The Issue of the Format is not a Formality At All

Or who opposes the involvement of additional resource of responsibility?


For CivilNet and Analyticon


Is the settlement of the Karabakh conflict possible in the near future?

For decades, there have been no qualitative developments in the Karabakh conflict settlement. The language used by the conflicting parties and mediators, as well as their stances, remained unchanged. People changed, but the language remained the same. To the extent that robots could be seated near the negotiation table with pre-programmed speeches and post-negotiation statements.

By the way, speaking of robots and technical progress, a lot has changed in the world throughout all these years, and the world itself has changed. Not only has our planet changed, but also the universe, and our perception of the universe. Unprecedented discoveries were made on the ground, under the ground and above the ground. Understanding these discoveries and imagining further progress gives one chills. When facing the new and the unknown, the anticipated revolutionary discoveries, the human being itself changes, changing their lifestyle and way of thinking.

But all this has nothing to do with the Karabakh settlement process. It remains where it was before the latest advances in technical progress. Here, they are still talking about the old negotiating format and the molding methodology. It seems that the Karabakh settlement is out of time and out of space. Reading the statements of the conflicting sides as well as the mediators, I get the impression that they have been typed on a typewriter, then put in an envelope and sent from the post office … on demand.

The status quo, or the hibernation of the negotiation process,  was beneficial to everyone

All jokes aside, in reality the parties to the conflict and the mediators have managed to make their environment quite comfortable by creating predictable and calm conditions for their activities for at least the next decade. So comfortable that removing them from this comfort is the same thing as removing a sleeping bear from its den. Our “bears” will also be very difficult to remove from their cozy environment. Moreover, it is not known how comfortable the new environment will be or how long it will take to make it comfortable as well. The parties to the conflict and the mediators have already or unwittingly stated that the status quo was beneficial to everyone, including to themselves, the international actors and to the world superpowers. Everyone has solved some of their problems during this time.

Of course, the mediators have come up with various suggestions during this time, but the essence is the same, since the philosophy and methodology of the settlement has remained the same: they’re aiming for the elimination of the consequences of the conflict and not the causes. This is illogical, since in 1988, when the people of Artsakh rebelled, there were no consequences, there were no issues with territories and refugees, but there was the issue itself. And the foundation of this crooked building was laid out from way back then. This basis does not leave much room for creative approaches. And uncoincidentally, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs stated back in July 2006 that they have exhausted their imagination in the adoption, formulation and finalization of the principles of peaceful settlement.

As for the immediate sides of the conflict (their political elites), they have also managed to create rather comfortable conditions for themselves. It should be noted here that the settlement process also includes effective political tools and, most importantly, in the solution of internal political issues. Participation in the settlement process was a powerful external resource for the stabilization of authorities, which compensated the deficit of domestic legitimacy.

However, the settlement process was also a significant resource in foreign policy. With this tools, the conflicting sides and the mediators have also resolved other regional and international issues. The OSCE Minsk Group was also a platform for maintaining the latest crumbs of cooperation between the world power centers. That’s why the old system was so stable.

Negotiation drafts

The attempts of the new agenda of the new government of Armenia have cautiously floated into the “ice kingdom” or the “den of the bear” like a breeze. So far there has been no change, and there couldn’t have been any so soon. But there in an impression that the seal of current philosophy and psychology of the settlement process has been broken…

Hopefully, it will warm up the imagination of the parties and the mediators, and not force them to shut all the windows and doors.

There is a format for keeping busy, and there is a format to resolve

A trilateral format for settlement is not a formality at all. The only achievement during the 27 years of the negotiation process was the ceasefire agreement signed on May 12, 1994, which was achieved in exactly that format. Essentially, there are no other achievements. Is this argument alone not sufficient? Moreover, this format is the only one to ensure a balanced distribution of rights and responsibilities.

Discussion on the negotiations format demonstrates how the stakeholders treat the issue. Do they want to resolve the issue, or to deal with the settlement and maintain the status quo? Does the attitude dictate the format? Each of the approaches has its format. The parties have been negotiating for years and decades in the format of settlement, and accordingly, this format was most appropriate for keeping busy with and not resolving the issue. The format of the resolution is trilateral, so those opposing it must realize (they need “help” in realizing) that they are against the resolution and are for the frozen conflict and the maintenance of the status quo. Let’s repeat, the trilateral format is not only the right format, it is the format of conflict RESOLUTION.

Fair distribution of responsibility is most important

The opponents of the new agenda in Armenian society say that the demand for Artsakh’s involvement will urge Azerbaijan to bring up the factor of the Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh. However, this approach does not stand any criticism. First of all, Azerbaijan has already put it into circulation, and the co-chairmen have had formal-protocol meetings with the head of the community with each visit to the region. The demand for full community participation in the negotiation process, in turn, does not stand any criticism. Pashinyan has already made the strongest argument, that the members of this community are participating in the formation of political power in Azerbaijan, therefore the formed government has a mandate to represent their interests. The population of Artsakh does not participate in the formation of political power in Armenia, so the Armenian authorities do not receive such a mandate from the people of Artsakh. As the Russians say, this is obvious even to the hedgehog …

But there is also the other side of the coin. It lies in the domain of responsibility. Each side is a domain of responsibility. And fair and proportional distribution of responsibility is the most important in the process of settlement. Everyone knows how much responsibility  the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic can take in the negotiation process, in the de-escalation or escalation of the situation, but it is unclear what the Azeri community can be responsible for. Azerbaijani refugees, as well as all other refugees, have the right to return to their former settlements and no one can deny them this right. But let’s clarify, this is in the domain of rights and not the domain of responsibility. Once a peace agreement has been signed between the parties responsible for conflict resolution, this community will be involved in post-agreement processes, but it will still be in the domain of rights rather than responsibility, since the refugee has the right to return, but does not have to return, and this issue will be resolved individually.

When insisting on the separate participation of the Azerbaijani community in the negotiation process, the issue is again relocated to the domain of keeping busy, rather than the domain of resolution. Finally, it is possible to organize a festival of formats within the framework of the negotiation process and invite representatives of other communities from all three sides (Russian, Jewish, Talish, Greek and other communities). But will this facilitate the resolution or the contrary? And if we base it on convenience, it would be most convenient for the Azerbaijani authorities to negotiate with the Azerbaijani community. In a convenient and pleasant environment, you can make as many decisions as you want. Another question is who will implement them.

Do we want the decisions to be implemented, or is the goal to maintain comfort?

One burden for each and no more

Opponents of the new agenda of Armenia’s new authorities say that the mediators have not accepted it and that there is a danger that Armenia will be perceived in the domain of being destructive. Very well. In this case, Pashinyan can no longer insist on Artsakh’s participation. His offer has not been accepted – oh well, it will remain as a plus, as one positive initiative in Armenia’s archive. And there is absolutely no reason to deviate from the chosen path. Pashinyan may continue to insist that he does not refrain from the negotiation process and is always ready to take part in the negotiations on behalf of Armenia, assuming his part of responsibility.

The issues on the negotiating table are in several domains: Azerbaijan-Artsakh, Armenia-Azerbaijan, Artsakh-Armenia. Armenia can and must negotiate on the issues in its domain. There is a problem of territories and demarcation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a problem of refugees, regional security issues and so on. No one can demand more from the Armenian leadership, to put more responsibility on their shoulders. Armenia does not shy away from its responsibility, but it is not obligated and is not entitled to take up additional responsibility.

As to who is responsible for the Karabakh side, it’s not Pashinyan’s problem but rather it’s for those who reject his initiative (by the way, are they not afraid of the prospect of being perceived as a destructive participant?). The most that Pashinyan can promise to the mediators is the following – to try to “influence” the NKR authorities in order to end the conflict, that is what was required by the UN resolutions, in particular, resolutions 853 and 884. By the way, resolution 822 refers to “local Armenian forces”. It’s not Pashinyan’s fault that his proposal to take into account the “local Armenian forces”, which is consistent with the UN resolution, has not been accepted. Yes, he will try to influence. If it succeeds, good, if he doesn’t, oh well. Influencing and making a decision are two different things. How effective is the attempt of influence, depends not only on Pashinyan. And to what extent the people of Artsakh will be “influenced”, is not just the issue of Pashinyan and the people of Artsakh.

Your life or your wallet – Your life or your lands

In this regard, the Azerbaijani side seems to address a logical question to the Armenian side –  so what are your troops doing in Nagorno-Karabakh? It sound like a tough question. Not at all. Armenian Armed Forces limited personnel are in Artsakh to ensure the safety of choosing for Artsakh people. So that Azerbaijan can’t say to the people of Artsakh that either you will be part of Azerbaijan or we will slaughter you. As it did in the beginning of the 20th century, as a result of which the region with predominantly Armenian population was forcefully attached to [Soviet] Azerbaijan. And today’s Azerbaijani principle “land for peace” is the reincarnation of yesterday’s terrorist attitude. The people of Artsakh should make their own choices about their destiny, in safe conditions – not under death threats.  Under this condition, Azerbaijan will have to change the language it uses to speak to them. A much more logical question arises – does Azerbaijan speak a language other than that of weapons and threats? It seems that during all this time it should have been already convinced that weapons and threats are not effective arguments. Maybe it’s time to ponder other arguments.

Azerbaijani authorities do not realize another danger. Rejecting the participation of the Artsakh side and preferring to negotiate with the Armenian authorities only, pushes the development of events towards a less favorable domain for itself. In Armenia and Artsakh, two new conflict resolution plans have been proposed at the expert level, which can hand over an Artsakh mandate to the Armenian government. First, the Republic of Armenia and the Nagorno Karabakh Republic form a military-political alliance, and NKR provides a mandate to Armenia within that framework. And second, the population of Artsakh participates in the pan-national elections and the process of formation of the government, thus empowering the Armenian authorities to represent their interests in the negotiation process. Are these options more acceptable for Azerbaijan? I am not sure.

These questions are important, as are the answers to them, or, at least, the search for the answers. When we say that the military route of resolving the conflict should be ruled out and the conflict should be settled peacefully, it also means, apart from everything that the confrontation should be moved to the field of arguments and questions. And each question should be answered by someone. In particular, someone should take responsibility and provide an articulate answer to the question of why shouldn’t the Karabakh side participate in a negotiation process which determines its fate.

Sometimes they argue whether the settlement should be in the legal or political field, the legal-political or in the framework of restoration of historical justice. But one thing is indisputable: it must inevitably be in the domain of a healthy logic.

Another remarkable fact: Today, there are conversations about preparing people for peace. The parties of the negotiation process are committed to dealing with this issue. The Azerbaijani authorities have also assured that they are dealing with it, but in this case they do not consider the Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh as a separate faction, so they prepare everyone equally or declare that they agree to prepare. In other words, the Azerbaijani community is not considered a special addressee. In general, the Azerbaijani demand a bilateral format, meaning that the Azerbaijani authorities are most likely representing that community in the negotiations with Armenia. That is to say, the Baku authorities actually respond to their demand (about the participation of the Azerbaijani community) by rejecting it themselves.

Officially. Baku may really not need its Azeri community in the settlement process, but the Armenian authorities can not do that with Artsakh. And could never have done it. We say that now because even more nuance has already been added to the previous situation. Now Russia no long has the definite and unreserved influence over Armenia it once had during the era of the former Armenian government. Now Armenia does not have the definite and unreserved influence on Artsakh it once had during the former Armenian government. That is to say, the intermediary and especially Russian mechanism to influence the people of Artsakh through the Armenian pipe doesn’t exist anymore, although Azerbaijan continues to rely on it. Do you understand that the situation has changed?

Azerbaijan has always waged war… in the right format

And the last argument: During military operations, Azerbaijan fired in the right format, that is, on Artsakh. Moreover, Azerbaijan is well aware that the shooting in its direction from Artsakh during the war does not need recognition, and it has to comprehend it both de facto and de jure. And by putting this shooting in its “black list”, it is impossible to mitigate the pain and suffering of the receiver.

But is war the only way to restore the right format? Maybe we should try other options? Options that do not cast doubt on anyone’s right to live.

In reality, there is no formative deadlock

After all, if the issue of the people of Artsakh’s participation is so painful for Azerbaijan, but there is a desire and a will to solve the issue, one can find a way out of this seemingly formative deadlock.

I can prompt an option.

It is the idea of two-stage negotiations. At the first stage, the President of Artsakh together with the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, participate in trilateral talks (or each separately meet). In parallel, Artsakh, at the level of the State Minister (after the adoption of the new Constitution there is no prime minister in Artsakh) negotiates with the representatives of the Azerbaijani refugees on the implementation of the provisions stemming from the future peace treaty. In this second step, the participation of the other two sides of the conflict – Azerbaijan and Armenia at ministerial level and a focus on humanitarian issues, becomes meaningful.

In place of a conclusion

In any case, it would be necessary to make up our minds on whether our goal is to resolve the conflict or to maintain the current format of the conflict settlement. What is our imagination sufficient for? Although, for the second, apparently no imagination is required.

Of course, one should not expect immediate results from negotiation in the right format and immediately get angry, “You see that the conflict is not resolved again …”

One important thing to realize is the right format is not a solution to everything. The trilateral format (like any other format) is not a goal, but merely the means. Much more important is the willingness and the will of the parties to resolve the problem. The correct format is just a chance and a step forward.

Apart from everything, the right format will undermine the “irresponsible” idyllic state of Artsakh’s political establishment and will force it to take on its share of responsibility. Stepanakert has always guaranteed of the shouldering of such a burden, but it is one thing when you declare it with the hope that it is not feasible, and something else when you load these assurances with concrete responsibility.

The right format will mean attracting additional resources for responsibility.

Translated by Zara Poghosyan

About the author

Gegham Baghdasaryan is the chief editor of the Analyticon monthly and Head of the Stepanakert Press Club.

Read the article in Armenian, Russian.