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How to Make Peace in Ukraine Five Years After Minsk II

photo: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine

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Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Hubertus Hoffmann

Five years ago, in February 2015, the first steps towards a vision for peace in Ukraine were taken with the Minsk II agreement. Five years is a long time not only in human life, but also in European history: World War I only lasted four years, and World War II was only two years longer. Five years after Minsk, the crisis in and around Ukraine is yet to be resolved, and the country remains a bleeding wound of Europe with a profound negative impact on the overall relationship between the Russian Federation and the West. The tragic deaths of more than 12,000 people and more than 23,000 injured remind us of the human suffering in this conflict on all sides.

Many hoped that the Normandy summit in December 2019 would become a historic breakthrough, but the outcome of the meeting was quite modest. At best, the four leaders made a cautious step towards freezing the conflict rather than solving it. Protracted and painful discussions in Paris once again demonstrated that there is significant mutual resistance on both sides regarding a genuine settlement. Too many politicians in both Kiev and Moscow still believe that time is on their side, or, at least, that the risks associated with maintaining the current status quo in Donbass are lower than risks resulting from a status quo change.

In order to reach a breakthrough, we need to demonstrate enhanced creativity and out of the box thinking a la Albert Einstein, who observed, “Imagination is more important than knowledge…we can’t solve problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” One of the ways to ignite creativity is to look beyond the current crisis seeking mindset and adopt the positive crisis resolution experience accumulated in Europe.

Why South Tyrol?

European history knows many examples of how complex territorial, ethnic, confessional and other conflicts can last for many years and even decades without any clear prospects for a “final” solution. Take, for instance, the Armenian-Azeri dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh or the Serbia-Kosovo unfinished divorce. On the other hand, there are also success stories that we should not forget. One of the latter is the Alto Adige (South Tyrol) settlement of the dispute between Italy and Austria. This case, in our view, has certain similarities with the situation in East Ukraine.

South Tyrol was a bone of contention between the newborn Italian Republic and the Republic of Austria for decades. The conflict has never reached the scale of what we are witnessing today in East Ukraine, but it also generated violence, ethnic hatred and victimization. Moreover, it poisoned Austrian relations for a long time. After World War II, from the beginning of negotiations in 1947 until 1971, a series of agreements recognized equal rights for all citizens, despite their language, as well as a balanced decentralization of administrative, legislative, executive and economic competences to be exercised autonomously over the regional territory.

Historical and cultural bonds within the Austrian-Germanic world, Italy’s Trentino- Alto-Adige (South Tyrol) sought a highly autonomous status within the Italian Republic constitution. The process of deriving this status shows the value of reaching an agreement based on a high level of regional autonomy in political, economic, and cultural issues. This status received an appropriate codification within the Italian constitution. This approach eased the institutional balance between the centre and periphery, defusing, in the medium to long term, potentially disruptive political unrest.

South Tyrol successfully consolidated its autonomy over the last decades, fostering ties between the central state authority and the peripheral regional authority. Now, the German-speakers there live peacefully within Italy as citizens of the European Union.

This integration-through-decentralization process into the Italian national identity shows how a widely shared process and agreement recognizing a high level of institutional autonomy would lead, in the medium-to-long term perspective, to constructive and balanced power-sharing, stability and economic development. This achievement is particularly spectacular, given the long history of Austrian-Italian conflicts and even wars.

What Would It Mean for Donbass?

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had every reason to refer to the “South Tyrol model” at his meeting with President Vladimir Putin on March 5, 2015. The Russian leader welcomed it as a “valuable suggestion to resolve the situation”. After three hours of discussion in Moscow regarding the EU-Russia crisis involving Ukraine, Putin and Renzi gave a joint press-conference to review their discussion and proposals.

The Italian Prime Minister said, “I think it’s worth highlighting the crucial step forward made,” regarding the signature of the Minsk Agreement. “We will work to implement the statements of this Agreement. Europe and Italy can become a reference point.” Italy in particular, according to the Prime Minister, might “provide all possible support for a solution concerning the urgent request of a new status and a wider autonomy to be granted to the Eastern Ukrainian Regions held by the separatists. We had a wonderful experience in Trentino-Alto Adige (South Tyrol). This is an excellent example of how you can successfully solve the problems of decentralization.”

“We agree that both the parties have to respect the Minsk II Agreement, paving the way to a peaceful solution,” stressed Russian President Putin. He added the need for a broader political dialogue involving the rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk as well. “We expect Italy, in its national capabilities and as a major European Union member, will play a key role in this process,” he argued. Putin told the media, “The Prime Minister made several valuable suggestions about what could be done to resolve the situation in the future. The situation there remains difficult, and we have to stop the fighting, killing and destroying cities.” The conflicting parties should strictly comply with the agreements reached in Minsk. “I count on more active help of the EU.”

If referred to within the context of the situation in Eastern Ukraine, many ingredients constituting the Austrian-Italian deal could help to settle the Donbass conflict, all the differences between the two cases notwithstanding.

The same rights extended to the local German population in Alto Adige (60 per cent in 1971) should be given to the predominantly Russian speaking (and Russia-oriented) locals in the Donbass. Rights similar to those preserved by Rome as the central government in Italy should be assigned to Kiev. Both languages should be granted official status, and no discrimination of any minority and cultures should be practised in Donbass.

Of course, this arrangement implies that the territory will be Ukrainian, including border-control. The Donbass should be de-militarized. That also applies to the Russian-Ukrainian border like it was the case with the Austrian-Italian border. The status of autonomy calls for guarantees embedded in the Ukrainian constitution, rather than merely a law, which could be changed at any time.

The South Tyrol experience also suggests that it would be impossible to solve and formulate all principal or small regulations for autonomy under Ukrainian law, as it adds up to several thousand details. Therefore, a smart framework agreement is needed and would lay the groundwork for ensuring the rights of ethnic Russians in the Donbass on the same level as those of ethnic Germans in South Tyrol. Such an agreement would also guarantee rights to Kiev similar to those of Rome. Leveraging this framework agreement as the model for Eastern Ukraine seems to be the only reliable way to handle the autonomy smoothly and avert further crisis.

The Austrian-Italian experience also suggests that there will be many bumps on the road to reconciliation and reintegration. To deal with these bumps, it would be helpful to establish a standing Donbass committee with ambassadors from each country within the OSCE in Vienna, with a special best practice team involving Austria and Italy. This committee could appoint an Ombudsman to handle complaints and resolve disputes. The Ukrainian government, together with the Donbass OSCE committee, should prepare an annual progress report and present it to the Verkhovna Rada.

What Is Missing?

Matteo Renzi came up with his proposal in March 2015. Unfortunately, not much has been done to apply the lesson of South Tyrol to Donbass. Therefore, the critical question is why implementing a strategy similar to South Tyrol in Donbass is not yet considered.

The answer, in our opinion, is in the international environment and the nature of the Austria-Italy relations. By the time of the South Tyrol deal, both Austria and Italy considered themselves organic parts of a greater European family of nations. This is despite the fact that Austria, even now, is not a NATO member and only joined the EU in 1995, 24 years after the agreement on South Tyrol had been reached.

Neither country had a fundamental identity problem that could feed radical nationalism and block a settlement. Their respective national identities emerged long before the deal was achieved. Neither side was fearful of aggression, deliberate provocation or gross interference into domestic affairs from the other side.

Both Vienna and Rome saw many advantages in building their economic, political and humanitarian ties with each other. Both Austria and Italy experienced rapid economic growth followed by an expanding middle class, vibrant civil society, maturing political institutions and successful fight against populism, political radicalism and nationalism. No external player in or outside of Europe demonstrated any interest in instigating the conflict through supporting one of the sides. In other words, the overall environment for reaching a compromise was overwhelmingly positive.

Unfortunately, most of these preconditions are currently absent in the case of Donbass. Therefore, we cannot push for the application of the South Tyrol model until such prerequisites are created. This will be difficult, but not impossible.

Going Beyond Minsk

Using the best practice from South Africa, one then is lead to think of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Donbas, reporting live on TV in Ukraine and Russia with an annual report. More than twenty countries have done this successfully in the past.

However, the problem of reconciliation is not limited to Donbass only. Both Russia and Ukraine today lack the know-how for true reconciliation, which had been mustered by Austria and Italy after World War II. Let us all learn from the American philosopher Eric Hoffer who said, “A war is only won after you have turned your enemy into a friend.” We can draw upon the lessons of other European states that have mastered the art of reconciliation, including decentralization, after two bitter world wars.

The governments, political parties, opinion leaders and media should learn how to make peace with (former) enemies and utilize European best practices – such as in South Tyrol or Northern Ireland. For the Russian population in Ukraine and all other minorities, including Hungarians and Tatars, fresh Ukrainian Codes of Tolerance should be implemented. The Kiev government should appoint a Minister for Tolerance and Reconciliation with sufficient staff and funding. The United Arab Emirates established the first minister for tolerance in February 2016. The tolerance minister in Kiev would promote respect toward all ethnic and religious minorities in Ukraine and report annually to the parliament and the OSCE in the form of a Ukrainian Codes of Tolerance and Reconciliation Report. Within the context of reconciliation, an amnesty committee would be established, as in South Africa, for people from all conflict parties.

Rebuilding trust will not get us too far until we build the economic foundations of the settlement. The goal should be to turn Donbass from a headache into an opportunity for all. We propose establishing a special reconciliation fund for the region, financed equally by the EU, the US, and the Russian Federation, and utilized to rebuild destroyed infrastructure. By rebuilding, we do not mean restoring the region as it was back in 2013 – this is hardly possible and rather undesirable. We suggest turning the devastated war area into a modern and vibrant ecosystem attractive to both international investors and millions of refugees and displaced persons.

Carefully designed and skillfully localized reforms can stimulate new jobs, especially for small businesses. It is essential to address burning issues of documented property ownership, competitive access to capital, legal enforcement of contracts, governmental and regulatory transparency, and rules that promote and safeguard foreign direct investment. The environment presents yet another challenge, but also another opportunity for multilateral cooperation in Donbass with the European Union taking upon a leadership role.

At the same time, the European Union should move in the direction of a free trade agreement with Russia and other members of the Eurasian Economic Union. A new Ostpolitik by Ursula von der Leyen could help to bring Europe closer together via trade and visa-free travelling.

Towards a New European Security Architecture

A new, fresh and intense dialogue between NATO and Russia, including the discussion of a non-aggression pact and new arms control agreements, is now needed. It was counterproductive to freeze the NATO-Russia Council in April 2014 as punishment. This forum, meant for crisis management, is now active again. It took too long to understand that we need more, not fewer, meetings during crises. Despite many state-banquets and vague speeches in the past years, real discussions were missing for far too long. The western “no-talk no-meetings approach” neglected the lessons learned in the months before World War I.

The dialogue about a common security structure in Europe should start with fresh bi-monthly meetings of the NATO-Russia Council in Moscow and Brussels, as well as in other NATO capitals. Russia and NATO should openly discuss all strategic military issues to find solutions to alleviate tensions and promote cooperation, with several working-groups established for major political, technological, or geographic regional concerns, including mutual threats.

A high-ranking NATO-Russia Summit should be held in Moscow to discuss security issues openly. At this summit, NATO and the Russian Federation should declare not to utilize their military capabilities against each other. They will not use their forces, equipment, active or non-active soldiers or allow those activities against each other.

Both Moscow and Kiev should find their rightful places in the new European security architecture. Confidence building measures between Russia and Ukraine should become a part of a broader CBM system between the East and the West of the continent.

In this new environment, we can broaden the limits of what is possible. All sides have to look for a creative compromise, based on respect for international law, recognizing the national interests and minority rights of all stakeholders, while drawing upon best practices in Europe.

The ultra-nationalists on both sides will be disappointed. Still, only a broad political compromise would be in the national interests of Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the EU, the United States of America and the international community.

We all need humanity, creativity and efficiency for a new Europe 3.0.

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Eastern Europe

Ceasefire Violated, Civilians of Ganja, Azerbaijan Hit –Again

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Image source: Azerbaijan Ministry of Defence

Authors: Julia Jakus and Anar Imanzade

Intensifying rocket and artillery fire exchanges between Armenia and Azerbaijan have driven military overtures from both sides as well as mutual accusations that civilians are being unlawfully targeted. The disputed region Nagorno-Karabakh has long been the catalyst of periodic clashes, but the situation dramatically deteriorated over the last several weeks. Why is Nagorno-Karabakh so ardently contested, and what are the implications of recent escalations in this conflict?

The Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts were occupied by Armenian forces between 1988-1993 (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020). One year prior to the end of this occupation, Armenian forces massacred over 600 Azerbaijani civilians in Khojaly on February 26, 1992. Following the military occupation of the region as well as its seven surrounding districts, over 1.000.000 people were displaced – most of whom had immediate family members and relatives who were killed during the 5-year occupation.

Since 1992, the Armenian military has occupied upper Karabakh laying claim to the territory on the basis that the region harbors an ethnic majority of Armenians. However, no less than four UN Security Council resolutions (822,853, 874, and 884) recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh region as being a part of Azerbaijan and actively call for the immediate withdrawal of the Armed Forces of Armenia from occupied territories within Azerbaijan. Although a ceasefire was signed in 1994, the region has remained under Armenian occupation (Jeyhun Aliyev and Ruslan Rehimov, 2020).

From Border Clashes to Bombings

In July,the border clashes near Tavush of Armenia (Tovuz of Azerbaijan)resulted not only in 16 deaths (12 Azerbaijani, 4 Armenians) but also spiked these long-simmering tensions between the two countries. Azerbaijan responded by shelling military objects in Stepanakert (the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh). The most recent operations recommenced on the 27th of September when Azerbaijan took the city of Hadrut (which is geostrategically important because of its proximity to the heart of Karabakh). Since then, the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan have liberated some of its territories namely via targeting military components such as artillery batteries and other facilities. While Azerbaijan proclaims that they are liberating the region, Armenian officials decry that Azerbaijan and Turkey are conspiring to commit another genocide against the Armenian people.

Although memories of 1915 still burn painfully in the hearts and minds of Armenians, many might argue that mobilizing memories of the 1915 Genocide with reference to the Nagorno-Karabakh actively ignores the fact that geopolitical conditions have markedly changed over the last 100+ years. Because Armenia is a member of the CSTO, if Armenia is attacked, then Russia and other members of this organization bear an obligation for military interference on their behalf. Likewise, more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians live in Azerbaijan in relative peace while veryfew Azerbaijani live in Armenia which means that very little threat should emanate from within Armenia’s borders. From this angle, it certainly appears that the main aim of Azerbaijan remains exclusively the liberation of its occupied territories.

The last week of September and the first week of October were marked by particular ambiguity as both sides ardently claimed to have succeeded in gaining the upper hand. However, the dynamic changed significantly on the 9th of October when both the Azerbaijani and Armenian Foreign Minister were invited to Moscow. There, they each agreed to a humanitarian ceasefire and promised to exchange the bodies of fallen soldiers beginning on October 10th. However, on the 11th of October between 2:00 and 3:00 am, Armenian Forces launched another missile attack on Azerbaijan’s second-largest city Ganja (the first occurred on the 5th of October). In the second attack, a missile struck a civilian residential building and resulted in the deaths of 10 people, more than 35 injured. Children were among both the fatalities and casualties. By targeting residential areas in the city of Ganja immediately following a ceasefire agreement, this military overture not only violated the Geneva Conventions but also upended over 30 years of negotiations presided over by the Minsk Co-Chair Group of the OSCE.

The city of Ganja lies in the West of Azerbaijan, just North of the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. It is seen as an energy corridor from the Caspian Sea to global markets, and for this reason, bears a strong geostrategic value. On the heels of 3-decades of diplomatic stagnancy, the Armenian Prime Minister NikolPashinyan has made provocative remarks that steer away from rather than toward conflict resolution such as, “Karabakh is Armenia…full stop” (Eurasia.net, 2019). The deaths of Azerbaijani civilians in recent attacks appear to have had the greatest unifying effect on the Republic of Azerbaijan since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The Azerbaijani demand to end Armenian occupation has even garnered the support of opposition leaders for Ilham Aliyev, the president of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Global Implications

As Armenian-Azerbaijani tensions escalate, both Russia and Iran have offered to broker peace talks. Macron and Trump have also publicly advocated for a ceasefire, in spite of powerful Armenian lobbies residing in both states. Azerbaijan has indicated that it is not willing to wait another 30 years without action. The ceasefire, to Azerbaijan, is tantamount to the permanent withdrawal of Armenian troops from the Nagorno-Karabakh region. To Armenia, stepping away is associated with abandoning ethnic Armenians living in the Azerbaijani territory—in spite of the international resolutions demanding them to.

External actors have also played a complicating role. For example, while Moscow publicly advocates for a ceasefire, Russia maintains a military pact with Armenia to the extent that they have continued to send military equipment to Armenia… while simultaneously bearing otherwise good politico-economic ties with Azerbaijan. This, in turn, raises Russia-Turkey tensions. Erdoğan recently pledged his allegiance with Baku on the basis both of historic alliances and existing economic ones. This is not surprising given the historic animosity between Yerevan and Ankara as well as the fact that vital oil and gas pipelines run from Baku to Turkey. Global responses have been mixed. All foreign powers watching the violence escalate have kept a keen eye on the pipelines, but some surmise that –until oil and gas are impacted – those same powers are likely to try to dismiss the issue as an internal clash. Still, other world leaders to UN Secretary-General António Guterres have been calling for a true ceasefire.

The dispute presents a situation riddled with competing narratives, but one thing is certain: as military overtures bleed beyond the traditionally contested region and into civilian cities of Azerbaijan, the prospects of fruitful diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh recede. 

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Eastern Europe

A Chill in Georgia-China Relations

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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

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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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