BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
For over two decades, the international community, led by OSCE Minsk Group mediators representing the United States, France and Russia, has been trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the Artsakh (Karabakh) conflict.
The main obstacle is Azerbaijan’s persistence in shooting while negotiating, and intensifying its attacks on the eve of every crucial meeting for settlement of the conflict. Such unconstructive behavior is totally unacceptable for everyone involved in the peace process. Azerbaijan intentionally escalates the violence on such occasions in order to pressure the international community to force Armenia into making unfair concessions on Artsakh.
To make matters worse, every time Azerbaijani forces launch attacks on Artsakh or Armenia, the Minsk Group mediators issue a routine statement urging both sides to stop firing, thereby equating the violator with the victim. In addition, the mediators cover up their irresponsible statement by claiming that they are not certain which side initiated the shooting.
In October, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R–CA) and Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel of New York, initiated a letter signed by 85 House members, to U.S. co-chair, Amb. James Warlick, urging him to take all necessary steps to withdraw snipers from the border, deploy gunfire locator systems along the Line of Contact, and increase the number of field monitors. These measures were accepted by Armenia, Artsakh, the US Congress, and the Minsk Group co-chairs, but rejected by Azerbaijan because of its intent to conceal and continue its warmongering initiatives. Under these untenable circumstances, the three mediators may consider placing gunfire locators on the Artsakh side of the border to record the source of incoming fire. If the mediators are unwilling to take such action, Armenia should go ahead and purchase gunfire locators from US manufacturer Raytheon and recruit independent NGOs to monitor and report the results to the international community.
Once the source of the shooting is identified, the mediators would then be obligated to condemn the perpetrator; otherwise, they would be encouraging Azerbaijan to escalate the attacks on Armenia and Artsakh.
Meanwhile, the mediators must warn Azerbaijan’s autocratic President Ilham Aliyev that should he not cease and desist from making threats and shelling Armenia and Artsakh, they will be forced to submit Azerbaijan’s violations to the United Nations Security Council, to mandate economic sanctions against his country.
The mediators could also temporarily suspend their peacemaking activities by announcing that they are prevented from seeking a negotiated settlement to the conflict, while Azerbaijan keeps on shooting. Surely, it is not possible to fight and talk at the same time!
Since Azerbaijan is not ready to go to war — if it were, it would have started it already instead of merely threatening — it has no choice but to heed the call of the mediators to cease firing and start negotiating in earnest. Freezing the negotiations would be a serious setback for Azerbaijan because that is the only way it can hope to reach some accommodation with Armenia and Artsakh. Armenians, on the other hand, have already accomplished their objective of liberating Artsakh from Azeri occupation and have nothing to gain from further negotiations.
Should the mediators decide not to freeze the peace talks, the Armenian government may decide to suspend its participation in these unproductive negotiations, thus sending a clear message to Baku that shelling Armenia and Artsakh undermines Azerbaijan’s own interests.
If the negotiations are not suspended and Azerbaijan continues its attacks, the Armenian government may eventually respond with a “massive and asymmetrical retaliation,” as it has repeatedly warned. While some may be concerned that such an action would further escalate the violence, in fact it would diminish, if not halt the endless border skirmishes, once Azeri leaders realize that they have more to lose by fighting than talking. It is unfortunate that Pres. Aliyev is exploiting the deaths of young Azeri soldiers on the frontlines to distract his people’s attention away from massive violations of civil rights, corruption at the highest echelons of his government, and abysmal economic conditions due to diminishing oil revenues.
I had the opportunity to discuss some of these issues last week with various officials in Washington, D.C., while Artsakh’s Foreign Minister Garen Mirzoyan was in town to meet with members of Congress and US mediator Amb. Warlick. Two receptions were held to honor the visiting Foreign Minister at the Armenian Embassy and on Capitol Hill, the latter co-hosted by the U.S. Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, Armenian National Committee of America, Armenian Assembly of America, and the U.S. Office of the Nagorno Karabagh Republic. Several House members, Amb. Warlick, and other dignitaries attended the congressional reception to the chagrin of Azerbaijan’s Embassy which had dispatched a small group of Azeris to protest the event. Chairman Royce announced during the reception that he had asked Amb. Warlick to come to the House of Representatives this week for a briefing on the Artsakh conflict.
A large number of ANCA activists from throughout the USA, including this writer, joined Foreign Minister Mirzoyan in Washington last week, to share a message of peace and democracy for Artsakh with dozens of House and Senate members, urging them to recognize its independence from Azerbaijan.