German Academic Sees Pro Armenian Turn in Karabakh Conflict

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A German’scholar specializing in Eastern European Law says the Armenian side in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has reversed diplomatic setbacks suffered at the last summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to secure a peace plan largely reflecting its interests.

"After major [diplomatic] losses Armenia has now a considerable position advantage over Azerbaijan" despite the lack of progress in the stalled Karabakh peace process–professor Otto Luchterhandt said on Wednesday. Luchterhandt–who is the director of the Department for Research of Eastern European Law at the University of Hamburg–gave a talk at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan to an audience of students–political analysts and journalists. He has been involved in legal consulting since 1992 in several former Soviet republics–including Armenia.

Luchterhandt said Azerbaijan is facing a "difficult situation" having rejected the OSCE’s most recent proposals to resolve the Karabakh dispute–endorsed by the European Union earlier this month. He said by putting forward the idea of a "common state" between Azerbaijan and the Armenian-populated disputed enclave–the OSCE backed down from its previous unconditional support for the principle of territorial integrity. That principle is championed by Azerbaijan as a necessary condition for a lasting peace with Armenia. Baku has said the OSCE plan is unacceptable because it does not guarantee restoration of Azeri sovereignty over Karabakh–which declared its independence in 1991. Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have on the whole accepted the plan.

At the OSCE’s Lisbon summit in December 1996–Armenia found itself alone in opposing a document endorsing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in the conflict. Many considered it a serious diplomatic defeat. Luchterhandt believes that the OSCE’s "diversion" from a hitherto "balanced approach" toward the conflicting parties was a consequence of the 1996 Armenian presidential election–which was marred by widespread fraud. And it was international pressure that led then president Levon Ter-Petrosyan to call for sweeping concessions to Azerbaijan in his famous discourse in late 1997. But this–Luchterhandt said–"put Ter-Petrosyan at odds with the military guarantors of the illegitimate president’s power." The backlash cost Ter-Petrosyan his presidency in February 1998.

Yet with Robert Kocharian’s ensued rise to power–the OSCE’s Minsk Group returned to "pre-Lisbon principles" in its mediation efforts–the German professor argued. The new plan–unveiled last November–is based on a "package" strategy whereby all major sticking points–including Karabakh’s status–are to be settled by a single peace accord. Besides–the document apparently avoids using terms like "autonomy."

In purely legalistic terms–Luchterhandt went on–the Karabakh Armenia’s’ drive for independence from Azerbaijan is in accordance with the internationally recognized principle of self-determination. According to him–Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan in 1991 was in accordance with international and Soviet law–as it happened before Azerbaijan’s independence was recognized worldwide. A Soviet law allowed autonomous entities to decide on their fate if the republic of which they were part was to secede from the Soviet Union.

However–political considerations have prevailed over legal ones in the international community’s response to the Karabakh and other ethnic disputes. In Luchterhandt’s words–the West fears a "circuit reaction" of secessionist movemen’s which a change of borders would trigger across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Luchterhandt drew parallels with the conflict in Kosovo–whose ethnic Albanian majority he said has the right of self-determination exercised by other republics of the former Yugoslavia. The only difference–he said–is that Kosovo’s autonomous status was arbitrarily abolished by Serbian authorities in 1989 shortly before the break-up of Yugoslavia.

The scholar further noted that the unresolved Karabakh dispute is a serious obstacle to Armenia’s integration in European structures prioritized by the authorities in Yerevan. He said it was the primary reason why Armenia–unlike neighboring Georgia–failed to gain full membership in the Council of Europe. However–the unresolved dispute did not prevent the European Union from signing "partnership and cooperation" agreemen’s with all three Transcaucasian states in 1996. That agreement will come into force next June following a lengthy ratification procedure by all EU members. Under that document–Armenia committed itself to bringing its legislation into conformity with European norms. The EU–for its part–will assist the country in developing democratic institutions. Luchterhandt indicated that this may give a boost to political reform and democratization in the Transcaucasus.

At the same time–Luchterhandt came to an interesting conclusion that problems with democracy and human rights will not disappear in Armenia until the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. With the constant threat of a resumption of the war with Azerbaijan–the military and security apparatus play a disproportionately large role in politics–being in effect outside civilian control. "As long as the Karabakh conflict remains unresolved–there will be no political disarmament of the military and movement toward a civil society," he said.

Europe–and more specifically the OSCE–will nonetheless remain the main forum to search for peace in Karabakh–he argued. True–the OSCE is far away from the region. But "that is both its weakness and strength." There is simply no other international organization (even the CIS) that can offer a credible alternative to the OSCE’s mediation–Luchterhandt concluded.

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