Karabakh mediators focus on 'preventing war'

Mon 14 February 2011 07:39 GMT | 11:39 Local Time

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Richard Giragosian

News.Az interviews Richard Giragosian, director of the Armenian Centre for National and International Studies.

How would you describe 2010 in terms of the Karabakh conflict settlement?

Clearly, developments in 2010 were both destructive and dangerous, as the danger of a return to hostilities and even war is perhaps greater than ever. In other words, tension has escalated and has been matched by an increase in deaths along the “line of contact”. This also shows that Azerbaijan has now initiated a new policy, a “diplomacy of war” that seeks to pressure not only Armenia, but to also exert new pressure on the OSCE and the West. This new, more assertive policy reflects Baku’s increasing frustration with the lack of real progress in the peace process and a decrease in the level of trust or faith in the mediators themselves. And naturally, this has been only exacerbated by Azerbaijan’s perception or sense of betrayal by Turkey over the course of the Turkish-Armenian “protocols” and Ankara’s efforts to “normalize” relations with Yerevan. Thus, we can see that in 2010, Baku has moved from a policy of a “war of diplomacy” to one defined by the “diplomacy of war”.

In terms of “conflict settlement”, I see a return to the initial stage of diplomatic mediation, where the OSCE Minsk Group has gone “back to basics” in seeking the minimal goals of preventing war and easing tension. This basic effort has now replaced the earlier focus on the “status” of Nagorno-Karabakh. Rather, the priority is to prevent any side form resorting to force. This has now redefined the diplomacy as conflict prevention, rather than conflict settlement or resolution.

The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs have just visited the region. How do you assess their efforts to find a conflict settlement?

As with most meetings of the OSCE Minsk Group, there is simply not enough reliable information to evaluate their recent activities. But what is most interesting is the fact that the Russian co-chairman has taken the initiative, and has been encouraged to take the lead by the French and US co-chairs. This demonstrates two trends: a recognition that Russian power and influence in the region is now seen as crucial to the current stage of diplomatic mediation, and second, that in the wake of the August 2008 war in Georgia, Russia is seeking to demonstrate to the West in general, and to the US in particular, that it can be a “contributor” to regional security and stability in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh. Such a move by Moscow to a more “neutral” position over Karabakh is more than an effort to “reset” or improve its relations and standing with the West, but it also challenges Armenia’s reliance on Russia as its main strategic ally. This second trend is also evident in Russia’s attempt to improve relations with Azerbaijan over the longer term. 

How can you comment on the restoration of the PACE subcommittee on Nagorno-Karabakh?

In general, the OSCE has been the leading international forum for the Karabakh conflict. Other attempts at mediation by various diplomatic bodies or entities, ranging from the UN to the Organization of the Islamic Conference Organization, have generally failed, especially as the OSCE remains the only mediator accepted by all parties to the conflict. Against that record, I do not think that this latest attempt at “dialogue” over Karabakh by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will be fruitful. This is not to say that there is no need for dialogue, quite the contrary, but this PACE initiative has already been challenged. Rather, it may be more effective for PACE to focus on fostering greater democracy within the countries that are parties to the conflict, before seeking to engage in any direct intervention over Karabakh. 

What's your forecast for this year? Should we expect breakthroughs and positive changes?

In my view, the past year, 2010, was marked by an escalation in tension and can be defined as a year that was “more destructive and more dangerous” in the South Caucasus. But this year, there is an even greater danger of a return to hostilities and, perhaps, even outright war. What is most likely, however, is not an official declaration of war, but a possible “war by accident”, where limited skirmishes of attacks quickly spiral out of control and trigger a much wider and more serious offensive. The situation on the ground is simply too volatile and is exacerbated by new Azerbaijani policy of using the threat of force as a new policy to increase pressure and express its frustration with the peace process to date. Therefore, the only “breakthrough” that I expect for the short term is more confrontation and possibly more clashes, suggesting that the situation will become worse before getting any better, at least for 2011.

Kamala Mammadova
News.Az

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