Karabakh as a result of war, Azerbaijan should recall the Armenian territories it has occupied.
Recently, representatives of the ruling party in the Artsakh Parliament have called on the Armenian government to recognize Artsakh. What do you think about it?
If Armenia recognizes Artsakh, it will stop the negotiations, which is in favor of Baku. However, it does not mean that Artsakh as an independent republic cannot wage a policy for international recognition.
As to international recognition… Karabakh parliamentarians have lately asked their Armenian colleagues to intensify the lobbying for Nagorno-Karabakh’s recognition by parliaments of other countries and international organizations. What do you think of that initiative? What effect will it have on the peace process?
I am afraid this is the only way out, unless Azerbaijan stops its destructive policy.