BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
James Warlick, the US Co-Chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group charged with mediating a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, is sounding more like Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev than a so-called impartial diplomat tasked with resolving the longest conflict in post-Soviet history.
In an interview with Russian daily Vedomosti published this week, Warlick said that the “occupied” territories of Azerbaijan must be returned to Azeri control as part of a comprehensive settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Warlick said that conflicting sides should not focus on just one element or principle of the settlement. Territories must be returned, but there are other factors involved, which is why the co-chairs advocate a comprehensive settlement.
The most egregious part of Warlick’s statement, which was a reiteration of US policy outlined last year at the Carnegie Foundation after Warlick held a very public meeting with Armenian-American community leaders in Glendale, is the adoption of the language that has been used for almost 25 years by one side of the conflict—Azerbaijan.
The “comprehensive settlement” to which Warlick alludes is incumbent upon the return of the said territories, without any specific guarantees that may favor Karabakh. Simply put, Karabakh is expected to make the first move before any other provisions of a settlement are carried out.
Warlick told Vedomosti that security guarantees are an element of the settlement, which would include the deployment of international peacekeeping forces—either UN or OSCE. Who would provide the peacekeeping troops should be negotiated and decided by the parties “to ensure the security of Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Later in the interview, Warlick acknowledged that the mechanisms for those security guarantees have not yet been outline, but his insistence that the territories in question must be “returned to Azerbaijan” does not, in any way or form, inspire confidence.
In fact, what is being said, in this case by the US Co-Chairman, is nothing short of bullying, which favors and conforms to the rhetoric emanating from Baku. How is this arm-twisting supposed to advance the talks when one side’s bellicose rhetoric is being parroted by the mediator tasked with finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict?
The Armenian National Committee of America astutely observed that “the OSCE Co-Chairs have developed this bad habit of very openly lecturing the Armenian side about exactly what they ‘must’ surrender, while remaining effectively silent about any specific concessions they expect of Azerbaijan. This isn’t mediation, it’s public intimidation.”
Coincidentally—or not—the other entity that urges the return of lands before anything else is Turkey, which has preconditioned its approval of the dangerous Armenia-Turkey protocols on the return of “occupied territories.” It would not be that far-fetched to infer a correlation in this scenario.
The trajectory of the OSCE Minsk Group negotiations has shown that in an eventual peace deal, Armenia and Karabakh stand to lose the most, while Azerbaijan stands to gain despite its guilt in starting and escalating the Karabakh conflict, a fact categorically being ignored by mediators and the international community in general.
Warlick and the other co-chairmen are embracing and buttressing Baku’s victim mentality, thus providing it cover and carte blanche to advance its military rhetoric and continue its attacks on Karabakh and Armenian forces. The reaction to these cease fire violations by Azerbaijan has usually involved a statement urging both sides to refrain from military activities. This creates a false parity that does not bode well for the Minsk Group’s stated intention of providing security guarantees.
Warlick expresses concern about the escalation of tensions on the border and claims that the sides must work together to reach a negotiated peace, with Karabakh expected to make the first move by giving up what Warlick and Aliyev both call “occupied territories.” There is no direct condemnation of the belligerent attacks on Karabakh positions by Azerbaijani forces, such as the downing of a helicopter in broad daylight and Baku’s subsequent prevention of efforts to reclaim the remains of the three soldiers killed in the attack.
The examples of Baku’s violations have been reported and are too numerous to recount here, but the OSCE Co-Chairmen’s reactions have always been the same—urging calm to both sides. Yet that same parity does not apply when the OSCE Co-Chairmen continue to insist that Karabakh make concessions in the interest of eventual peace.
What is lacking in this process is a frank reflection on the genesis of the conflict, from which an equitable solution can be proposed based on truth and justice.
When in 1988 Armenians in Armenia and Karabakh took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands, using the new found freedoms envisioned by Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika, Azerbaijan’s response was to initiate pogroms against Armenians in Sumgait, Baku, Kirovabad, Shahumian and Getashen, coupled with relentless attacks on the civilian population of Karabakh, thus sparking the war.
Azerbaijan lost the war, and here is the OSCE Minks Group doing its utmost to minimize Baku’s embarrassment and the blemish that it has left on the Aliyev clan. Interestingly, however, it has been successive US Co-Chairmen who have carried that torch, with the most notorious of them being Matthew Bryza, whose entrenched connections with official Baku and Ankara are also too numerous to enumerate.
To build confidence and to ensure the success of any security guarantees in the region, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen must act immediately and unequivocally to return Karabakh to the negotiating table as a full-fledged party to the conflict. After all, the signatories of the 1994 cease fire agreement were Stepanakert, Baku, and Yerevan, with Moscow as the mediating entity.
Furthermore, the parity that is falsely being doled out should actually be exercised whereby the Armenian side is not the only side that is forced to make concessions. For the OSCE, which values democracy above all else, the fact that the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has existed for almost a quarter of century and is being governed based on democratic principles (the same cannot be said about Azerbaijan) must become an important consideration in the eventual determination of its status, which can be nothing short of an independent republic, for which the people of Karabakh have shed blood and have expressed their will in the polling booth.
The famous Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov said at the time of the Karabakh conflict that the issue of Karabakh is a matter of life and death for Armenians, but a matter of prestige for Azerbaijan.
Mr. Warlick, conflict resolutions must be guided by matters of life and death, and not on an insistence to give more leeway to the aggressor so that it can advance its military agenda.