ASSESSING THE ORIGINS OF THE KARABAKH CONFLICT (Used to be available at URL http://eurasianews.com/erc/homepage.htm under "Occasional Papers"). By Alan F. Fogelquist, Ph. D. Eurasia Research Center, Los Angeles California In the discussion below I will outline what I believe to be the main obstacles to acquiring an objective and accurate understanding of the causes of the Karabakh war. Without a correct diagnosis of the nature of this conflict there can be no reasonable or just solution. Only a just solution which takes into consideration the legitimate concerns of each party to the conflict and which assigns individual responsibility to all those persons on either side who have committed crimes of violence in violation of recognized rules of warfare can there be a lasting settlement to the conflict. As long as one or more parties to the conflict refuses to accept this reality the war will continue and there will be no return to a normal life, know healing, no economic reconstruction and no rebuilding of destroyed communities. Although the general causes of the Azeri-Armenian conflict over Nagorno Karabakh are known, many details about the origins of the conflict are clouded in mystery. At the beginning of 1988 when violence first erupted on a large scale the Soviet Press was not yet free. Foreign reporters were not allowed to visit the locations where violence began. Much of the written information about the origins of the conflict is of dubious reliability. In general it may be said that the Armenian nationalists, have been much more energetic and effective in making their interpretation of the Karabakh events known to the wider world than have the Azerbaijanis. The Azerbaijanis have few spokesmen in western countries except indirectly through Turkey and Turkish lobbying organizations. Armenians of the large Diaspora communities in Europe and the Middle East have numerous cultural and political organizations, newspapers and journals through which to make their views known. Armenians have also established significant political influence in Western Europe and the Untied States through their organizations and individual members of their communities who have been elected to public office. It is not surprising that Armenian points of view about the Karabakh crisis are better known than those of Azerbaijan. The government of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani nationals have not been effective in making their views understood in the west and have not produced any systematic and comprehensive documentation to substantiate their views. Any individual trying to learn the Azeri positions and their factual basis will have a great deal of difficulty finding the necessary information. Most books in western languages dealing in any detail with the Azeri-Armenian war over Nagorno Karabakh are written by authors generally supporting the positions of the Armenian nationalists. Two scholarly works by non-Armenians, the study by Audreay Alstadt and that by Tadeusz Swietochowski, have only short chapters on the Karabakh crisis in which the authors attempt to summarize the Azeri point of view as well as their own interpretation of the crisis. Even these two scholars are unable to reach a definitive judgment about several important questions on the Karabakh war because of a lack of detailed reliable evidence. In my own efforts to understand the origins and development of the Karabakh war and possible solutions to the conflict, I have faced some of the same problems as these two authors. I have already conducted a review of documentary evidence on the Nagorno Karabakh conflict which availbale in to the researchers in western countries. This in icludes the many articles and daily radio broadcasts from Baku, Moscow and Erevan gathered by the Foreign Broadcasting Information Service of the United States government and collections of documents such as that on Black January published in Baku. My own interest in the Karabakh conflict stems from a general interest in the frontier region between the Turko-Iranian Islamic world and the Russian and Balkan Slavic world as well as a deep personal concern to bring an end to the conflicts which have erupted in the region during the collapse of Communist rule and the multi-national state. Of the conflicts in this area I have a first hand personal knowledge of the conflict in former Yugoslavia about which there is a great deal of evidence available even to a scholar who does not visit the region. In comparing these conflicts I am struck by the lack of detailed and reliable information on the beginning of the Karabakh conflict. In this short commentary I will list some of the main areas about which there is currently a lack of detailed written evidence. A lot of this evidence may be available in classified documents and reports in Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia which are kept secret and are not available to investigative journalists, researchers, and scholars of any nationality. Part of the evidence is in the memory of all those who have directly experienced the Karabakh war as observers, victims or executors of warfare. A major problem is that part of what has been revealed to the public about this conflict appears to be based on hearsay, one sided and selective presentation of facts, exaggerated propaganda, popular myth, and in some cases deliberate lies or disinformation. Because the conflict has involved unspeakable atrocities and violation of international norms of warfare,there is good reason for people on either side who are responsible for these crimes of war to distort the facts and lie about what has happened. Propagandists on either side will exaggerate and distort reality to suit the needs of their cause. Ultimately lies and distortions will backfire, for in the long run, the only effective propaganda is the truth. Among the most important subjects about which primary documents or testimony is scarce is the expulsion or exodus of Azerbaijanis from Armenia and Armenian controlled regions of Nagorno Karabakh from the end of 1987 until the Black January events of 1990. This is one of the least understood and least documented aspects of the escalation of tensions between Azeris and Armenians in the early stage of the Karabakh conflict. When exactly did the exodus of Azeris take place? Under what conditions did it occur? What exactly occurred to make these people feel so threatened that they had to leave Armenia. Did the Azeri government encourage the exodus? What was the role of the Armenian government authorities and local organs of the Armenian Communist Party during the early exodus of Azeris. Were the Azeris who left Armenia threatened or mistreated by members of the non-Communist Armenian natinalist movement. What was the role of rumor, fear, and panic in precipitating these events? The exodus of Armenians from Azerbaijan after the Sumgait riots and the escalation of conflict between communities in Karabakh is much better known than the departure of the Azeris from Armenia. It is surprising that so little testimony or documentation is available on this subject. It would still be possible to systematically gather, cross reference, and verify the testimony of Azeris who fled in fear from Armenian controlled areas during the initial stages of the conflict. This evidence would be more credible if it were gathered systematically with some participation of non-Azeri researchers or human rights experts according to the interviewing techniques and standards of internationally recognized human rights organizations. Professional historians, specialists in international law, and researchers would be able to use such material with the confidence that it was not obtained in a sloppy and biased fashion for purposes of political propaganda. One of the serious problems of any researcher and analyst of wartime events is that much reporting during such times of intense conflict and emotion may be inaccurate, distorted, or simply untrue. Another important subject on which detailed evidence is lacking concerns the early stages in the development of the Armenian nationalist movement in Nagorno Karabakh and its evolution from a partly spontaneous protest movement to an organized revolutionary nationalist movement with its own military formations. Armenian sources written in western languages or Russian contain some information on the origins of the Karabakh movement and its leaders, but there are few Azerbaijani sources on this subject and no credible effort appears to have been made to systematically gather, compare, and verify testimony from Azeris from Nagorno Karabakh on the attitudes and behavior of the Armenian nationalists towards the Azeri population during the early stages of the movement for unification of Nagorno Karabakh with Armenia. Azerbaijani scholars have not gathered any precise documentaion which would tell us how this behavior changed or worsened as tensions rose. How peaceful was the Armenian protest movement in its earliest stages and when did it turn more violent? Documentation needs to be gathered on the role of local Armenians from Nagorno Karabakh in the early stages of the movement for unification with Armenia as well as the role of nationalist activists from Armenia or Moscow. Such evidence is necessary to understand how and when the Karabakh Armenians began forming organized military formations. Evidence is needed on the levels of outside support the Nagorno Karabakh Armenians were receiving at various stages in the conflict. Who were the first military leaders of the Karabakh Armenian movement? How many of them were local people? How many were from the Soviet Republic of Armenia and how many from the Armenian Diaspora? At what point, if any, is there reliable evidence of participation by volunteers from the Armenian Diaspora outside the former Soviet Union? Evidence on these questions must exist not only in Armenian sources, but also in Azeri or Soviet police or military archives. Especially valuable would be the testimony of Russian soldiers and military personnel or any independent Russian or foreign journalists who were present in Nagorno Karabakh during the first stage of the conflict. How did the program, goals, strategy, and tactics of the Armenian nationalists change as tensions escalated and the conflict developed from violence between communities to organized warfare? It may never be possible at this late moment for an impartial researcher to learn exactly what occurred immediately before, during, and after the Sumgait riots. There has been much speculation about the reasons for the failure of the Soviet Army or local Azeri authorities to intervene in a timely fashion to stop the looting, destruction and killing. About the Sumgait riots there are many conspiracy theories but very little concrete evidence. At the time of the actual Sumgait events, the governement-controlled Soviet, Azerbaijani, and Armenian media provided only scant information to the public, ostensibly in order to prevent the spread of rumors and further aggravation of tensions between the Armenian and Azeri communities. Foreign reporters were not allowed to enter either Armenia or Azerbaijan at this time. What is certain is that the relations between the Azerbaijani and Armenian communities were severely damaged as the result of the Sumgait violence, the Soviet and Azeri government's handling of the disturbances, and the use made of this event by political propagandists. The trial of those accused of violent and criminal behavior at Sumgait was not open to the public and detailed transcripts of the court hearings and all of the testimony and evidence are unavailable. There may be "classified" or secret documents in Moscow, Baku, and Erevan which could provide the honest and systematic historian or investigator with concrete evidence about this tragedy which is still shrouded in mystery. Until this evidence is made available to the world public, it is absurd to concoct conspiracy theories. The available evidence is too flimsy to prove any such theory. An accurate assessment of the Sumgait affair, its causes and consequences would require careful examinination and comparison of numerous classified reports and court documents as well as the testimony of eye witnesses of all nationalities both victims, perpatrators and observers of the destruction and violence. Even after careful examination of what it may be impossible to establish the identity the "50 hooligans" who suddenly appeared at the Sumgait bus station or whether it is true or untrue that some group of conspirators arranged for 50 hardened criminals to be released from prison and bussed them into Sumgait to organize the killing and destruction. Although evidence about Black January in Baku is more abundant than that about Sumgait, there are still many unanswered questions. Probably the most important unanswered questions are the role of the Vazirov government and various Azeri political factions during the events and the real reasons for the Soviet Army intervention in Baku. Here again there is a lack of detailed evidence from reliable sources. President Aliev of Azerbaijan has has on several occasions stated in a succinct and systematic fashion his government's position on the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and possible solutions to it. Azerbaijani shcolars, journalists, and legal experts now need to begin a systematic effort to gather documentation and testimony on the history of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict to convincingly substantiate these positions and make them available to the world. Only then will outsider really be able to get a balanced view of what has happened in Karabakh and understand the Azeri point of view. Copyright (c) December 1996 Eurasia Research Center and Alan Fogelquist. Published at VAR with permission from the author. All rights reserved.
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