Karabakh Conflict Resolution Process – Update as of 15/09/23

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At the end of June, the self-proclaimed authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh asked Armenia to stop negotiations with Azerbaijan in Washington following the death of 4 soldiers killed by Azerbaijani forces. So what is the situation as we head back to school in September?

The “Parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh” elected Samuel Charamanian, former head of the region’s Security Council, as the new “president of Nagorno-Karabakh” during an extraordinary session on 9 September, replacing Arayik Haroutiounian, who resigned on 1st September and who had appointed him minister of state before leaving his post. Reasons given via Facebook for this resignation of the former banker who became director of Karabakh Gold, after having been in office since May 2020: “My biography and Azerbaijan’s attitude towards it [Artsakh] artificially shape a certain number of conditions that raise important issues in terms of building our future stages and conducting flexible policies. Furthermore, the defeat in the war and the difficulties created in the country after that also considerably reduced the confidence of the authorities, especially in the president”. Several voices had in fact recently denounced his proximity to the Armenian leader Nikol Pashinian, and he had also been attacked on 20 August by the former Minister of State and Russian-Armenian billionaire (having recently abandoned Russian nationality) Ruben Vardanian, dismissed last February, accusing him of not keeping his promises to resign, 4 days after the irruption of armed militiamen dependent on the “Ministry of Defence” in “Parliament” and aiming to defend President Arayik Haroutiounian against demands resignation of the opposition.

On the side of Armenia, it is worth emphasizing the ever-increasing distancing from Russia, Nikol Pashinian declaring on 2 September that the country’s dependence on Russia had been a “strategic error”. The Defence Ministry announced exercises with the United States on 6 September, and Armenia sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine for the first time on 8 September. In addition, the Prime Minister sent the Rome Statute of the ICC to Parliament for ratification, which would allow him to prosecute Azerbaijan before this Court but would at the same time force the arrest of Vladimir Putin if he were to visit the National territory. These different positions bear witness to the fact that the Armenian government has clearly moved up a gear in changing its pro-Russian policy.

Russia’s reactions: the denial of criticism, perceptible in the remarks of Kremlin spokesperson Dimitri Peskov on 7 September and reported by TASS: “Russia continues to fulfill its functions as guarantor of security, Russia continues very attentive and scrupulous, coherent and constructive work with Yerevan and Baku“, who also reported criticism of joint military exercises with the United States in these terms: “holding such exercises does not contribute to stabilizing the situation , in no case does it contribute to strengthening the atmosphere of mutual trust in the region”. Two days before he said: “Russia is absolutely an integral part of this region and therefore cannot go anywhere. Russia cannot leave Armenianot without skillfully expressing the means of pressure at its disposal by recalling that more Armenians lived in Russia than in Armenia itself, and that most of them were “absolutely exemplary and patriotic citizens” of Russia. Denunciations from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs which described all of these approaches as “hostile” on 8 September, Maria Zakharova, also recalling certain means of pressure that Russia has against Armenia in these words: “Russia is the main foreign investor in the Armenian economy (40% of all investments, or more than $2.2 billion).

However, the Armenian position on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is still not clarified. Nikol Pashinian saw his good relations with the former “president of Nagorno-Karabakh” weaken as he seemed to gradually abandon his irredentist positions prior to the “44-day war”, he who declared before the war: “the Nagorno-Karabakh is Armenia”, a position that has been difficult to maintain since the defeat against Azerbaijan in 2020. This Prime Minister, who now officially supports the sovereignty of Azerbaijan over this region while requesting security guarantees for its Armenian inhabitants nevertheless declared on 2 September during the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, speaking of “illegal blockade of the Lachin corridor” or of “compatriots of Nagorno-Karabakh”: “all declarations according to that Nagorno-Karabakh does not exist as a territorial entity and that the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh is resolved are baseless”.

A contradiction which illustrates the eternal dilemma of Armenian leaders whoever they may be between domestic political legitimacy and with the diaspora (whose strongest vector is the demand for self-determination of Nagorno-Karabakh) and development of the country on the international plan requiring the resolution of the conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan (the strongest vector of which is the recognition of the latter’s sovereignty over Karabakh).

Azerbaijan, for its part, remains straight in its boots, criticizing, like Hikmet Hadjiyev on September 14 via the Politico media, “the idea according to which only Armenia should supply ethnic Armenians living in the neighbouring country that is Azerbaijan by a single mono-ethnic route” recalling “Before the war of the 1990s, ethnic Azerbaijanis and Armenians lived together, side by side, in peace in Karabakh. Today, a Jewish community of 30,000 people lives in Azerbaijan. An evangelical Christian community is developing. Georgians, Russians and Ukrainians today make up the multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. This could and should also apply to the Armenians of Karabakh.There he provides a pertinent analysis of the stalled negotiations in these terms: “For decades, the leaders of the country [Armenia] came not from Armenia itself, but from the politicians who were the first to lead the separatist stronghold of Karabakh. These leaders are now seeking to entrench themselves. A proposed peace deal between Azerbaijan and Armenia is anathema to them.” Even if he deliberately fails to specify that the same movement took place in Azerbaijan where the father of the current president came to power through an alliance of the Armenistanis and Nakhichevan clans.

Azerbaijan benefits from Russia’s growing support on this issue, as evidenced by the latest statements by Vladimir Putin himself on the subject on 12 September : “The Armenian leaders have, in fact and in reality, recognized the sovereignty of Azerbaijan over Karabakh. And he put it down on paper in his Prague declaration. We are aware of it, so what else can we say?” On 25 July, Sergei Lavrov already said: “Many complex and important issues need to be resolved. The most sensitive of them was and remains the problem of ensuring the rights and security of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh within the framework of ensuring the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan in full compliance with the Declaration of 1991“, 10 days after his ministry’s statement in these terms: “In October 2022 and May 2023, during summits under the auspices of the European Union, Armenia, recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of the territory of Azerbaijan. We respect the sovereign decision of the Armenian leaders, however, this radically changed the fundamental conditions under which the Declaration of the Leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia dated 9 November 2020 was signed, as well as the position of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed. In the region“.

But Azerbaijan does not benefit from the support of France, with which tensions have not eased in the slightest. Accusations of neo-colonialism renewed on 5 July by President Aliev, who takes advantage of his status as secretary general of the Non-Aligned Movement and for whom the latest developments in West Africa provide grist for his mill. While several French elected officials accompanied a humanitarian convoy blocked in front of the Latchin corridor on 30 August, first and foremost the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo. The French ambassador to Azerbaijan Anne Bouillon was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the next day for the statements of these same elected officials deemed “provocative and anti-Azerbaijani”. This same ministry reacted to President Macron’s statements dated 28 August in these terms: “The biased opinions of French President Emmanuel Macron, reiterated during the conference of ambassadors on 28 August, undermine the peace process, while creating a false impression about the current situation in the region and unilaterally defending Armenia”.

In short ! If the blockage in the current negotiations is due, as is often said, to a lack of guarantees provided by Azerbaijan relating to the rights and security of ethnic Armenians living on the sovereign territory of Azerbaijan, then essential questions arise.

What exactly are these guarantees expected by Armenia that Azerbaijan could provide in addition to those already enshrined in its Constitution, and how could they resolve the situation even though the self-proclaimed authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh don’t even want to hear about it and they persist in demanding self-determination despite international law and the balance of power on the ground? And while the Armenian authorities use contradictory language regarding Azerbaijani territorial integrity and refuse to effectively delimit the borders with its neighbour and to develop transport routes facilitating international trade?

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