Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Karabakh crisis in few points

While the fire is burning and the situation on the ground is still unclear, there are few points which are worthy to be recalled. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (1988-1994) claimed more than 25 000 lives and caused a high number of refugees and displaced persons. The number increased with years, as the condition of refugee is inherited by children of refugees/displaced. Most of the displaced are Azeris, who had to flee breakaway Karabakh and the so-called security belt, the regions which surrounded Soviet Nagorno-Karabakh and which were won by the Armenian-Karabakh army. Armenian refugees were Azerbaijani citizens who left Azerbaijan. Since 1991 the two republics are independent sovereign states. They do not have diplomatic relations and their state-borders are closed. Karabakh is an unrecognized self-proclaimed Republic.

Since 1994 a cease-fire is in force. There are no interposed forces, no de-militarized zone and virtually it's exclusively up to military personnel in the field to ensure that confrontations would not erupt.
The post-conflict solution efforts have been channeled into a protracted negotiation, mediated and facilitated by an ad-hoc group, the Minsk Group, originally to be the first step towards a more articulated process, a Minsk conference. The conference never took place and the negotiations, regardless of the numerous forms of solutions proposed, proved so far unsuccessful.  In the two decades of its existence the Minsk Group has been often criticized, recently especially by Azerbaijan for its composition (US, France, Russia, thus perceived to be too pro-Armenian), for its poor success record. Despite evident frustrations, both Armenia and Azerbaijan did not opt for other typologies of conflict resolution (e.g. international courts) in the effort to avoid a resumption of hostilities.

The negotiations seem stuck because of the total incompatibility of positions, that make virtually impossible to find a common ground. What for Armenia is a breakaway conflict based on the right to self-determination of Karabakhi, for Azerbaijan is an Armenian occupation violating its territorial integrity. For Armenia Karabakh shouldn't be deprived of pieces of territory it won in the battlefield, for Azerbaijan international law and UN Resolutions fully recognize its right to territorial integrity, and this just needs to be enforced. None of the two parties, plus the self-proclaimed government of Karabakh, has openly expressed the will to come to a compromise. And the same goes with the respective public opinions, generally speaking.
Quite the opposite, whoever wishes to compromise is easily stigmatized as a traitor.

High expectations of a peaceful resolution came with the so-called Madrid Principles (2009: return of the territories surrounding Karabakh to Azerbaijani control; an interim status providing guarantees for security and self-governance; a corridor linking Armenia to Karabakh; future determination of the final legal status of Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will; the right of all internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their former places of residence; international security guarantees that would include a peacekeeping operation). Not only the Madrid principles were never enhanced, but since 2012 the cease-fire, which had been pretty effective for some time, was almost systematically violated. 

Observers are warning of a possible escalation ever since.

Just a reminder of what we know.
There's still a lot we don't know, and something we can assume.
The first assumption is that the 2016 cease-fire violations paved the way to (if not caused) the ongoing large scale confrontation, albeit there is not a clear common narration about how it actually erupted, with parties blaming each-other.
The second assumption is that the military operation of Armenia seems largely aimed at preserve the status quo, while the Azerbaijani one is clearly directed to alter it. This mirror the diplomatic positions of the two, where Armenia is interested in preserving what Karabakh gained. Compared to previous serious cease-fire violation, this time Azerbaijan looks determined to move the line of contact forward into Karabakhi controlled territory, although it unclear at the present stage exactly where. On the 2nd of April Talish (north) seemed to be the spotlight of action. But fights are reported also in Fisuli (south, bordering Iran which has been unintentionally targeted), and around Martakert. In contrast with some previous cease-fire violations, no incidents have been reported along the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border. Therefore an additional assumption can be that at this stage there's a certain degree of cautiousness in engaging in a full scale inter-states war.

The forth and last assumption is that if what's going on is not the result of a spiralled up incident and it's a pre-planned military operation to change the present control over a part of the territory, it is most likely not to have been orchestrated with other players. While first players - Azerbaijan, Karabakh and Armenia - are fully engaged, secondary players and third players are keeping an extremely low profile. From official information, with an ongoing war, Sargsyan has not been called by any counterpart, while Aliev was called by President Erdogan, who expressed support. But no mention to the Turkey-Azerbaijan 2010 Strategic Partnership Agreement (Article 2 of the agreement states that if one of the parties is subjected to an armed attack or an aggressionby by a third State, or a group of states, the parties will mutually aid by all means). 
If Turkey is the "second player" for Azerbaijan, Russia is for Armenia, which is member of the Organization for the Collective Security Treaty. So far all direct exchanges between Armenia and Russia were held at the level of ministries (Foreign Affairs, Defence). Third players, like neighbours states or international organizations are somehow holding at bay, probably hoping for a fast de-escalation. Georgia -domestically- reacted today, convening a meeting of senior government, parliament and security officials to discuss the situation. International organizations are issuing statements calling for the resumption of negotiation and the respect of the cease-fire. Behind-closed-doors pressures are not available for an assessment.

Among assumptions, one assessment: these days of war will make even more difficult to find a solution for Karabakh

This is short, waiting for events to develop. And hoping for a de-escaltion.

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