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What Will Be with the Negotiation Process?

What Will Be with the Negotiation Process?

Armenian and Azerbaijani analysts assess the degree of the impact of the so-called Safarov's case on the further course of the negotiations over Karabakh conflict settlement. 

Armenia Now Has No "Partner for Peace"

- How will Ramil Safarov's pardon and promotion by the authorities in Azerbaijan impact on the negotiation process for the Karabakh settlement? May the peaceful negotiations finally break off?
-  Clearly the unacceptable decision by Azerbaijan to not only release but to pardon and promote Safarov represents a diplomatic crisis. Yet at the same time, this crisis can be turned from a defeat into a victory for Armenian foreign policy, due to several reasons.  First, this crisis can be an opportunity to leverage greater international frustration with Azerbaijan, whose unacceptable handling of this case fails to win any friends for Baku; rather, it only makes enemies, especially due to the cold-blooded nature of the murder and how the killer is now freed and honored by the Azerbaijani president.  
Second, this incident only reveals that Azerbaijan refuses to be a “partner for peace” with Armenia and that clearly Baku has again showed that it is an unreliable and insincere interlocutor in the peace process over Nagorno Karabakh. Thus, Armenia can actually use this crisis to emerge in a stronger position, especially as the secret deal between Baku and Budapest is also an insult to the European Union, and as Hungary is a member of the EU, is also a denial of so-called “European values.”  And the fact that even US President Obama was compelled to respond and criticize the Azerbaijani move shows how significant and outrageous this incident really was as an embarrassment to the international community.
- What are the main postulates of the public discussion started off in Armenia? What do their strengths and weaknesses consist in?
-  The issue of extradition alone would not necessarily pose a particularly provocative act, but the Azerbaijani decision to issue an immediate and sweeping pardon was based on either a serious misreading or a total disregard for the aftermath.  Moreover, the very public state-endorsed stance to hail, praise and even reward the convicted murderer was bound to spark an immediate and expected response from Armenia.  In this way, the Safarov issue has now emerged as the most significant destabilizing crisis between Azerbaijan and Armenia in recent years.  
And against the backdrop of an already pronounced period of escalating tension, including military skirmishes and incursions, this crisis has already triggered an even deeper and serious confrontation, with little sign of either side able or willing to back down. 
In what can be only seen as a reckless and arrogantly unilateral policy, Azerbaijan’s dismissal and deflection of any and all negative reaction is linked to its own accumulated frustration.  That frustration, in itself largely justified by the lack of any real progress from the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, also explains the escalation of the crisis even after the pardon.  The escalation centered on a public ceremony headed by Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev to promote Ramil Safarov from the rank of Lieutenant to Major, an unusual move that literally skipped one complete officer rank. Safarov also received a lump sum payment of more than eight years’ salary, calculated to represent the time he served in a Hungarian prison, as well as an outright gift of an expensive apartment in Baku.
At the same time, Azerbaijan’s reckless disregard of the implications and aftermath of its moves also reveals the international community’s limited capacity to exert pressure on Azerbaijan.  This external impotency was also an important element of the extradition discussion between Budapest and Baku, as Azerbaijani officials reassured Hungarian officials that they were quite willing and even eager to bear the brunt of international criticism.  
Moreover, there are also domestic political implications.  For both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides, the crisis also has an obvious domestic political context.  For both sides, the crisis tends to unite the population around the president, helps to weaken any opposition by painting it as an act of betrayal or treason, allows the government to shape and control a new political discourse of nationalist posturing and display of national pride, and also distracts from more pressing domestic shortcomings.  But for Armenia, the timing of the crisis also provides political dividends, by bolstering the ruling pro-government Republican Party only one week before important local elections set for September 9th and offering the chance for sustained popularity in the face of President Sarkisian’s reelection bid in the February 2013 presidential election.
- Is it possible to stop communication between Armenian and Azerbaijani NGOs, and on the whole, how useful is cooperation between the representatives of the conflicting parties going to be from now on?
-  The problem now is how to restore dialogue. In many ways, Armenia no longer has a “partner for peace” as Azerbaijan has exceeded al reasonable bounds.  It will take time, but dialogue is a necessity, for each side.
- What is the negative reaction of co-chairing countries and European structures to that event conditioned by? To what concrete outcomes may the resolution of the European Parliament on R. Safarov lead to?
-  After Armenia’s decision to cut all diplomatic ties with Hungary, the West in general, and the European Union in particular, are now challenged to respond forcefully enough to satisfy Armenia, or else Armenia’s pro-European strategy may be seriously undermined and become politically untenable for the Armenian government.  

The Future of Peace Talks

- What impact will Safarov’s pardon and promotion by the Azerbaijani authorities be on the negotiation process on the Karabakh settlemen? Can the peace talks finally be broken?
- Negotiations have long been at a standstill. For several years now there has only been an imitation that they continue. That is why we do not need to discuss any significant effects. Even if there is an impact, it will only be short-term. But this event coincided with the pre-election period in Armenia, so it is to some extent a gift to Sarkissian, since he has got a great opportunity to demonstrate his "firmness." He can be tough in his communication with Azerbaijan, and this will win him points in the eyes of the electorate. Some political analysts say that he has received a formal occasion to shy away from any talks with President Aliyev. But this seems an exaggeration. Azerbaijan, oddly enough, has received some timeout as well - the tension has given a chance to review some of the provisions of the Madrid process, in particular, to try to return to the stage-by-stage settlement. In general, it is the continuous pursuit of ensuring the growth of bellicose sentiments in the region. Safarov’s glorification also emphasizes an increasing likelihood of a military solution of the conflict. Here, the individual and state acts seem to come in unison. Impressive, but politically imprudent. The negotiation process will not stop under any circumstances. In contrast, co-chairing countries will make every effort to mitigate the tensions.The only real function they have today is to block a military solution of the conflict. So far none of the countries involved in the Minsk Group are interested in it. But they will respond only to the extent in which a real threat of increasing tension on the front line will become detectable behind the pompous rhetoric. It is true that the media has lately been persistent with exaggerated allegation that in the event of complications of the situation around Iran, Russia may try to use force to consolidate its position in South Caucasus and even break a "corridor" into Armenia. But such developments are still far away. As for the military drills "Caucasus," which took place in Krasnodar region and the CSTO drills in Armenia were both planned in advance and were unlikely to have a direct link with Ramil Safarov’s release. It is worthwhile to pay attention to the fact that Russian diplomats displayed a restrained reaction to Ramil Safarov’s case. In any case, we witnessed much less democratic rhetoric there.
- What are the main tenets in the ongoing public debate in Azerbaijan? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
 - First we see a split at the societal level. A considerable part of the population thinks that everything was done right. A compatriot should always be taken out of trouble if he has got into it in a foreign country. Any normal country should protect the interests of its own citizens in any part of the world. In principle, all that is true: in this regard, even the smaller countries want to look good. In the end, the negotiations on Safarov’s extradition were going on for many years. It was both logical and morally decent that the Azerbaijani authorities wanted Safarov to continue serving his sentence in his motherland. But the part of the society that approved of this step of the authorities are not willing to answer the subsequent questions that only reveal the weakness of the position of the authorities. Let us assume that the act of pardoning a person who has already spent 8.5 years in prison serving his sentence, can be morally justified just as it is. But the decision to pay him his salary for the 8.5 years, he spent in prison, in fact means a complete denial of Ramil Safarov’s fault. His promotion to a higher rank is a clear sign of mere glorification. You can definitely speak of a split in the political elite. It is less noticeable within the ruling elite, for it is trying to look unified. But the split became noticeable in the opposition, too. Several members of the House of Representatives even wanted to resign because they considered the signature of a joint (the ruling party and the opposition parties represented in the House of Representatives) petition, to be sent to the European Parliament on the resolution passed on this matter. Some are directly criticizing "Musavat" and APFP for the compromise with the authorities. Questions remain open on the real cause for this act of the opposition. Was it the desire to please the electorate or was it only to try to show the world at least once in the history that in some matters the ruling power and the opposition may be united? The opposition is also openly accused of mercantilism, although it was probably promised things that the power was supposed to be obliged to ensure even without any preconditions, that is to promote the amended law on political parties as soon as possible, to continue the dialogue between the government and the opposition proclaimed by the authorities back in the early summer. The worst part of this story is the blow to the image of Azerbaijan. The Armenian side has often claimed that in principle the coexistence of Armenians and Azerbaijanis is impossible in an undemocratic country. Now Armenia has got another argument in favor of the impossibility for the Armenians in the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh being a part of Azerbaijan, since the current regime in Azerbaijan is a constant threat to their security.
- Can the dialogue between the Armenian and Azerbaijani non-governmental organizations be suspended, and in general, how useful is the cooperation between the parties of the conflict?
- No, it will not be suspended in case of any scenario. This dialogue, just like the negotiation process, has its own inertia, which cannot be undone. In both societies, there are people who understand the political background of all the hoopla – who benefits from this, what the motives are and so on. Cooperation between the parties of the conflict is very useful. These contacts can always come in handy in case of both the exacerbation of the situation and the success of the peace talks. But above all, they want to "compare notes", in order to understand what happens in the societies. 
- What is the negative reaction of the co-chairing countries and the European agencies to the event conditioned by? What concrete outcomes may the resolution of the European Parliament on Safarov’s issue lead to? 
- The negative reaction of the co-chairs is quite natural, just as those of the NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, and that of the White House. Due to their function, they are required to respond to any aggravation in the confrontation between the countries involved in the conflict. And this aggravation is obvious. The Armenian lobby must have played an essential part in the rapid response to the event. But among other things, all the hype around this story allows them to write off their own impotence in resolving the conflict onto the current situation. As you know, the European Parliament adopted a document "The European Parliament Resolution on Azerbaijan: Ramil Safarov’s Case." Five of the six critical provisions of the resolution were directed against the incumbent power in Azerbaijan, no matter what the activity was dictated by in the European Parliament. Rather, the Parliament wanted to demonstrate its commitment to European values again, and at the same time take the opportunity to increase the pressure on the incumbent regime in the country.



30 January, 2014
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