Rauf Mirkadirov (Political Commentator at “Zerkalo” newspaper) The Price to Be Paid for Karabakh Is Independence. But Let Us Keep Calm for Now

If we consider 1988 our reference point, our conflict is almost 30 years old. Only a few months short. Until 1992, that is, before the official collapse of the USSR, the Karabakh conflict developed "in an autonomous mode." Immediately after the collapse of the USSR, this conflict became another nuisance for the international community. 

Are we really "what we look like" or are we pretending?
This thirty-year period may be conventionally divided into three stages. The first one is that of “flying hats.” Rather, this is the stage from 1988 to 1994. Both Armenians and Azerbaijanis were confident of a swift victory. Armenia counted on the people's clear understanding of the national idea, organization, the powerful and rich diaspora, primarily in the Western countries, especially in the US and France, the sympathy of the international community for the "long-suffering people"; Armenia speculated on the Christian-Muslim confrontation, but at the same was in friendly relations with Iran, and referred to the tragic events of the First World War. In a word, they thought that they will very quickly achieve the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Armenia as compensation for their “age-long suffering".
The Azerbaijanis counted on their power. We have a larger population. We will march down to Yerevan. Turkey is supporting us. You will benefit from being friends with us. We have oil and gas.
Both failed to achieve the goal. Yes, Armenia has occupied and still controls part of the Azerbaijani territories. However, no one is going to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh part of Armenia, moreover an "independent" state.
We crushed with our power, especially after 2005, when petrodollars flowed in like a river. But they could not make us achieve the liberation of the occupied territories. However, they deprived Armenia of the prospects for economic prosperity. And this was a major impact. Armenia was left outside of all communication and energy projects (pipelines, transport corridors and so on).
After 1994, the conflicting parties adopted the tactics of a "long siege". The most popular slogan of this period is "time is in our favor".
The author of these lines was one of the few who consistently opposed the approach "time is in our favor." By the way, I said this regarding both Azerbaijan and Armenia. I at least tried to prove that time is exclusively in favor of external players with geopolitical interests in the region. More than once I wrote that the more time elapsed, the more the Karabakh conflict became just an element in the global confrontation between the West and Russia. As a result, Azerbaijan and Armenia are deprived of even minimal influence on the settlement of the conflict. Moreover, time is depriving them of influence more and more. In a word, I tried to convince everyone that time is not in favor of Azerbaijan or Armenia. Unfortunately, I did not succeed.
Honestly, sometimes it seems to me that we are believed to be complete idiots. Or maybe we are so cleverly pretending to be idiots that our partners, in the person of international intermediaries, regard us as such. Over the last 20 years we have been convinced that the international community, represented by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs – Russia, the United States and France, has a fully consolidated position on the Karabakh conflict settlement. In simpler terms, there are no contradictions between the West and Russia regarding the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, unlike the cases of other similar international problems. The problem is with the parties to the conflict. It's us, the parties to the conflict, are so "underdeveloped." Well, we are the ones both unable and unwilling to arrive at an agreement. The international community shall not "force us to peace," shall it?
It shall be noted that we are talking about three permanent members of the UN Security Council. Of the remaining two, Britain is usually in solidarity with the United States, at least when it comes to resolving such conflicts. This leaves us with China. The official Beijing never opposes commonly made decisions agreed by the permanent members of the Security Council, unless, of course, the problem directly concerns the national-state interests of China itself. And this conflict does not directly affect the national-state interests of China.
Thus, it turns out that all the members of the UN Security Council have a completely coordinated position on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict. However, they have been "nursing" Armenia and Azerbaijan for more than 20 years, and yet, they fail to "persuade" these two "babies" to sign a peace agreement. At the same time, it is necessary to take into account that the general parameters of the peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict seem to have long been determined by the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council, which were adopted unanimously, i.e. upon consensus. Who in their right mind will believe that the five leading powers of the world, the permanent members of the UN Security Council, are powerless against Azerbaijan and Armenia?
There is no agreement, at least, on the settlement of the conflict. It simply cannot exist. Throughout the world, especially in the territory of the post-Soviet space, we are witnessing a tough confrontation between Russia and the collective West. At the same time, especially Russia makes an active use of existing and emerging territorial and ethnic conflicts to realize its own geopolitical interests in the post-Soviet space (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Crimea, and Eastern Ukraine). Then why should the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict be an exception? Especially considering that this region is seen as an energy corridor bypassing Russia and is neighboring with Iran.
Russia and the United States periodically make distinct attempts to resolve the conflict, which are successfully torpedoed, let's say, as a "potential adversary." Sometimes they even have to resort to radical measures with tragic consequences. Suffice it to recall the terrorist attack in the Armenian parliament in 1999. What can we do? You can’t make an omelet without breaking the eggs. And we are the eggs, of course.

The Mirage Is Gone
Probably, since August 2008 both Yerevan and Armenia have begun to realize the whole erroneousness of the “”time is in our favor" tactics. But in 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimea and occupied part of Eastern Ukraine, Baku and Yerevan, most likely, were horrified. Although, at first glance, Yerevan should have been pleased. After all, within six years, Russia twice gave preference to the supremacy of the so-called "the right of people to self-determination", by the way, in the post-Soviet space.
However, neither Baku, nor Yerevan demonstrated any special joy. Both here and there they realized that Russia ultimately does not intend to play up to one of the conflicting sides, it uses the existing territorial and ethnic conflicts in the post-Soviet space exclusively for its own geopolitical interests, or, more precisely, for restoring its "territorial integrity" within the boundaries of the Soviet empire.
Consequently, in the recent years there have been major changes in the perception of reality by the warring parties, primarily at the level of political elites. This is good. It is time for these societies to get rid of illusions. This is a kind of preparation for these societies for peace. After all, eventually illusions will be dispelled in confrontation with harsh reality, to be perceived as another tragedy, which may entail a catastrophe.
Each party is trying to solve this problem differently. Armenians are fatalists by nature. Consequently, the nation is waiting and will wait for a fatal outcome, by the way, as a result of another "betrayal". And this time it will come from Russia. Such an emotional approach to the geopolitical processes taking place in the region can be advantageous from the historical perspective, as it creates a sense of guilt for the future generations of politicians in foreign policy partner countries, but it hardly makes it possible to make the "right bets" in the present reality.
Yerevan seriously believes that Russia is ready to “throw Armenia under the bus” in order to appease Azerbaijan and Turkey. That is why in the recent years it has been selling to Azerbaijan quite modern arms, if I may use the word ‘modern’ here. But on a larger scale, at the expense of Azerbaijan Russia "compensates" for the losses it incurs for arming Armenia, and with no less modern weapons, that are either donated or sold at domestic prices, as a matter of fact, with "non-refundable" Russian loans.
At the same time, it is necessary to take into account that such high-tech machinery that is stuffed with electronics cannot be used without the "master’s" consent.
But in any case, Armenia cannot turn its back to Russia, at least, not having regulated its relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Everything is much simpler in Azerbaijan. They try to remind the society of the harsh realities that are packaged accordingly, of course.
We went along the beaten track, especially because we had experience. Immediately after the 2001 negotiations in the American Key West Heydar Aliyev gathered the entire political elite, including the opposition. Aliyev Senior honestly stated that Azerbaijan was not allowed and would not be allowed, at least in the foreseeable future, to resolce the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict by force. Therefore, we had to wait. After all, "time was in our favour."
So, something similar is happening today.
"Azerbaijan has the most combat-capable army in the region, perfectly enhanced with military technology. Azerbaijan annually spends 3-4 billion dollars to ensure its security. And our state proved its might during the April war. If we are not prevented, we can liberate all the occupied territories within a week or a month the longest," said Ali Hasanov, the aide to the President of Azerbaijan said at the European Congress of Azerbaijanis, according to haqqin.az report.
A.Hasanov also noted that Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijanis in Europe were opposed by a powerful Armenian diaspora with an extensive network and centers in Brussels, London, and Paris: "They are very strong, they have very strong and close ties with the European elite. And this is a rather unequal battle.” (https://haqqin.az/comics/123645)
I agree with Mr. Hasanov, at least with the first part of his statement. Yes, in fact, we have the strongest army in the region, unless we consider Russia and Iran. Unfortunately, Iran and Russia are not just related to the South Caucasus, they also dictate the "rules of the game" in our region.
Yes, theoretically speaking Azerbaijan can liberate all occupied territories within a few weeks. Even the sober politicians in Armenia recognize that after 2005, using the huge available resources, Azerbaijan was able to create the military potential, necessary for the military settlement of the conflict. But we are not talking about a shoot-out between the leaders of two street gangs, in which "laws of honor" do not allow anyone to interfere. Hasanov himself admits that influential external players do not allow, and most likely will not allow Azerbaijan to implement the force scenario of the conflict settlement.
But further Mr. Hasanov acts disingenuously. Most probably, he cannot afford to give a clear indication of these external forces, so as not to anger the northern neighbor.
It should be noted right away that the so-called "collective West" as a whole cannot in any way hinder the settlement of this conflict after the military scenario, especially if it happens within a limited time frame. The "Collective West" is the NATO, and such leading states as the US in particular have no military presence in our region; as a result, they do not have the tools of "coercion to peace" to be applied against the parties to the conflict. On the one hand, this is an extremely negative factor, for the simple reason that the region lacks a military-political balance between the leading global players, primarily between Russia and the United States. However, the absence of a military and political presence removes any responsibility from the West as a whole, and the US in particular, for the possible development of events after the by-force scenario. Therefore, the West could "turn a blind eye" to the attempts at a forceful settlement of the conflict, if they are of short duration and are not accompanied by criminal actions against civilians. Many diplomats, representing the leading Western states in Baku, have openly stated this in private conversations with the author of these lines.
So, from among the leading geopolitical players only Russia has a military and political presence in the region, and as a result, "instruments of coercion to peace" to be applied agaianst the parties to the conflict. Thus, only Russia can contribute to or prevent a settlement of the conflict by the force scenario.
In principle, Moscow does not conceal this fact. Recently, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov openly said that if the West took into account Russia's interests, many conflicts in the post-Soviet space would never have arisen, while others, including the Karabakh conflict, would have been settled long ago. Lavrov, in fact, admitted that it is Moscow that does not allow us to resolve the Karabakh conflict, since the proposed options do not meet the geopolitical interests of Russia. To put it simply, Moscow demands to be recognized as the only "master" of the post-Soviet space.

Baku Is Ready, Yerevan Is not
In case domestic political problems arose in Armenia or Azerbaijan, the opposite party as a rul, tried to take advantage of the moment and "get some benefits" in Karabakh. And they achieved the opposite outcome. Domestic contradictions receded into the background in the face of "external threats". This time Azerbaijan retained its "neutrality". I completely agree with Mehman Aliyev, the head of the Turan Agency, that the official Baku did not even stir a finger to "save" Serzh Sargsyan.
It can be assumed that for some reason the former president of Armenia no longer suited the official Baku as a partner in the negotiations for the settlement of the Karabakh conflict. However, we cannot exclude the fact that we were asked about this. Most likely, this was a combination of both.
After all, it was immediately after Sargsyan's resignation that the Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia Sergei Narishkin arrived in Baku and held talks with the President of Azerbaijan
It is unlikely that Mr. Narishkin would arrive in Baku so urgently to personally congratulate Ilham Aliyev on his victory in the election and discuss the domestic political situation in Azerbaijan. There is nothing to discuss in Baku. Everything is under control. Ilham Aliyev stands strong. No one has even minimal resources to challenge him. The opposition is completely destroyed.
He has the opportunity to impose any compromise-based peace agreement on the society. He can even present this peace as a great "victory", which in principle is impossible. The authoritarian power can allow itself to act contrary to the will of the society, as long as it is strong. Regardless of how provocative this may sound, it is a huge positive resource for achieving a real result in peace negotiations. Suffice it to recall that the peace treaties with Israel were signed by the President of Egypt and the King of Jordan. Neither one nor the other could even be suspected of any commitment to democracy.
A diametrically opposite situation exists in Armenia, moreover it has been there permanently. For more than twenty years the society has been in an "excited" state. Armenia's leaders, even the new "people's prime minister" cannot be particularly suspected of sympathizing with democracy either. The power has chronically been weak, primarily because of the lack of financial and economic resources: this leaves room for manipulating public sentiments. The socio-political life has been in constant fever. There has been no stability, and there will not be any in the future either. At least in the mid-term future.
Therefore, at this particular stage in Baku the head of the Russian intelligence could discuss exclusively the possibility of Azerbaijan's influence on the domestic political situation in Armenia through the Karabakh conflict. There were no other real problems requiring urgent discussion. Most likely, Narishkin asked I. Aliyev  to be patient. The permission to "take advantage" is not given so publicly.
The former head of Russia's foreign intelligence openly spoke of the need to have patience. Former intelligence officers of such a high rank are unlikely to voice a personal opinion. "The political situation created in Armenia should not serve as an excuse for launching military operations in Karabakh. Ilham Aliyev is quite an experienced and wise politician, not to listen to the advice of some Azerbaijani "hawks" asking to take advantage of the situation," the former co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, former head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Vyacheslav Trubnikov told haqqin.az.
As Trubnikov believes, the OSCE Minsk Group should immediately undertake intensive activities, regardless of the currently complicated relations between Russia and the West.
"Generally speaking, I will stick to my opinion that the parties should come to a compromise-based solution of the Karabakh conflict, making use of the achievements made in Key West in 2001. This means opening the corridor between Meghri and Nakhchivan and the Lachin corridor, and most importantly - unconditional release of all the occupied territories. In my opinion, this is the best option for the settlement of the Karabakh conflict," the expert noted (https://haqqin.az/news/127293).
In addition, the "taking advantage and benefiting" in these circumstances was in the interests of Azerbaijan. Before our eyes, the political and legal system for regulating international relations is collapsing. The international law is not enforced. The system is paralyzed. In these conditions, we observe the leading states act separately, in these or other parts of the world, in order to assert their own geopolitical domination, and most frequently, contrary to international law.
The attempt to "take advantage and benefit" could turn into a tragedy. We, most likely, "would be forced to peace." And it must be taken into account that Russia will be the only one to make sure this coercion happens.
We must also realize that with any scenarios of power change, it is hardly reasonable to expect any serious changes in the foreign policy course of Armenia, in general, and in the settlement of the Karabakh issue, in particular. Without the settlement of the Karabakh conflict and normalization of relations with Turkey, Armenia cannot do away with the Russian security umbrella.
In the opinion of the same Trubnikov, all conversations about the withdrawal of Armenia from the CSTO and the EEU, as well as the withdrawal of Russian bases from Armenia’s territories, make no sense.
The fact that the leader of the protest actions actually came to power in Armenia shall not make us happy. His position regarding the Karabakh settlement is likely to be even tougher than that of S. Sargsyan, at least in the early stages. Pashinyan has already spoken out for the participation of Karabakh separatists’ leaders in the negotiations for this territory. He said that in order not to witness a repetition of the April events, the Republic of Azerbajan should be caused serious damage to ensure guarantees on the inability of the Azerbaijani authorities, namely Aliyev himself, to overcome the state of shock for at least a year.
In any case, the parties will take a time-out in the negotiations on the Karabakh settlement. First, they will have to wait for, at least, early parliamentary elections and the formation of a new government in Armenia, which will yet have to get into the swim of things regarding the negotiations process.
Secondly, it is necessary to bring down the intensity of public activity. After the illusion of "victory over corrupt power", the Armenian society is extremely "aroused". Such an "aroused" society cannot be offered a compromise. The people who "won" the power of the Sargsyans, the Karapetyans, will "demand everything". People always hold much more populistic sentiments than the political elite. And today, Armenia has a populist leader who, at least for the time being and temporarily remains dependent on an extremely "aroused" society. It is necessary to give time to the society to "cool down".
In a word, the parties would be very happy to arrive at an agreement. But they do not know how.
However, already at this point it is not difficult to predict the next "autumn exacerbation" in international politics, which may have a very negative impact on our region. We should hardly expect a breakthrough improvement in the relations between Russia and the collective West in general, and with the US, in particular; moreover, it is hard to imagine on Putin’s terms. It is impossible by default. These relations will most pobably aggravate even more after the World Cup in Russia and the midterm elections in the US.
There will be an aggravation of the domestic political situation in Russia, too. Even according to surveys of engaged sociological centers from Russia, there is already a sharp drop in Putin's rating because of his plans to reform the pension system. In fact, it is about raising the retirement age. In addition, the hopes for economic growth also failed to materialize. A serious crisis, by the way, not only an economic, but also a socio-political one is brewing in Russia.
In such conditions, the only means of maintaining Putin's rating at a consistently high level which has proved successful already many times is another "piece" of the post-Soviet space voluntarily "joining" or "uniting" with Russia. The Russian everymen are ready to forgive Putin for everything if such a thing happens.  At least it worked before. The Russians, if I'm not mistaken, have "forgiven" Putin already twice for squandering their own pension savings. The restoration of the "great Russia" is the only unifying idea for the majority of Russians.
The only hope is that Putin has a lot to look at in the post-Soviet space even without us being there, namely Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. We may get spared this time. But sooner or later, it will be our turn. Putin is going to remain in power for a long time. He is not going to hand over anything to anyone. All will be Russian, just like Zhirinovsky puts it - Bakinski, Yelizavetpolski and Erivanski provinces. Neither the Armenian lobby, nor our billions will help here.
In the meantime, we will keep calm ...


30 January, 2014
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