BY NANORE BARSOUMIAN
From The Armenian Weekly
As Azerbaijan’s assault on the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic continued, The Armenian Weekly Editor Nanore Barsoumian spoke with Artsakh’s Representative to the U.S. Robert Avetisyan by phone on April 4 about the recent developments.
Nanore Barsoumian: How do you assess Baku’s strategy of violence and tactical escalation immediately after the Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington, D.C. last week?
Robert Avetisyan: My assessment is that even after all the international efforts—be they bilateral or general—and the efforts of all three co-chairs [of the OSCE Minsk Group], Azerbaijan showed that the country doesn’t respect anyone’s approach; that Azerbaijan will do whatever it wants. There is an absolute lack of international responsibility. We knew that Azerbaijan is hostile towards Artsakh. There was nothing new in that. Unfortunately, even the international powers cannot stop Azerbaijan from taking destructive action. Our [NKR] Defense Ministry, our political leadership has said on various occasions that we have been the subject of aggression by all those ceasefire violations, and as I said, we were trying to warn [the international community] of an escalation, which we are seeing now.
The current actions, the timing, the conditions, and the international preconditions prove that Azerbaijan is not a responsible player in this negotiation process—it cannot be a trustworthy partner in the current negotiations.
All of the statements [made by Baku] that Azerbaijan is tolerant towards Armenians don’t correspond to reality. The reality is that they are not tolerant towards anything Armenian, which significantly narrows the possibility of holding talks with Azerbaijan right now.
N.B.: How do you view the ceasefire violations that have increased both in frequency and intensity over the past two years?
R.A.: As we have said on various occasions, whatever is happening on the border between NKR and Azerbaijan is the culmination of a policy by the Azeri leadership that has been in place for several years to consistently undermine international efforts to reach a positive solution to the existing problem.
Azerbaijanis have been violating the ceasefire regime on a daily basis. We’ve been getting frequent reports of victims on both sides. We tried to raise the international attention towards this problem. We tried to make sure that we didn’t end up where we are now.
Together with the international community, we had a vision on how to move forward; the only country that was derailing and rejecting all those suggestions was Azerbaijan. They refused to implement confidence-building measures, which is a necessary component of any peace process; and they refused to implement the proposals in the Royce-Engel letter, which would have been—and can still be—a very effective mechanism to maintain the ceasefire.
N.B.: Some analysts are saying that Baku’s objective seems to have changed from shaking up the status quo to actually gaining territory. What are your thoughts?
R.A.: They think that all the weapons they have acquired and all the anti-Armenian hatred they have been instigating in society for decades has raised their self-confidence to the level that could allow them to be successful on the battlefield. They’re making the same mistake that they made in 1988 [the outbreak of the conflict]. We have to also consider the lack of proper international condemnation and clear signals to Azerbaijan that this is not something the world will tolerate. If we add all those subjective and objective conditions, Azerbaijan has launched this attack to blackmail the international community, to try to destroy Artsakh again. And just as they failed in the past, they are failing now.
It is our hope that the NKR Army will force Azerbaijan—once again—to be more receptive to the Armenian-led and international community-led negotiation efforts.
N.B.: Is there a path back to the negotiating table?
R.A.: The first option, which is what the NKR is doing right now, is to force the aggressor to uphold the ceasefire, to force the aggressor to realize that [its policy of] revanchism failed—every time—and that it cannot reach a solution to this problem by military means.
They will have to eventually negotiate peace with the NKR. That peace should be enforced by an international stance—by a clear signal; by naming the aggressor and calling a spade a spade; by calling out the Azeri leadership for doing all this; by accusing Azerbaijan of all the war crimes they are committing now; and by sanctions. These kinds of steps must be taken to make Azerbaijan more receptive to international efforts, and to force it to play a more constructive role in the negotiations.
Hopefully, this time Baku will finally understand—at a very high price—that there is no military solution and that they cannot conquer Artsakh.
Note: The sides agreed to a cease-fire on Tuesday in light of the OSCE Minsk Group negotiations that were scheduled to take place in Vienna.