Oxford Analytica Ltd. 23/04/2001

ARMENIA/AZERBAIJAN:  Karabakh Hurdles 

EVENT:  Neither the Azerbaijani nor the Armenian public have the "psychological will" to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict peacefully, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev said on April 19. 

SIGNIFICANCE:  A greater level of activity and an unprecedented level of coordination among relevantinternational sponsors have raised hopes that the long-running dispute, which has undermined regional prosperity for a decade, will be resolved.  The broad outline of an agreement appears set and, at recent meetings in Key West, the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents held talks on details. 

CONCLUSION:  The two states are closer than at any other time to a peaceful resolution of the dispute.  However, Aliyev and Kocharian will struggle to agree on the details of a deal and have not prepared their publics for a compromise.  Popular opposition, particularly in Azerbaijan, remains a formidable obstacle. 

ANALYSIS:  At the start of this month, Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev attended a series of meetings in Key West, Florida, concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute (see OADB, April 13, 2000, III). It was the highest-profile gathering since the ceasefire was agreed in 1994, and marked the return of momentum to a process which had been halted by the assassination of the Armenian premier and parliamentary speaker in late 1999.  The two leadersspent very little time in face-to-face talks, concentrating on detailed discussions with the 'co-chairs' of the OSCE's Minsk Group (France, Russia and the United States). Greater coordination among the Minsk Group – previously divided by geopolitical rivalry -- appears to have contributed to the "substantial progress" which was reported:  US Secretary of State Colin Powell opened the talks, while Russia sent influential Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov, a former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service.  On April 9, the two presidents held separate meetings with US President George Bush.  Another round is due in Geneva in June.  

Greater activity on the part of international sponsors was evident earlier this year, when French President Jacques Chirac personally presided over two meetings in Paris.  At those meetings, Aliyev and Kocharian apparently agreed the broad outlines of a settlement.  The format of the Key West talks suggested that they were negotiating on details (apparently including maps of the region).  Moreover, US negotiator Carey Cavanaugh indicated that Iran was also being briefed on the discussions.  The next French   negotiator, who starts work in May, is currently ambassador to Iran. 

New momentum.  The new dynamism reflects the changed attitude of all participants:

--      Kocharian, a former leader of Karabakh, recognizes that a settlement is the only way to revive theArmenian and Karabakhi economies -- and perhaps that Aliyev is the only Azerbaijani leader capable ofdelivering it.
--      Aliyev is reportedly under pressure from his main ally, the United States, to resolve the dispute.  The 77-year old president, who is regularly reported to be in ill health, is anxious to resolve the disputeand begin the implementation process in order to ensure the succession of his son, Ilham. Ilham lacksthe political stature, experience and networks to 'sell' peace to the Azerbaijani public. 
--      France's activism, in marked contrast to its dormant approach of recent years, reflects a greater EU interest in the stability of the Caucasus, and also a desire to build ties with Baku after the French Senate adopted a resolution on the 1915 Armenian  genocide.
--      US decision-makers appear to have identified a potential foreign policy success that, at relatively little cost -- and almost certainly no commitment of US troops -- will strengthen US investments in the South Caucasus region and decrease the influence there of both Iran and Russia.  

Russian initiative.  The most significant change is Moscow's apparent commitment to work closely with Washington and Paris. Under President Vladimir Putin, Russian policy in the Caucasus is more coordinated than under his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. There are competing (but not necessarily conflicting) explanations for this:

1.  Moscow accepts the need for stability in the South Caucasus because it will help stabilise the Russian North Caucasus, particularly Chechnya.  Moreover, Putin is concerned that a renewal of hostilities would oblige Moscow to honour its military alliance with Armenia, while Turkey would assist Azerbaijan. 

2.  Russia's accommodative stance is a purely tactical manoeuvre, designed to win over Azerbaijan, which the Kremlin now regards as the key state in the Caucasus.  The Russian president's visit to Azerbaijan earlier this year marked the start of a new effort to woo Baku and thereby give Moscow agreater influence over the division of the Caspian (see OADB, March 13, 2001, II) and the Azerbaijani succession. 

Outline deal.  The broad outline of a Karabakh peace deal is already fairly clear: 

--      The Armenian side would return immediately six of the seven Azerbaijani regions they occupy outside Nagorno- Karabakh:  Aghdam, Fizuli, Jabrail, Kelbjar, Kubatly and Zangelan.  Some 80% of Azerbaijan's approximately 550,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) come from these areas. 
--      Azerbaijan would gain a secure transport corridor, perhaps guarded by Russian soldiers, through the Meghri region of Armenia to its exclave of Nakhichevan.  This part of the peace deal is vital to Aliyev, who needs to counter charges that he has surrendered Karabakh by showing a positive gain fromthe agreement -- a land bridge linking the two parts of Azerbaijan and Turkey.
--      Armenia's borders, closed by Azerbaijan and Turkey,  would re-open, ending Armenia's economic and communications isolation.
--      The most contentious issue remains the central one: the status of Nagorno-Karabakh itself.  Baku insists that it cannot tolerate a breach of its territorial integrity, while the Armenians refuse to make any concessions that "subordinate" Karabakh to Azerbaijan or cut the land bridge between Karabakh and Armenia. The eventual deal will probably leave Karabakh with the de facto status that it enjoys already and incorporate the Lachin region, linking Karabakh and Armenia, while upholding Azerbaijan's de jure sovereignty.  In return for a peace settlement, the international community is offering aid incentives, estimated at around 2 billion dollars.  A donors' conference held in Geneva last year won commitments from international and UN agencies to help reconstruct devastated regions.  Moreover, the United Stateswould lift Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which blocks government technical aid to Azerbaijan. 

Peace obstacles.  Yet even if Aliyev and Kocharian can reach agreement, they face considerable domestic obstacles. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev said last week that neither public had the "psychological will" to resolve the conflict peacefully.  This is largely a consequence of the private manner in which the two presidents have approached the talks: little has been done to prepare public opinion forchange.  Several constituencies present difficulties:  

1.  Karabakhi Armenians.  The Karabakh public is perhaps the least problematic factor.  The territory's president, Arkadii Gukasian, is in firm control now that Karabakh's main warlord, Samvel Babaian is imprisoned.  Any deal that leaves Karabakh secure (self-rule and a land bridge to Armenia) will bewelcomed by most Karabakhi Armenians -- and Kocharian, a former leader of Karabakh, can be expected to settle for nothing less. 

2.  Armenia.  There will be greater opposition in Armenia, which tends to become more unstable as the prospect of a compromise over Karabakh rises (see OADB, February 6, 1998, III).  Kocharian remains unpopular in Armenia.  If he signs a deal which surrenders part of Meghri (to create an Azerbaijan-Nakhichevan land bridge), Kocharian will be open to accusations that he, as a Karabakhi, has given up part of the Republic of Armenia to make a deal.  In the country, two broad factions are likely to lead opposition: 

--      The Armenian Revolutionary Federation, also known as  'Dashnaks', will oppose any surrender of 'historic Armenian land'.  The party is represented in the Armenian and Karabakh parliaments and has a strong organisational basis in both entities.  However, its leadership enjoys good relations with Kocharian and will hesitate to attack him openly.
--      The Karabakh veterans' movement, Yerkrapah, has undergone internal splits in the last year but will oppose a deal on principle -- the surrender of land  'won by blood' -- and for political reasons (it is contesting control of the Karabakh economy and parliament with Kocharian).  A new Yekrapah-based party was formed last month;  its chairman is Albert Bazaian, a popular former mayor of Yerevan.  One of its founders is former premier Aram Sarkisian, the brother of assassinated prime minister Vazgen Sarkisian. Kocharian's chances of overcoming resistance depend first of all on the level of his opponents' organisation, but also on how quickly Armenia experiences the benefits of peace.  Publicopinion could swing behind Kocharian once railway communications and the border with Turkey are opened.  

3.  Azerbaijan.  It is clear that Azerbaijanis are entirely unready to acknowledge the de facto loss of Karabakh by arms, although the level of support for a resumption of hostilities -- the only alternative to a deal -- is uncertain at best. Nonetheless, there will be strong opposition to any deal which undermines the principle that Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan. The best organised opposition party, Musavat (which observers believe was the real victor in November's general election), will lead the protests.  Party leader Isa Gambar has already spoken out against any compromise on the status of Karabakh and asserts that Aliyev is the only politician interested in such a deal. 

Aliyev controls the state security apparatus and the media. He will use all available methods to encourage and exploit Azerbaijanis' feelings of loyalty to their president and emphasise the benefits of peace.  While this can be expected to mute much of the opposition, Aliyev's control is not total and he was unable to prevent serious protests from breaking out in the town of Sheki last year against the falsificationof the parliamentary elections.  Moreover, it will take years for most of the benefits of peace to come to fruition.  The building of a road to Nakhichevan will take time, and it will be many years before IDPs can go home to the six occupied and wholly devastated regions. 


Copyright (c) 2001 Oxford Analytica Ltd.
Virtual Azerbaijan Republic (VAR) Website

Counter added 05/14/01