This is in response to Vartan Oskanian’s op-ed – “Will Armenia and Azerbaijan reach a negotiated solution?” – published on Al Jazeera English Online on August 10, 2014.
Vartan Oskanian’s article correctly presents some shared ideas on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. Nevertheless, the article also has aspects with which I cannot agree.
Azerbaijan, with some 20 percent of its internationally-recognised territory under occupation and nearly 1 million refugees and IDPs, remains the most interested party in the rapid settlement of the conflict. This is why Azerbaijan has actively engaged in the OSCE Minsk Group peace process.
The peace process, however, is long overdue to produce any tangible results, while the prolonged status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable, which is frequently reiterated by the presidents of the OSCE Minsk Group nations, i.e. France, Russia and the United States. Moreover, the status quo is also increasingly fragile as illustrated by the recent military attacks by Armenian forces, which led to numerous fatalities. Every day the conflict remains unresolved is another missed opportunity for the region.
Any talks about the final status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region are premature without tackling the fundamental issue, particularly the fact of Armenia’s military occupation.
Mr. Oskanian, who enumerates various models for resolution in his article, is former foreign minister of Armenia and is no stranger to the negotiations. Therefore, he knows better than most that it is the illegal presence of Armenia’s military forces in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan that remains the fundamental obstacle to the settlement of the conflict.
Simply put, the illegal military operation needs to come to an end and the Armenian soldiers should return to their barracks. This would ensure that with good faith, engagement, strong commitment and political will, a fair, lasting and comprehensive solution to the conflict can be found.
Conversely, attempts by Armenia to present the current status quo (which is the result of a military occupation) as a fait accompli is detrimental to the purpose and spirit of the peace process.
As is the case elsewhere, respect for international law is the key to lasting peace. It is also essential, when dealing with conflict and post-conflict situations, that the international community helps ensure that peace and justice are both present in a mutually reinforcing manner. Such an approach guarantees consistency with international law. This would provide guidance not only for the parties to the conflict but is also useful for the international community as a whole.
In fact, the legal framework and basics of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict have been explicitly defined by the existing resolutions of the UN Security Council and General Assembly and the decisions of other international organisations and institutions such as OIC, OSCE, CoE, NATO and NAM.
The basic principles, as reflected in the joint statement of the presidents of Minsk Group co-chair countries in L’Aquila, France, in 2009 and then reiterated in their other statements on this issue, led to the formulation of the updated Madrid principles and can serve as a basis for opening substantive talks on a comprehensive peace agreement.
In that sense, self-determination, to which the author refers throughout his article, is also a part of this process and Azerbaijan has never opposed this principle. Then again, any talks about the final status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region are premature without tackling the fundamental issue, particularly the fact of Armenia’s military occupation. It is clear that the demilitarisation of the conflict zone would bring more room for engagement on all possible tracks, create more confidence between both parties, as well as for both communities of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and guarantee the return of refugees and IDPs.
Of course, it would also decrease military rhetoric and tensions in the region. The Armenian and Azerbaijani communities of Nagorno-Karabakh with the guarantees of self-rule in accordance with the Helsinki Final Act should exercise their right of self-determination within the frontiers of Azerbaijan under normal and peaceful conditions, not under the guns of an occupying military amid heightened tensions.
Azerbaijan’s good will
Until that moment, as reflected in the updated Madrid principles, Nagorno-Karabakh region should have formalised interim status. Consent to step-by-step settlement and interim status reflects Azerbaijan’s goodwill and readiness for compromise to achieve a resolution of the conflict. For a compromise to be successful though, it needs to be a mutual and a reciprocal process.
Unfortunately, Mr. Oskanian misinterpreted some other cases of conflict in terms of self-determination, inter alia, Kosovo and Sudan, ignoring the obvious reality that Armenian troops are illegally occupying Azerbaijani territories and have caused a major humanitarian crisis by exiling a million civilians.
Moreover, the details and framework of referendum on secession of South Sudan have been endorsed by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 through the process of mutual content. The UN Security Council in its statement on February 9, 2011, made it clear that the process mandated by CPA represents an exceptional case and does not by itself set a precedent. The case of Kosovo has developed through a different path, where the world witnessed complete disregard to the international law.
The theory and practice of modern international law explicitly defined the framework of self-determination. Outside of the colonial context, the principle of self-determination is not recognised as giving rise to partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country.
Still, instead of embarking on long discussions, we should recognise that the resolution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict will only bring peace, stability, prosperity and predictability to the entire region. Armenia would become the greatest beneficiary by securing opportunities to integrate into regional projects, opening of borders, and enjoying full-fledged mutually beneficial regional and cross-border cooperation. The benefits of peace are abundant, particularly for Armenia. However, any further protraction of conflict only deepens the political, economic and humanitarian crisis of Armenia and continues to impede the full potential development of our region.
Vugar Seidov is a political analyst and representative of AzerTAG in Germany. He holds a PhD in History from Moscow University and MPhil in international relations from Cambridge university.