Azenglishnews.com addressed a few questions to George Niculescu who is the Head of Research at the European Geopolitical Forum.
What can we expect from 2017 in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
I would hope to see the year 2017 becoming a watershed in the Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict resolution. To that end, one essential requirement is for the conflicting parties to identify a political compromise that would underpin the conclusion of a peace agreement on NK. It is deemed widely that the inability to produce a resolution on the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict so far was, to a large extent, linked to the dilemma regarding the prevailing legal and political principles that would be applicable: preserving the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, or granting the right to self-determination of the Armenian population in NK.
In this context, the Madrid Principles (including its subsequent updates) proposed by the co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group would enable the application of both the notions of restoration of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan with regard to the return of the seven districts, and the self-determination of Nagorno-Karabakh, possibly within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. In order to move political negotiations forward from the current stalemate, each party should demonstrate greater political will and be more open to take calculated risks in working with the other side towards a compromise.
Armenia-Azerbaijan Platform for Peace has recently been established. How can this kind of step affect the process of the resolution?
“The “Armenia-Azerbaijan Platform for Peace”(APA) is an encouraging step forward in NK conflict resolution. What I feel APA is missing right now, it is a neutral international arbiter/manager that would guarantee the credibility of this initiative in the eyes of all conflicting parties, and would coordinate its development and implementation with the ongoing efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group.
It is in the spirit of APA that the Brussels-based European Geopolitical Forum-EGF (http://gpf-europe.com) has argued for the creation of a platform for exchange of information between Armenian and Azerbaijani experts on energy, transport, trade issues, the rehabilitation of the territories affected by the conflict, and the return of IDPs to their homeland. It was deemed that such an economic dialogue could lead to the development of post-conflict scenarios for the whole Karabakh, based on a roadmap leading towards an economically integrated South Caucasus.”
Consequently, the EGF research focused on developing economic incentives in the framework of post-conflict scenarios, while establishing links between the economic dialogue, on the one hand, and political and security negotiations, on the other. I believe that a dialogue on economic issues would have an important role to play in preparing the political and psychological conditions for wider circles of the Armenian and Azerbaijani societies to accept a negotiated compromise solution.
A Russian diplomat has recently been assassinated in Istanbul. How can Azerbaijan suffer from the exaggeration of Russian-Turkish relations?
Obviously, the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was a very tragic event. However, I wouldn’t exaggerate the importance of this event neither for the future Russo-Turkish relations, nor, more broadly, for the regional security in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan’s security included. On the other hand, I would see the new military initiative of Russia and Armenia to establish a joint ground force an issue which should be more worrying for Baku than the assassination of ambassador Karlov.
This new initiative has been indeed a significant move towards further fragmenting the South Caucasus, aimed at compensating, in Armenian eyes, for the recent Russian tightened political, economic and security links with Baku, building upon an unrealistic threat against Armenia from the West/Turkey. In reality, I would expect that, sometime in the near future, Russia and Turkey might have to reach a bilateral agreement on how to solve the NK conflict, irrespective of Armenian and Azerbaijani legitimate interests. When such an agreement would have shaped up, both Yerevan and Baku could do nothing else than accept it because of their acute lack of viable alternatives.
Therefore, I see a strong imperative for both Baku and Yerevan to strengthen their own efforts to solve the NK conflict in their own terms, in order to avoid that regional powers, such as Russia and Turkey. This threat is even higher for both Baku and Yerevan given the lack of appetite for increased foreign engagement of the upcoming Trump administration in Washington, and the increased preoccupation of the EU with the growing terrorist threats from the South at the expense of post-Soviet conflict resolution.
Do you see the military solution of the conflict? Why? What will be the total cost of it for both countries?
There is obviously no military solution to the NK conflict, since the costs of war would be huge for all parties. I guess this is quite well understood in both Baku and Yerevan. On the one hand, Baku knows quite well that a war with Armenia will disrupt its continued energy-based economic development and prosperity, while, on the other hand, Armenia, which is inferior in terms of defence capabilities, has no strategic interests for engaging in military offensive actions against Azerbaijan.
However, mutual threats of use of force will continue for some time to prevent a peaceful conflict resolution in the case of Karabakh, to poison bilateral relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and to impede the development and implementation of most positive initiatives, such as the “Armenia-Azerbaijan Platform for Peace”. To date, the constituency for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan remains small. If there was political will on both sides to expand the constituency for peace, restore international legal order, ensure freedom for all people, and nurture prosperity through regional integration—something that has been contested by many—there would then be a clearer path towards making the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict come to a peaceful, mutually agreed upon solution.
Author: Orkhan Khalilov
Edited: Alisha Pretto