Peace, Not Diplomacy in Artsakh

Tanks fire live rounds during a military exercise in Artsakh earlier this month


During a meeting with students of the Azerbaijani State Economic University earlier in November, US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Morningstar announced: “we will work jointly with the Minsk Group and do our best to achieve a solution for the Karabakh issue,” He also admitted that “if the solution of Nagorno Karabakh was easy, we would have done it. I believe that it can be solved only when the conflicting parties make firm decision to solve the problem once and for all.”

The newly appointed U.S. co-chair of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, James Warlick, likewise, delivered President Obama’s message to the South Caucasus countries of Armenia and Azerbaijan: “make new efforts to restore peace in the region.” The new ambassador believes that the Minsk Group continues to be guided by the principles of the Helsinki Final Act: non-use of force, right to self-determination and territorial integrity.

The OSCE Minsk Group, co-chaired by France, Russia, and the United States, seems to intensify its diplomatic efforts and find solutions to the tragic and protracted conflict in the South Caucasus. Ironically and since 1992, Minsk Group’s continued engagement with Armenia and Azerbaijan to seek solutions to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has been the most proactive, but also and notably the least productive.

That’s because the diplomatic language of territorial integrity and self-determination does not seem to be compatible with the idea of peace.

Surely one of the most important tasks for Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the 21st Century is to learn how to handle the regional conflict and to settle the Nagorno Karabakh question in more constructive and peaceful ways. The toll in human misery and the threat to the survival of the two people have become far too great. Rather than continuing to rely on the entrenched and mere diplomatic procedures or the perpetual fray over territorial integrity vs. self-determination, the international efforts, and more directly the efforts of the Minsk Group would be better off if focused on the concept and the practice of peace and how to achieve it. The challenge here is to think methodically within the current non-peaceful relationships and the means of transforming them into peaceful ones.

No doubt, the two countries are destined to be neighbors and must look for peaceful relationships. To focus on the possibility of peace means the two sides must try to achieve together a common understanding of the kind of relationship that will avoid breeding harm. The challenge is to take the concept of peace beyond the mere absence of war or other forms of overt violence. Take the concept of peace beyond simple situation of a ceasefire or temporary truce in hostilities between the two parties. Evidently, in the absence of war many inconspicuous ways are used in which the sides have been harming each other physically, psychologically and economically even though they are not actually engaged in acts of war in the usual sense of the term.

The history of conflict and violence in the region requires a careful attention on the conditions that can turn the conflict so quickly and easily to violence and war. It also evokes new ways of thinking about alleviation of these conditions. After the horrible war between the two countries in the early 1990s, the status quo in the region was fundamentally changed, giving the Armenian population in Nagorno Karabakh independence from Azerbaijan. However, the OSCE Minsk Group efforts to achieve peace in the region remain futile and confined within the traditional diplomatic language of territorial integrity.

The broader challenge is to materialize the concept of peace in a state of affairs that is beneficial for the people in Nagorno Karabakh. The current situation is “peaceful” simply because the sides are not engaged in direct military clash and are not at war despite the continuous threats and the bellicose language in Baku.

It is not only the question of territorial integrity of Azebaijan or the question of self-determination for Armenians in Karabakh that the co-chairs of the Minsk Group should be considering. If the primary concern is to establish peace in the region, then the central question is the social status of the people rather than internationally established political norms, such as territorial integrity. The strategy, therefore, is to achieve structural peace. This is not only a situation of ceasefire or temporary truce in hostilities in which the two sides agree to avoid war, or other forms of overt violence, but also a kind of peace that institutionalizes social relations and shun acts of violence.

A deeper sense of peace, a socially structured one, is the ultimate goal. Before Nagorno Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan  in 1988, the most pernicious ways the Armenians have been harmed under the Azeri rule were not only by the direct oppressive actions of the government, but also as a result of the way the relationships were socially structured. A systemic violence was evident in Nagorno Karabakh as an enclave of Azerbaijan. Between 1923 and 1988, when Nagorno Karabakh lingered as an enclave of Azerbaijan, the relations were harmful even though the two sides were not involved in overt acts of violence. However, the situation was far from being “peaceful” because the Armenians suffered harm from the very nature of the relationship. The laws or social and economic practices demeaned the population in the enclave and prevented them from realizing their potential as a nation. They were further excluded from the opportunities and benefits available to Azeris. That is, not only the Baku government’s particular actions but the structure itself caused the harm. Lack of peace in the region was simply a result of occupation and oppressive behavior.

This is what the diplomatic language seemingly will have to divulge when talking about the regional conflict. But it generally ignores the tacit harm prevailing in the idea of territorial integrity in which the relevant relationships or political practices are largely structured. The system of apartheid, for example, was a system of “structural violence” as the well-known Scandinavian peace researcher, Johan Galtung has called it. In this situation the harm caused was systemic. A colonized or an occupied society, as well as a society trapped into an enclave are not peaceful because the laws and social practices are demeaning and establish unjust relationship. Armenians in Nakorno Krabakh were placed in such a position which became a fertile ground for overt forms of violence. The concept of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is not likely to be peaceful even if the Armenians were given the highest status of autonomy and self-governing.

As Johan Galtung has said, peace is not just the absence of direct violence, but also the absence of structural violence. People are harmed under occupation, under colonization, or in an enclave. Violence in this case is structured in the social relationship.

Razmig B. Shirinian is a Professor of Political Science at the College of the Canyons


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  1. GeorgeMardig said:

    Territorial integrity and self-determination does not make sense, only independence can guarantee the rights of the Artzakh people.

  2. Cristina said:

    Very good article. However, I slightly disagree with one point:
    ” threat to the survival of the two people have become far too great.” -> which two people are you talking about? I doubt that the people of Azerbaijan are in the condition of threat to their survival as a people…

  3. karakeuz said:

    Typical of our know it all philosophical ruminators. ” Survival of the two peoples” ???? What is shirinioan ruminating about ? Azeris are under no threat, their survival is not at stake. Only Armenia’s survival is at stake.Territorial integrity and self determination are an oxymoronic term in the contest of our situation in Artsakh. There is no such thing as territorial integrity for the Azeries, but there is territorial integrity with self determination of the peoples residing in that territory. for Armenia. We must put an end to the millenia retreat we have subjected ourselves . There will be no change to the status quo except with an integration of Artsakh and Armenia. Alyev promised to wash his feet on the waters of Sevan, he claims Armenian terrotory as Azeri. We are still wasting our time talking to them. We need to turn Armenia into an impregnable fortress, armed to the teeth and bristling with weaponry enough to deter the Azeries from any adventurism. That is the only talk those people will understand.

  4. Haygazian Nevart said:

    Blablabla it is all useless for us there is not any Karabakh issue , Karabakh declared its independance from soviet Azerbaijan before the collapse of Soviet Union, when Azerbaijan declared independance Karabakh was already not part of that country. So what the hell are we talking about here? if it is a joke it lost too long.

  5. Sarkis said:

    I greatly respect Dr. Shirinian, but peace in Artsakh was first and foremost attained through the sacrifices of Armenia’s fighting men and women who crushed the invading azeri turks despite overwhelming odds against Armenia. Had we lost the military phase, the only “peace” that would have prevailed would have been the “peace” one finds the days after the scene of a massacre. Our victory could not have happened had Russia not directly supported Armenia with arms and intelligence, and used direct threats of nuclear war against turkey to keep the turkish army from invading Armenia.

    If we want peace to prevail, we must continue building ourselves up militarily by building closer relations with Russia and the CSTO. We must also effectively exploit diplomacy to isolated and corner azerbaijan. Presidents Kocharyan and Sargsyan have been doing just that, by giving lip service to the peace process and meetings with the aliyevs on the one hand, while building up Armenia’s and Artsakh’s military capabilities with the latest Russian arms on the other hand. Additionally, Armenia claims on the one hand to wait for the peace process to complete before “officially recognizing” Artsakh, while on the other hand Armenia’s Armed Forces are deployed in Artsakh and Armenia’s President regularly visits Artsakh’s on official visits, observes Artsakh’s military exercises, greets and gives gifts to soldiers, and cooperates with Artsakh’s government in every field imaginable. Another excellent example of Armenia’s stellar diplomatic moves was the protocols, where on the one hand Armenia signed a document moving to open the turkish-Armenian border (knowing full well Yerevan had Moscow watching over its shoulders), while on the other hand Armenia’s highest court issued a ruling that relations with turkey cannot raise any questions about the Armenian Genocide and the Armenian governments pursuit of international recognitions, remembrance and restitution of the crimes of turkey. In all of these cases, Armenia’s government scored unprecedented diplomatic victories, against much wealthier and better connected opponents in ankara and baku, and thereby solidified our hard-earned military victories.

    Compare Armenia’s diplomatic acumen to a bumbling oaf like aliyev, who issues threats and blacklists of free citizens of the world who visit free Artsakh, who praised axe murders openly so that even his oil-industry backers in the west are embarrassed, and who since 2004 has been making belligerent threats of an imminent war against Armenia. Armenia came out completely dominant and victorious. Similarly against turkey, Armenia played its hands masterfully and demonstrated to the world that while Yerevan courageously tried to extend a hand to turkey, turkish leaders proved that they have no interest in peace with Armenia. These were historic power-plays by Armenia that gave Yerevan very precious, valuable diplomatic breathing room so that it could focus on strengthening its position in Artsakh and its standing in the international community.

    Rather than downplaying our diplomatic success or even failing to recognize them, we Armenians need to understand and support Yerevan’s successful diplomatic and geopolitical maneuvering. This is how the game is played, how all of the nations with international clout do it.

  6. Alex Postallian said:

    Morningstar:like byzra, a political macaw,the oil companies tell him what to say. byzra,unofficially appointed,by the obummer,to appease the jerky turkeys,and the little bastard brother,azerbaturk,who paid for a lavish wedding,to a turk,in istanbull,now he’s living in the sewer(jerky turkey)going to collect,a pension from our taxes,for being a SELL OUT.Two will get you ten,he is a closeted jew….

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