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Kosovo Boomerang: Transcaucasian Separatism

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Аt the very beginning of April 2016 the armed conflict between the Armenian and the Azerbaijani militaries was shortly renewed over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh – an autonomous province within Azerbaijan but in fact under direct military control by Armenia.

This event once again opened the question of the legitimacy of similar self-proclaimed independence cases around the world and international (non)recognition of such de facto quasi- and client-states (Transnistria, North Cyprus, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, West Sahara, South Sudan, East Timor…).[1] However, from the European perspective, three cases from the Caucasus (Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia) have to be firstly analysed in comparison with the Balkan case of Kosovo.

A Domino effect

After February 2008 when Kosovo Albanian-dominated parliament proclaimed Kosovo independence (without organizing a referenda) with obvious U.S. diplomatic support (unilateral recognition) with explanation that Kosovo case is unique in the World (i.e., it will be not repeated again) one can ask the question: is the problem of southern Serbian province of Kosovo really unique and surely unrepeatable in some other parts of the world as U.S. administration was trying to convince the rest of the international community?

Consequences of recognition of Kosovo independence by one (smaller) part of the international community are already (and going to be in the future) visible primarily in the Caucasus because of the very similar problems and situation in these two regions. At the Caucasus (where around 50 different ethnolinguistic groups are living together) self-proclaimed independence already was done by Abkhazia and South Ossetia during their wars of 1991−1993 against the central authorities of Georgia but up to the mid-2008 both of these two separatist regions from Georgia were not internationally recognized by any state in the world. The region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which proclaimed its own independence in 1991 from Azerbaijan with a full military and political support by Armenia, was also not recognized before Kosovo independence. We have to remember that separatist movements in the Caucasus in the 1990s occurred at the time when Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina proclaimed their own independence from Yugoslavia and have been soon recognized as the independent states and even became accepted members of the Council of Europe and the United Nations.[2]

However, only several months after self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo on February 17th, 2008 a wave of recognition of three Caucasus separatist states started as a classic example of a domino effect policy in the international relations. It has to be noticed that the experts from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed even in 2007 their real fear that in the case of U.S. and E.U. unilateral recognition of Kosovo independence the same unilateral diplomatic act could be implied by Russia (and other countries) by recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a matter of diplomatic compensation and as result of domino effect in the international relations. It is also known and from official O.S.C.E. sources that the Russian delegates in this pan-European security organization have been constantly warning before 2008 the West that such scenario is quite possible, but with one peculiarity: from 2007 they stopped to mention a possibility of Russian recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s self-proclaimed independence in 1991. It was most probably for the reason that Moscow did not want to spoil good relations with Azerbaijan – a country with huge reserves of natural gas and oil.[3]    

Kosovo

img kformapKosovo is the Balkan region which became during the last 150 years contested land between the Serb and Albanian nationalisms. The region (for the Serbs Kosovo and Metochia, for the Albanians Kosova or Kosovë), however, has different historical and national-cultural importance for these two nations.[4] For the Serbs, Kosovo is the “cradle of Serbia”[5] – a central and pivotal land in regard to their statehood and national identity as before the Ottoman occupation of Serbia in the mid-15th century it was exactly Kosovo to be administrative, political, cultural, religious and economic centre of the medieval Serbia. However, differently to the Serb case, for the Albanians this region was all the time of the marginal importance concerning their national identity and particularly statehood. That became the crucial reason why the Great European Powers did not include Kosovo into the newly (and for the first time in history) self-proclaimed the independent state of Albania (on November 28th, 1912) but recognized Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia after the Balkan Wars 1912−1913.  

Kosovo was the birthplace of Serbia as the powerful state but also and the place were Serbia lost its real independence to the Ottoman Turks after the Battle of Kosovo on June 28th, 1389. Contrary, the region means simply nothing for the Albanian statehood, but it became a birthplace of the Albanian territorial nationalism as it was the town of Prizren in Kosovo where in June 1878 the (First Albanian) Prizren League declared a Greater (Islamic) Albania as an autonomous province within the Ottoman Empire composed by Albania itself, Kosovo, the West Macedonia, the East Montenegro and the North-West Greece. This megalomania project, nevertheless, left up today to be for all kinds of the Albanian chauvinistic nationalists as the cornerstone of their political ideology of a Greater and ethnically pure (Islamic) Albania. This process of purification of Kosovo on both ethnic and confessional bases started by the Muslim Albanians immediately after the Prizren League session in 1878 and was continued during the WWII within the borders of Mussolini’s created Greater Albania when up to 20.000 Cristian Serbs were killed in the region followed by at least 100.000 expelled Serbs.

The Albanian terror against the Serbs was legalized by the Yugoslav authorities at the time of Kosovo’s very broad autonomy (in fact independence) from 1974 to 1989 but it received a form of genocide on Serbs and all other non-Albanians from the time of the N.A.T.O.’s occupation of Kosovo in June 1999 up today (the British, U.S., German, Italian and French military forces occupied a different sectors of Kosovo).[6] As a consequence, the ethnic Albanians today compose 97% of Kosovo’s population compared with only 2% in 1455 (according to the first Ottoman census).[7] On the other hand, Kosovo’s Albanians were politically oppressed by the Serb-led regimes during the interwar time (1919−1941), first two decades after the WWII and during the government of Slobodan Milosevic in the years of 1989−1998. However, for the matter of comparison, the Serb oppression had as a single aim just to prevent territorial separation of Kosovo from the rest of Serbia while the Albanian terror was inspired by much serious national goal: to ethnically clean Kosovo as a part of a Greater Albania.        

South Ossetia

On the first glance it can be said that the Orthodox South Ossetians are equally separatist as the Muslim Kosovo Albanians. However, the South Ossetians are having sympathies towards the Serbs (not because both of them are the Orthodox) but not towards, as we could expect, separatist Kosovo Albanians. The real reason of such sympathies are similar legal state rights applied by both the Serbs in Kosovo and the South Ossetians – the only European nation in the Caucasus.

Historically, South Ossetia (like Abkhazia) was never integral part of sovereign Georgian state, differently with Kosovo in its historical relations with Serbia as Kosovo was not only integral, but culturally and politically the most important and even administratively central region of the medieval Serbian state till 1455 when Kosovo became occupied by the Ottomans and a such away separated from the rest of Serbia. Shortly, Kosovo before the Ottoman occupation was historical, political, administrative, cultural and church centre of Serbia populated before 1700 exclusively by the Serbs (the Albanians came to Kosovo from Albania after 1700).

However, in comparison with Kosovo-Serbia relation case, Abkhazia and South Ossetia were never of any kind of centres of any kind of Georgian state as all the time they have been provincial (occupied) regions of Georgia even populated by different ethnolinguistic groups. Moreover, Georgia itself was never before entered Russia at the very beginning of the 19th century strongly and definitely united state territory, also differently to Serbia which up to its lost independence in 1459 was profoundly united with Kosovo as its national and state centre. Also, differently with Georgia, Serbia by herself and Russian military and diplomatic support regained her state de facto independence during the Serbian Revolution of 1804−1815 against the Ottoman Empire while Georgia was waiting to regain its own state independence for the time of self-destruction of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. It has to be noticed that the present day territory of Georgia entered Russia in parts – segment by segment. Ossetia as united territory (not divided into Northern and Southern as today situation is) became voluntarily part of the Russian Empire in 1774. The Russian Empress Catherin the Great (1762−1796), in order to be surely convinced that the Ossetians are really independent, before incorporation of this province into the Russian Empire sent a special commission which informed St. Petersburg that “the Ossetians are free people subordinated to no one” (what means not under any kind of the Georgian rule or subordination!).

Georgia itself became part of Russian Empire in 1804 (27 years later then Ossetia) being before that from 1783 a protectorate of the Russian Empire. This fact is the most important argument used by the South Ossetians in their dispute with the Georgian authorities. Differently to the Ossetians, Kosovo Albanians such argument do not have in relation to the Serbs. In is known that the Albanians started to settle themselves at the region of Kosovo from the present-day Northern Albania only after the First Serbian Great Migration from the region in 1689. It should be said as well that, according to several Byzantine and Arab sources, the Balkan Albanians are originating from the Caucasus Albania. In the other words, the Caucasus Albanians left in the 9th century their homeland (Dagestan and Azerbaijan) and have been settled by the Arabs in the West Sicily and the South Italy which they left in 1043 and came to the Balkans (to the present-day Central Albania). It means that the Albanians are not authentic Balkan people differently to the Serbs who are most probably one of the oldest Balkan nations (the aboriginal Balkan Illyrians).

Georgia declared its independence during the Russian Civil War in 1918, but became occupied by the Bolshevik Red Army in 1921. Georgia joined the U.S.S.R. next year as a part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Republic together with Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, Georgia became a separate Soviet Republic in 1936 like Armenia and Azerbaijan. The southern part of Ossetia (together with Abkhazia) was given to be administered by Georgia by decision of three Georgian Communists – Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (Jughashvili), Sergei Ordzonikidze and Avelj Enukindze. Nevertheless, between two parts of Ossetia (North and South) never was a state border before 1994.

img Caucasus

The people of South Ossetia on the referendum upon destiny of the U.S.S.R. on March 17th, 1991 voted for existence of Soviet Union (like the Serbs upon Yugoslavia, but and Kosovo Albanians on illegal referendum to become independent from Serbia like Georgians from the U.S.S.R.) that was a month before Georgia became independent from the USSR. The referendum on March 17th, 1991 was organized two months after the Georgian army started the war against South Ossetia in which till September of the same year 86 Ossetian villages have been burned. It is calculated that more than 1.000 Ossetians lost their lives and around 12.000 Ossetians emigrated from the South to the North Ossetia. This is the point of similarity with expelled around 250.000 Serbs from Kosovo by the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army after the NATO peace-keeping troops entered this province in June 1999 and legalized Muslim Albanian terror over the Christian Serbs and other non-Albanians.

An Independence of the Republic of South Ossetia was proclaimed on May 29th, 1992. However, this legal act has not been understood as a “separatist” because at that time Georgia was not recognized by no one state in the world as an independent one and Georgia was not a member of the United Nations. Oppositely to the South Ossetian case, Kosovo Albanian unilateral independence proclamation on February 18th, 2008 cannot be treated by the international community as a legal one (at least without a direct permission by Belgrade) as Kosovo by the international law and agreements is still an integral part of Serbia. Moreover, Serbia (differently from Georgia in May 1992) is internationally recognized independent state and a member of the United Nations. This is and common point of similarity between the Ossetians and the Serbs: both of them are fighting against separation of one part of national body and land from the motherland (Ossetia and Serbia).

Abkhazia

Abkhazia is a Caucasian province that was a part of the ex-USSR in the form of an Autonomous Soviet Republic within the Soviet Republic of Georgia. However, in comparison with Kosovo status as an Autonomous Province within Serbia from 1974 to 1989, Abkhazia did not reach even half of the rights and power as Kosovo had: President, Assembly, police forces, Academy of Science and Arts, Constitution (in direct opposition to the Constitution of Serbia) and even Territorial Defence forces (in fact the provincial army). Nevertheless, in April 1991 Abkhazia became a part of the self-proclaimed independent state of the Republic of Georgia, against the will of both the Abkhazian population of the Islamic denomination (at that time 18% out of all Abkhazian inhabitants) and Abkhazian Russian-speakers (14%). Subsequently, at least one third of Abkhazian population opposed its integration into the independent Georgia in 1991.

The conflict with Georgian central authorities started when the troops of the Muslim volunteers from neighbouring territories, but mainly from Chechnya, helped the local Abkhazian Muslims in their struggle against Tbilisi security forces. Georgia at that time was already involved into the civil war against the Ossetian separatists and for that reason seriously weakened. As a result of the conflict with the Abkhazian separatists, Tbilisi, which lost all control over Abkhazia, was finally forced to accept to be militarily defeated and therefore compelled to start political negotiations on extensive autonomy status of Abkhazia within sovereign Georgia. Ultimately, the negotiations between the Abkhazian government and Georgia became futile, and a very fragile peace was achieved under the civil supervision of the UN observers and the Russian military troops as a guarantor of the peace-treaty implementation.  

Georgia was obviously week to recover political control over the separatist republic of Abkhazia in the 1990s. The President Eduard Shevardnadze was ultimately only able to restore some order within Georgia which was at that time under de facto Russian protection and therefore with implicit political-military assistance by Russia. As a consequence, Shevardnadze signed an agreement with Russia on allowance of 20.000 Russian military troops to be present in two Georgian separatist republics alongside with the Russian right to use Georgia’s Black Sea port of Poti.

The economic background of such pro-Russian policy by Shevardnadze is understood from the fact that at that time Georgia was in desperate need of direct Russian economic assistance that is quite visible from the very fact that in 1994 Georgia’s GDP declined to only 25% of its pre-independence level. As a direct Russian economic and financial help, Georgia’s economy became soon stabilized with controlled inflation and state spending reigned in.  

Nevertheless, it was clear that Georgia can maintain at least a formal authority over both South Ossetia and Abkhazia only being within the Russian sphere of influence in the region of Transcaucasia. Any change of the side would bring and de facto separation of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Tbilisi what in fact happened in reality in 2008 due to (irrational) pro-American policy by Mikhail Saakashvili – a leader of 2003 Georgian coloured revolution (the Rose Revolution) which finally removed Shevardnadze from power but six years later and Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia.            

International system of governing and separatist movements

The main argument for the western politicians upon Kosovo independence in 2008, as an “unique case” of Kosovo situation, is the fact that according to “Kumanovo Agreement” between Serbia and the N.A.T.O. signed on June 10th, 1999, and the U.N. Resolution 1244 (following this agreement), Kosovo was put under the U.N. protectorate with imposed international system of governing and security. However, such “argument” does not work in the case of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as the Ossetians and Abkhazians are governing their lands by themselves and much more successfully in comparison with “internationally” (i.e. the N.A.T.O.) protected Kosovo. It was quite visible in March 2004 when international organizations and military troops could not (i.e. did not want to) protect ethnic Serbs in Kosovo from violent attacks organized by the local Albanians when during three days (March 17−19th) 4,000 Serbs exiled, more than 800 Serbian houses are set on fire followed by 35 destroyed or severely damaged Serbian Orthodox churches and cultural monuments.

The “2004 March Pogrom” revealed the real situation in the region of Kosovo – a region which had to be under the effective protection by the international community. The position of the South Ossetians in the independent Georgia from 1991 to August 2008 could be compared with position of the Serbs in Kosovo after June 1999. Differently with Kosovo case after June 1999, or even after February 2008, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria showed much more political-legal bases to be recognized as the independent states as they showed real ability to govern themselves by only themselves but not by the international organizations as it is in the case of Kosovo. They also proved much more democracy and respect for human and minority rights in comparison with the Albanian-ruled Kosovo Republic which is in fact transformed into the Islamic State of Kosovo (Kosovo I.S.I.L.).

Nagorno-Karabakh

img map1The region of Nagorno-Karabakh is the most contested conflict-area in Trancaucasia during the last three decades. It became a part of Azerbaijan with an autonomous status in 1936 within the Soviet Union but not a part of Armenian Socialist Republic established as such also in 1936 as one of 15 socialist republics of the U.S.S.R. During the whole time of the existence of the Soviet Union there were tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia over enclave (province) of Nagorno-Karabakh which was at the Soviet time populated by Islamic Azeri majority and the Christian Orthodox Armenian minority. However, the enclave was historically with majority of the Armenian population but due to the Islamic terror the Christian Armenians became a minority on their own land what happen as the same with the Christian Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo in relations to the Muslim Albanians. For the Armenians, Nagorno-Karabakh enclave was unjustifiably separated from Armenia by the Soviet authorities and included into Azerbaijan in order to keep good political relations with neighbouring Turkey. The Serbs, similarly to the Armenians in regard to Nagorno-Karabakh, were complaining about the same practice with regard to Kosovo status from 1974 to 1989 when the “cradle of Serbia” was practically teared off from the rest of the motherland and granted actual independence from Serbia having much stronger relations with the neighbouring Albania than with Serbia.

The frictions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh ultimately led to the open bloody war mostly within the enclave which started in 1989 when the central Soviet authorities already have been in the process of collapsing. The war led in 1993 to the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and some strategic territory of Azerbaijan.[8] Consequently, Armenia became cut off from Azerbaijani oil supplies and as naturally being devoid of mineral resources or fertile soil Armenian economy collapsed in the mid-1990s. For instance, Armenian GDP had fallen to 33% of its 1990 level followed by the inflation of 4000%. Naturally, as politically supported by Moscow, the Armenian economy became mostly oriented toward Russia: for instance, 60% of Armenia’s export went to the Russian market. Up today, Armenia was not directly attacked by Turkey exactly for the reason that it is politically but also and militarily protected by Russia whose armed forces are located on the territory of Armenia nearby Turkey’s border.            

There are several similarities but also and great dissimilarities between conflicts upon Nagorno-Karabakh in Transcaucasia and Kosovo at the Balkans.

In both cases the international community is dealing with autonomy of compact national minority who is making a majority on the land in question and already having its own national independent state which is bordering this contested territory. Both Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians and Kosovo Albanians do not want to accept any other solution except separation and internationally recognized independence. Both conflicts are in fact continuations of old historic struggles between two different civilizations: the Muslim Turkish and the Christian Byzantine. In both conflicts the international organizations are included as the mediators. Some of them are the same – France, U.S.A. and Russia as members of both Contact Groups for ex-Yugoslavia and Minsk Group under the O.S.C.E. umbrella for Azerbaijan. Both Serbia and Azerbaijan have been against that their problem-cases (Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh) would be proclaimed by some kind of the “international community” (the U.N., the E.U., the O.S.C.E., etc.) as the “unique” cases as it would be (as the Kosovo Albanians already proved on February 18th, 2008) a green light to the Albanian and the Armenian separatists to secede their territories from Serbia and Azerbaijan without permission given by Belgrade and Baku.

However, there are and significant differences between Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh cases. Kosovo is internal conflict within Serbia (which is after June 1999 internationalized) but in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh we have to speak about external military aggression (by Armenia). In difference to Armenia in relation to Nagorno-Karabakh, Albania formally never accepted any legal act in which Kosovo was called as integral part of state territory of Albania (with historical exception during the Second World War when Kosovo, the East Montenegro and the West Macedonia have been included into Mussolini’s sponsored and protected “Greater Albania”). Delegation from Albania did not take any participation in the talks and negotiations upon the “final” status of Kosovo between Pristina and Belgrade in 2007, while Armenia has official status of “interested side” in the conflict concerning Nagorno-Karabakh. However, the Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh such status still did not obtain. Official regular army of Albania never was involved in Kosovo conflict (differently from great number of volunteers from Albania), while Armenia’s army (i.e. from the state of Armenia) was directly involved in the military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh from the very beginning of the conflict, but officially part of the independent state of Azerbaijan. As a result, Armenia occupied 1/5 of Azerbaijani territory and the victims of ethnic cleansing are primarily the Azeri as more than one million of them are being displaced as a result of the hostilities.

Differently to the case of Nagorno-Karabakh’s conflict, in which the main victims became a former majority population (the Muslim Azeri), in Kosovo case the principal victims of the war are the Christian Serbs as a minority population of the province. Nevertheless, differently from Kosovo case, weaker Azerbaijani side did not apply to the N.A.T.O. for the military help, but a weaker Albanian side did it during the Kosovo conflict in 1998−1999 and only due to the N.A.T.O.’s military intervention on the Albanian side and direct military occupation of Kosovo after the war it was possible for the Albanians to commit almost a full scale of the ethnic cleansing of the province during the first five years after the war (up to the end of March 2004).[9]  

Conclusions

It can be concluded that the Albanian unilaterally proclaimed Kosovo independence in February 2008 is not at all “unique” case in the world without direct consequences to similar separatist cases following the “domino effect” (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, South Sudan…). That is the real reason why, for instance, the government of Cyprus is not supporting “Kosovo Albanian rights to self-determination” as the next “unique” case can be easily northern (Turkish) part of Cyprus which is by the way already recognized by the Republic of Turkey and under de facto Ankara’s protection. Or even the better example: the Spanish government does not want to recognize Kosovo independence for the very “Catalan” reason as a domino effect of separatism can be easily spilled over to the Iberian Peninsula.

There are around 200 territorial-national separatist movements around the world for whom the case of Kosovo “precedent” is going to serve as the best moral and legal foundation for their own independence. Subsequently, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized by now by three non-U.N.’s member states according to Kosovo’s pattern: Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Furthermore, in 2012 (four years after Kosovo’s independence proclamation), a member of Uruguay’s foreign relations committee stated that his country could recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence and the Parliament of New South Wales (Australia) called upon the Australian government to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh. Two other Transcaucasian separatist republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia became like Nagorno-Karabakh recognized after Kosovo’s independence proclamation in 2008 by several states and quasi-states: Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Abkhazia and South Ossetia (each other).

In sum, Kosovo’s independence proclamation in February 2008 became in fact not “precedent” as the U.S.’s and the E.U.’s administration declared: it became rather a boomerang example of “domino effect” in the international relations. The case of Crimea in 2014 was in this respect quite clear: the Crimean popular self-determination rights to separate peninsula from Ukraine and to become part of Russia were at least formally founded on the same rights used by Kosovo’s Albanians (as majority in the province) to proclaim the state independence from Serbia.   


ENDNOTES

[1] On quasi-states, see [Pål Kolstø, “The Sustainability and Future of Unrecognized Quasi-States”, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 43, no. 6, 2006, 723−740].

[2] On the Caucasian geopolitics, see [Chorbajian Levon, Patrick Donabedian, Claude Mutafian, The Caucasian Knot, Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Zed., 1994; Jorge Heine, “The Conflict in the Caucasus: Causing a New Cold War?”, India Quarterly: A Journal of International Affairs, vol. 65, no. 1, 2009, 55−66].

[3] On the issue of connection between geopolitics and energy, see [Klare Michael, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008].

[4] However, in the western academic literature on Kosovo as disputed land between the Serbs and the Albanians, usually the region is wrongly presented as central for both nationalities concerning their cultural identity [Jan Palmowski, Dictionary of Contemporary World History from 1900 to the Present Day, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 354].

[5] Радован Самарџић и други, Косово и Метохија у српској историји, Београд: СКЗ, 1989, 5−46.

[6] On this issue, see [Dragan Kojadinović (ed.), The March Pogrom in Kosovo and Metohija (March 17-19, 2004) with a survey of destroyed and endangered Christian cultural heritage, Belgrade: Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia, 2004; Мирко Чупић, Отета земља. Косово и Метохија (злочини, прогони, отпори), Београд: Нолит, 2006; Hannes Hofbauer, Experiment Kosovo. Die Rückker des Kolonialismus, Wien, 2008].

[7] On the issue of Kosovo War in 1998−1999 and the Albanian terror after the war, see [Judah Tim, Kosovo: War and Revenge, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000].

[8] On the Armenian approach to the conflict, see [Armenian Center for National and International Studies, Nagorno Karabagh: A White Paper, Yerevan: ACNIS, 2008].

[9] On the conflict on Nagorno-Karabakh, see [Moorad Mooradian, Daniel Druckman, “Hurting Stalemate or Mediation? The Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, 1990−95”, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 36, no. 6, 1999, 709−727].

Eastern Europe

A Chill in Georgia-China Relations

Emil Avdaliani

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Photo: Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia at the Tbilisi Silk Road Forum, Tbilisi, 22 October 2019. Credit: Prime Minister of Georgia

A sense of growing disenchantment is starting to dominate China-Georgia relations. Given China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Georgia’s geographical importance to the realization of China’s plans, Georgian elites had high hopes for the future. Today, few people are as enthusiastic.

The relationship used to look promising. In 2017 China and Georgia signed a free trade agreement to remove customs barriers, in a move Georgian leaders hoped would boost exports and help develop the Georgian economy. The Georgian government also expected an increase in Chinese investments into Georgia’s infrastructure, specifically its Black Sea ports of Poti, Batumi, Anaklia, as well as east-west rail and road links. Several large-scale investment forums were held in Tbilisi for that purpose.

Fostering closer ties with China was also seen as a vital component of Georgia’s quest to balance Russia’s regional influence, and as a hedge against Russian military moves in occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The hopes for improvements in trade have not panned out. While there has been a steady increase in overall volume, statistics show that Georgia mostly exports raw materials to China, such as copper and various chemicals. A market for goods higher up the value chain has not materialized. Similarly, concerns over corrupt practices have increased, especially tied to how Chinese companies have been awarded contracts. One illustrative case concerns Powerchina’s subsidiary Sinohydro winning a €26.3 million tender for the reconstruction of a 42-kilometer section of the Khulo-Zarzma road. Sinohydro has a long record ­– both in Georgia and abroad – of corruption, environmental degradation, and of generally shoddy work. And yet it keeps winning new tenders.

Furthermore, it has become apparent to policymakers in Tbilisi that China will not go out of its way to harm increasingly important relations with Russia. For example, China has been generally unhelpful on key diplomatic issues critical to the Georgian side. It repeatedly failed to back Georgia’s UN vote on refugees forcefully expelled from Abkhazia and South Ossetia by separatists and Russian troops. It repeatedly failed to denounce de-facto presidential or parliamentary elections held in Georgia’s occupied territories. China has also stayed silent on Russian cyber-attacks against Georgia over the last few years, as well as on Russian “borderization” policies in South Ossetia. Its Ministry of Defense even announced that it would participate in the Russian-led “Kavkaz-2020” exercises, alongside troops from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

China has also helped the Kremlin seed destabilizing disinformation in the country. On September 2, the Chinese state media outlet China Daily questioned the utility of the U.S.-funded Lugar Laboratory located near Georgia’s border with Russia and alleged that it both represented a biohazard risk to Georgia and that Georgian citizens were being unwittingly used as test subjects.

All this stands in striking contrast with Georgia’s Western partners, who continuously stand up for Georgia’s foreign policy priorities, as well as for its territorial integrity. Though increasingly disenchanted with China, Georgian leaders continue to walk a diplomatic tightrope, keen to not draw ire from China while preserving its ties to the West. But as America’s stance on China hardens, it will be more and more difficult to maintain this balance. In a series of public letters addressed to the Georgian government sent earlier this year, U.S. congressmen and senators have been explicit that Georgia needs to avoid deep entanglements with China and hew closely to Western standards and trade practices.

The balancing act is simply unsustainable. Georgia’s NATO and EU membership aspirations, the cornerstone of its geopolitical orientation, are an irreconcilable irritant for China, especially as the Alliance expands its scope to face down China’s growing military ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region. Georgia will be forced to pick sides eventually.

And the outcome is a foregone conclusion. At this point, criticizing China openly would cost Georgia a lot, which means that Tbilisi taking a firm stance on Taiwan or on human rights issues is not likely. But as tensions ratchet up between the West and China, expect Georgia to side more firmly with the West, not only politically, but also increasingly economically, by embracing Western 5G technologies as well as its trade and investment standards.

Author’s note: first published in cepa.org

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Eastern Europe

How Pashinyan failed in the peacekeeping mission and complying with international law

Aliyar Azimov

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Nagorno-Karabakh is a landlocked region which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan Republic. The major disagreements and clashes started at the end of the 1980s when Armenian SSR declared to annex the Nagorno Karabakh region into its territory. February 20, 1988, at the session of the NKAO (Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast) Soviet of People’s Deputies, members of the region’s Armenian community adopted a scandal resolution to appeal to the Supreme Soviets of Azerbaijan SSR and Armenian SSR to annex NKAO to Armenian SSR. At that time, it was against the Constitution of the USSR, therefore in 1990 the USSR government rejected this resolution as an illegal act and gave back its autonomous status within Azerbaijan SSR.

Following the collapse of the USSR, August 30, 1991, the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan declared the restoration of state independence and adopted a Law “On the abolition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Republic of Azerbaijan.”

Starting from 1992, Armenians began military activities against Azerbaijanis, especially in Nagorno-Karabakh region and surrounding seven districts. The collapse of the Soviet Union and political instability in Azerbaijan in early 90s caused by the internal standoff; as a result, Armenia began military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh with external military support. During 1992-1994, the active war continued in the region and Armenia occupied the whole Nagorno-Karabakh region and its surrounding territories. In 1994, the ceasefire was announced, and OSCE Minsk Group invited parties to the negotiations table.

Negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have not yielded any results for 25 years. The Minsk Group initially proposed three packages to resolve the conflict. However, these proposals were not accepted by the parties in terms of securing their interests. Finally, the Madrid Principles on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were adopted, and this document is the latest set of proposals on the current conflict.

In 2018, Nikol Pashinyan was elected as Prime Minister of Armenia by defeating Serzh Sargsyan in the elections. Pashinyan was active during his campaigns by proposing optimistic promises to both his country and region. His promises have seemed the sign of new formation of the political system in Armenia. Pashinyan also was accepted by official Baku with a mixture of optimism and skepticism due to flattering speeches towards the current issues. During Pashinyan’s campaigns, one of the promises towards region was to solve Nagorno-Karabakh conflict only peacefully and accelerate the process of peace talks with Azerbaijani government in frame of international laws in order to achieve significant steps in terms of regional integrity.

In his initial period, he showed great intention to change everything from zero. However, Pashinyan could not maintain the absolute power in his hands; he literally failed to democratize Armenia. Defeated by his rivals in internal strife, Pashinyan could not withstand the pressure and made a U-turn in his promises on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He started to provoke both sides and raise tension first by making a speech during his visit to Iran, stating “Karabakh is Armenia and that is it.”Right after this speech, he visited Shusha city to participate in the events in occupied territories; laterhe sent his son to the military service, who served in the occupied territories.

Pashinyan’s another failure in this conflict was the desire to change the format of the negotiation process. Starting from 2018, Pashinyan demanded to bring the separatist regime of Nagorno-Karabakh to the negotiations process. First, this issue contradicted the principles of the Minsk Group after the ceasefire signed in 1994, the format of negotiations and the peaceful settlement of the conflict. Secondly, since the Minsk Group last put forward the Madrid Principles for resolving the conflict, the negotiations continued around these principles. The Madrid Principles, last updated in 2009, are proposed peace settlements of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As of 2020 OSCE Minsk Groupis the only internationally agreed body to mediate the negotiations for the peaceful resolution of the conflict. Senior Armenian and Azerbaijani officials have agreed on some of the proposed principles. However, they have made little or no progress towards the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied territories or towards the modalities of the decision on the future Nagorno-Karabakh status. Third, pressure on Pashinyan and his failed foreign policy attempts further heightened tensions in the aftermath, leading to serious clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh.

As a result, the attack of the Armenian army with heavy weapons on the Tovuz Rayon of Azerbaijan changed the stability in the region and caused the regional war scenarios to be brought to the agenda once again. During the clashes in July, both sides suffered serious losses, especially in the mutual attacks that resulted in casualties between 12 and 15 July. For the first time in the conflict history, Azerbaijan lost a general in the hot conflict. The outposts belonging to Armenia, where attacks were carried out on the Azerbaijani side, were destroyed by the counter-fire of Azerbaijan. Tovuz was far from the centre of the conflict and Pashinyan’s foreign policy strategy again contradicted with what he delivered to the world community in 56th annual Munich Security Conference. Because during the debate with Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, he noted: “I am first Armenian leader to say that any solution should be acceptable to Azerbaijani people as well.”For his part, Pashinyan also said that there cannot be a military solution to the conflict in the region. Indeed, he was right; he was the only Armenian leader that supported peace talks and peaceful settlement of the conflict in recent years. However, the attack on Tovuz Rayon of Azerbaijan from Armenian territories showed that Armenian government does not have any intention to solve conflict according to the international law norms and proposals by the OSCE Minsk Group.

The clashes since September 27, 2020 in the Nagorno-Karabakh region have resulted in the largest number of reported casualties between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the last four years. According to media reports, the death toll is already well into the hundreds, with relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan now in freefall. Despite the agreed humanitarian ceasefire, the Armenian army shelled Ganja, the second-largest city in Azerbaijan, three times and Mingachevir twice. Even Armenian army continued violate second agreed ceasefire by launching missile attacks to Barda, Terter, Aghjabadi, Ganja, Khizi, Mingachevir region and Absheron peninsula, which are far away from frontline. A new nightly SCUD ballistic missile attack by Armenian forces on residential area of Ganja, destroyed more than 20 houses, left more than 10 civilians killed and 40 wounded including children. This step by the Armenian leadership is aimed at expanding the geography of the war and the entry of third parties into the region. However, despite being a close ally, Russia also has called for an immediate ceasefire. Turkey, a long-standing ally of Azerbaijan, has demanded the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the line of contact, with President Erdogan underlining Turkey’s total solidarity with Azerbaijan, urging Armenia to end its occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, Armenia shifted the context of the conflict and accused Turkey of arming Azerbaijan. The Pashinyan government then sought to attract the attention and support of the West by turning the conflict into a religious context. Nevertheless, neither international organizations nor states responded to the issue that Armenia wanted to deliver.

Pashinyan also failed to understand and comply with the legal aspects of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As it is stated above, he wanted to bring the separatist regime of so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” to the negotiations process. However, no member state of the United Nations, including even Armenia, recognizes the “NKR” as an independent entity. “NKR” also does not meet any of the four principles for the formation of an independent state enshrined in the 1933 Montevideo Convention. The recent rejection of the NKR’s appeal to the European Court of Human Rights is proof that the so-called body is illegitimate. Also, Armenia did not comply with four resolutions adopted on “Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” by UNSC, which recognize occupied territories as an integral part of Azerbaijan and emphasize the continuation of peace talks in this context. Commenting on the resolutions, Nikol Pashinyan tries to draw attention to the fact that the conflict is between local Armenians and Azerbaijan; however, all four resolutions start with the deterioration of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and then the escalation of armed conflict. Besides, the Security Council provides a good understanding of who is involved in the conflict by stressing the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of international borders of all states in the region. Four resolutions passed by the UN Security Council (No. 822 – April 30, 1993; No. 853 – July 23, 1993; No. 874 – October 14, 1993; No. 884 – November 12, 1993) demand the immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from therein.

It can be questioned why the UN Security Council did not mention that the conflict happened between Armenia and Azerbaijan? What is the reason for not calling Armenia as an occupier? If Armenia would have been recognized as an occupier, then new obligations would arise for the UNSC. In the meantime, Armenia had to be called as an aggressor and the resolutions adopted should have been demanded unconditionally. Due to several reasons, the UNSC did not do this but instead stressed who is responsible in this conflict. However, in a speech to the Armenian Parliament May 18, 2001, the then-Minister of Defence, former President Serzh Sargsyan, confessed: “There are lands we occupied. There is nothing to be ashamed of. We occupied those lands to ensure our security. We were saying this before 1992, and we are saying it again. My style might not be diplomatic, but that’s the reality”.

Despite all the accepted and approved international documents, the Armenian leadership wants Nagorno-Karabakh to be recognized as an independent entity because, in this way, it will be easier to control the territory in favour of Armenia. Moreover, the self-determination subject was often raised at the meetings of the OSCE Minsk Group. The deportation of Azerbaijanis living in Nagorno-Karabakh during the Soviet era had a serious impact on the ethnic composition of the population. Today, the Armenian diplomatic corps demands the status quo, taking into account only the ratio of 1988.However, this issue contradicts both international law and the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Therefore, the right to self-determination cannot be extended to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. According to the principle of “Utipossidetis Juris” (the principle of respect for the existing borders of the state at the time of independence) even if the status of the state changes, the existing borders are preserved. Therefore, UNSC Resolutions 853 and 884 explicitly state Nagorno-Karabakh as the territory of Azerbaijan, which shows that Armenia has grossly violated and continues to violate “jus cogens” norm by demanding recognition of NKR as an independent entity. On the other hand, in 1991, Azerbaijan declared itself as a legal successor of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and kept the Constitution of 1978 and Soviet laws till 1995 in the post-independence period. Therefore, the restoration of independence did not contradict the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and not aimed at changing national borders and state structure. 

The occupation and use of military force by the Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict significantly weakens the arguments of Pashinyan about “self-determination.” Statuses acquired by a violation of the rules of “Jus ad Bellum” are not unequivocally accepted in the international arena in modern times. When evaluating the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, one shall regard principles due to their importance in that sequence: 1) “Utipossidetis Juris”; 2) territorial integrity; 3) the self-determination of peoples. Under customary international law, the self-determination right cannot be invoked if the territorial integrity and “Utipossidetis Juris” principles are breached. Thus, the two aspects of “self-determination” clearly examines the rights which nations and states can apply; internal self-determination – is the right of the people of a state to govern themselves without outside interference; external self-determination – is the right of peoples to determine their own political status and to be free of alien domination, including the formation of their own independent state. In international law, the right of self-determination that became recognized in the 1960s was interpreted as the right of all colonial territories to become independent or to adopt any other status they freely chose. Ethnic or other distinct groups within colonies did not have a right to separate themselves from the “people” of the territory as a whole. Armenian people have already exercised the self-determination right and established their state. Therefore, Armenians living in the territories of different countries, do not have a reason or right to create another Armenian state.

To put briefly, Armenians authorities’ non-compliance with international law also creates conditions for the proliferation of terrorist groups in the region. The settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict under international law will ensure the security of the region and the effectiveness of economic and humanitarian assistance. Considering the slowdown in peace talks in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the failure of the OSCE Minsk Group, the unfair treatment of the Western media on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, repeatedly nurturing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity with an unreasonable attitude by Armenia, makes the region more unstable and increases border clashes. As in the past, the region will not lead to multi-directional change.

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Eastern Europe

Azerbaijani civilians are under Armenian military attacks: Time to live up to ‘never again’

Dr. Najiba Mustafayeva

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2020 marks with the global celebration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and entering into force of its Charter on 24 October 1945, which was adopted on the ruins of the Second World War.

The major supranational universal platform of international cooperation was created in response to the mass atrocities committed by Nazis during the War. The victorious powers initiated the creation of this international institution in order to maintain international peace and security, achieve international cooperation in solving international problems, and respect the human rights.

The international crimes of Nazi regime urged international community vowed ‘never again’ to allow horrors of the Second World War to be repeated in the history of a mankind.

Three years later in 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly and inspired further legally binding international treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted in 1966 and altogether representing the International Bill of Rights. These landmark international treaties inaugurating the respect for human dignity embody generally accepted standard of accomplishment for all.

The Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights famously proclaimed that ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…’.  Undoubtedly, this provision is the result of the tragic experience of the Second World War with its barbarous acts which shocked the whole mankind.

Thus, it is not a coincidence that a year later in 1949 the Geneva Conventions were adopted in order to limit the barbarity of war. These Conventions and their Additional Protocols are the milestone international documents protecting people who do not take part in military actions (civilians, health and aid workers, as well as people who can no longer continue to fight).

Evidently, the international community learned the bitter lesson from the sad experience of the War and decided to unite its efforts to respond collectively to new threats to international peace and security.

However, the noble mission of the world nations crashes to smithereens with the barbarian terror acts committed by Armenia against Azerbaijani civil population.

Since the beginning of the recent escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, which was occupied along with the seven adjacent districts by the Armenian military forces, Armenian side intentionally targets civil population of Azerbaijan in rude violation of the norms and principles of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. 

Thus, the second largest city of Azerbaijan, Ganja had come under heavy rocket fires by the military forces of Armenia for the three times in the last two weeks that were resulted in killing of more than 25 and injuring more than 100 civilians. It is worth to mention the fact that the city of Ganja with the population of 500.000 people is located fully outside the battlefield. Armenian military forces used a SCUD / Elbrus ballistic missile and chose the night hours to attack the civil population in order to commit bloody atrocities against as many people as possible.

Armenia targeted civil population not only of the city of Ganja, but also Mingachevir, Goranboy, Tartar, Barda and Shamkir that are also situated outside of the war zone. These provocative and bloody acts were committed despite the announcement of humanitarian ceasefire, which was reached during the meeting of Azerbaijani and Armenian Foreign Ministers in Moscow with the mediation of the Russia.

Intentional killing of Azerbaijani civilians committed by Armenian political-military leadership is a war crime, representing the rude violation of the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, which along with the Geneva Conventions of 1949 address the issues of conduct of warfare and war crimes.

Furthermore, taking into account the fact that targeting civil population is the traditional tactic of Armenian side, the recent bloody attacks are also legally assessed as crimes against humanity.

Noteworthy, the war crimes and crimes against humanity were the corpus delicti for the commission of which German Nazis and Japanese militarists were convicted by the Nurnberg and Tokyo international military tribunals after the Second World War.

Today, 75years later when the world community celebrates the victory over fascism Azerbaijani civilians are under attacks of the Armenian military forces which occupied Azerbaijani internationally recognized territories and committed ethnic cleansing for the last 30 years. These atrocities are committed in front of the world community which promisingly proclaimed a belief in human dignity after the nightmares of the War.

The world community which successfully achieved in a comparatively resent history a revolutionary shift from impunity to international accountability for international crimes should live up to its vow of ‘never again’ today, when innocent Azerbaijani people are suffering from the barbarian acts of the Armenian fascist political-military regime. In fact, the cost of impunity is the threat to international peace and security, which humanity seeks to achieve through the consideration of the tragic experience of the Second World War. 

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