Nagorno Karabakh: Everything is not lost, much can be restored

Վարդան Օսկանյան

By Vartan Oskanian

Today, there are two Karabakh/Artsakh related tendencies that are cause for concern and consternation, that must be stopped and reversed, if Armenia is ever to hope to regain, perhaps just partially, its tangible losses and re-establish its place and role in the region and around the negotiating table.

The first dangerous tendency is to allow an all-to-smooth transition from Karabakh as a primary agenda issue to a general Armenia-Azerbaijan bilateral agenda, where Karabakh is excluded. As a result, in the capitals of the main players likely to have impact on the final resolution of the of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, new stereotypical conclusions are being drawn: 1) The issue of Nagorno Karabakh is resolved; 2) Karabakh is Azerbaijani territory; Armenians live there, and it is possible to be alert and attentive to issues relating to their human rights; 3. It’s time to look to the future. This is the dominant inclination of the western powers—the US and the EU—and also, somewhat, of Russia.

For now, the West’s and Russia’s positions differ in that the West desires a swift resolution, and is therefore offering financial assistance to the Armenian side in order to sweeten the process, while Russia is in no rush to see a resolution. It’s just that the Russian President Vladimir Putin is somewhat constrained because, willingly or unwillingly, he has undertaken the role of both mediator and guarantor of the implementation of the provisions of the November 9 ceasefire declaration. Thus, his room for maneuver is somewhat limited.

The second tendency is that Azerbaijan is attempting to impose its agenda on Armenia. In order to implement that agenda in the shortest possible time, Baku is using all possible levers and taking advantage of Armenia’s weakened defensive and diplomatic positions.

The first probable document on Baku’s agenda is one dealing with issues of border delimitation and demarcation, which will also refer to the enclaves. The second is the road that is to connect Azerbaijan proper to its Nakhichevan region, which is a provision of the November 9 document. The third is the probable signing of a document that addresses establishing peace and good-neighborly relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

All three are very serious challenges for Armenia. They will inevitably contain provisions that do not correspond to Armenia’s security interests—or interests generally. Further, the peace treaty which Azerbaijan will doubtless sign only if Armenia recognizes Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity—which Azerbaijan sees as including Karabakh—will affirm the final loss of Nagorno Karabakh.

It is an irrefutable fact that Artsakh is part of Armenia. Neither I, nor Nikol Pashinyan, nor those who voted for him or for the opposition, can determine Artsakh’s fate. The fate of Artsakh is sealed. It is our legacy, our history, the spark of our independence, our land and water, our blood and identity.

Since the May 12, 1994 ceasefire [signed then by Armenia, Russia and Karabakh, as equally recognized parties] all Armenian administrations, regardless of the diplomatic language they’ve chosen to use in negotiating the final political status of Nagorno Karabakh—independence or self-determination, or when engaged in the ‘de facto and de jure’ formulation, the final goal has always been that at the end, one day, Artsakh will return to Armenia, de jure.

I believe that today, it is imperative that Nikol Pashinyan stand before Parliament and from that high podium, announce, “let us agree that whatever happens, we will not sign or affirm any document or agreement that identifies Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan.”

This will immediately alter the national disposition, will send a clear message to Azerbaijan and the international community about our determination to defend our rights and our country.

But in order to impart credibility and authenticity to such a position, Armenia must have a clear roadmap for its next steps and policies.

First, taking into consideration global and regional developments and too-frequently contradictory statements of interest regarding our region by the West and the East, Armenia, while maintaining and where necessary further deepening its strategic partnership with Russia, must return to a policy of complementarity. Today, Armenia does not have the luxury to not avail itself of all opportunities to push forward its national interests, even if relations between those poles are very tense.

Second, Armenia must categorically affirm that the November 9 declaration was the reflection of the situation created as a consequence of the military operations in Karabakh and surrounding regions. Its terms are not the expression of the will and desire of the Republic of Armenia; rather they are the expression of a situation that was imposed by military force. The status quo resulting from military operations cannot serve as a basis for lasting and stable peace in the region, or for establishing good neighborly relations between neighbors. Not in this region, and as history shows us – not anywhere in the world.

Third, Armenia must declare that it is generally in acceptance of the idea of signing a peace agreement with Azerbaijan, if it includes the following provisions: 1) Azerbaijan pulls all its forces out of Armenia’s sovereign territory 2) All Armenians detained and held by Azerbaijan are returned, without delay, including those who are currently subjected to judicial proceedings 3) Affirmation of the borders of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region as a unitary and undivided political entity, as has been recognized since the signing of the 1994 ceasefire in all negotiating documents presented by mediators and the international community 4) Restarting negotiations within the Minsk Group format in order to find a resolution to the issue of the status of Nagorno Karabakh.

The failure of diplomacy leads to war. Yet, in Armenia’s post-war period diplomacy must assume a primary and qualitatively new role. The military preparedness of the Armenian army is extremely important. But its usefulness is limited to reining in Azerbaijan’s blatant aggressions. Today the army cannot and will not solve the overwhelming and urgent problems before us. That can only be done through effective diplomacy.

Everything is not lost. There is much that can be restored.

Vartan Oskanian was Armenia’s foreign minister in 1998-2008.

Read the article in Armenian.