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Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

Ambassador Richard D. Kauzlarich,
former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan
and Bosnia and Herzegovina

 
When I took up my duties as U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan in April 1994, the conflict involving Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh was raging. The first trip my wife Anne and I took outside Baku was to visit US NGO humanitarian assistance projects among refugees living near the front lines. As we listened to the sound of artillery exchanges in the distance and saw the tragic circumstances of the refugees, it was hard to imagine an end to the suffering of both the Azerbaijani and Armenian people. Yet, within a month, under Russian auspices, a cease-fire was negotiated.

Six years later that cease-fire remains in place enforced by the parties with only a token OSCE observer presence. Unfortunately, a cease-fire has proven easier to achieve than a peace settlement. The OSCE Minsk Group has been working for eight years to help find a solution. But today, thanks to the direct contacts between Presidents Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Kocharian of Armenia, we may have the best prospects since 1994 for achieving a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Such a resolution should not wait. Close to 800,000 Azerbaijanis, remain in dreary refugee camps, unable to return to their homes. While this conflict remains unresolved, conflicts smolder in Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, and rage in Chechnya in Russia. The instability they create in the Caucasus has discouraged international investors precisely when the people of the region need economic growth to sustain their hard-won independence and build a better future.

Why did the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict happen? Without going into all the history, there was nothing "inevitable, or normal" about this tragic conflict. After all. Azerbaijanis and Armenians lived side by side for long periods. The major cause of the conflict was the collapse of the Soviet Union. and the inability of Moscow in those waning days of Soviet power to prevent a manageable conflict from turning into a full-blown war. This failure led to increasingly violent interethnic incidents in both Azerbaijan and Armenia. Once Soviet armed forces dissolved, both sides inherited the arms necessary to engage in all-out war.

Beyond the human suffering, the conflict has imposed a huge economic burden on Georgia. Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Countries, who were at peace with their neighbors in other parts of the world, were integrating into the global economic system. At the same time, the countries of the Caucasus found themselves not only isolated from the world economy, but also separated from each other. Some refer to the problem as one of "blockades." Rather, I agree with Joe Presel's formulation' (Testimony of Ambassador Joseph Presel before the House International Relations Committee on July 30, 1997.) of these being a series of interlocking trade embargoes. It was the conflicts not the embargoes that shut down rail links and disrupted communications. Nakhchivan an Azerbaijani exclave, is cut off from the rest of Azerbaijan. Armenia is unable to trade with Turkey. The result is economic misery and cause for the young and able to leave the region for better lives in Russia and the West for themselves and their families. The longer peace remains a dream, the more difficult it becomes for the countries of the Caucasus to integrate into the world economy. Even Azerbaijan, with its obvious energy wealth, will not fully develop its potential without real peace with Armenia.

In America, there is a frequent question: why should the US and other countries be concerned about the conflict concerning Nagorno-Karabakh? The debate centers over whether this region is of "vital interest" to the United States. That avoids, however, the more basic question of who has an interest in end- ing this long-standing conflict. Let us look at this question on three levels: first, the interests of the immediate parties to the conflict, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Second, the interests of regional players, Georgia, Russia, Turkey and Iran. Third, the interests of trans-Atlantic players, the US and EU countries.

Unlike eight years ago, both Armenia and Azerbaijan know that resumption of war will not solve this conflict. Much has changed in this brief period. There is the recognition that the economic and societal burden of economic opportunities deferred and refugees are simply not supportable. As important is the understanding that neither country will become closer to Europe carrying the bag- gage of irresolvable ethnic conflict.

In recent testimony (Testimony of Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott before the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations of the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 31, 1998.), Deputy Secretary of State Talbott noted that the history of the region was one of "...zero sum rivalries among large powers trying to impose their will on smaller states..." That does not have to be the future of the region. This is not just a question for the "large powers" Russia, Turkey and Iran. Georgia has its own interests in seeing this conflict end. First, Georgia has significant communities of Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Second, Georgia has its own on again, off again conflicts in Abkhazia and Ossetia. Third, Georgia wants to see the development of Caspian energy resources. Finally, Georgia is a neighbor to both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

With larger interests, Turkey and Russia confront a new reality. Both of them recognize that the energy resources of the Caspian region provide economic opportunity for all the states in the region - whether exporters or importers of that energy. Continued unresolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan - taken with ongoing war in the north Caucasus - can only raise the cost of developing and transporting these resources.

Russia has a critical role as a member of the OSCE's Minsk Group. As Deputy Secretary Talbott noted in his testimony, Russia has been practicing "strategic ambivalence" toward the region. Now with the devastating war in Chechnya, Russia must know that conflict on its southern flank cannot enhance its security.

Iran, too, has an opportunity to playa more positive role than it did eight years ago. It can work to encourage stable relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Iran also can look for opportunities for regional economic development -not just in energy but other areas as well. With growing areas of common interest, there is the possibility of a more normal and mutually productive relationship inside and outside the region. The EU, the US, and other members of the transatlantic community are helping the parties to the conflict build a lasting peace. Critics point to cynical motivations for this interest: first, development of energy resources will be slowed absent a resolution of the conflict; and second, the pressure of Armenian-Americans to resolve the conflict in Armenia's favor. There are more fundamental reasons for transatlantic engagement in the search for peace. From the early stages of the conflict, the US saw the danger of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict destabilizing the entire region. In addition, the conflict concerning Nagorno-Karabakh is a symbol of the ethnic/religious conflicts that have bedeviled the post cold war period. This conflict plus the four Balkan wars in the same period has demonstrated the failure of war. Now, we must make them examples of the success of peace.

European Commission President Romano Prodi wrote in the March 21 International Herald Tribune: "We must continue to work with our partners, above all the United States, to entrench democracy, tolerance and market economics across the region." While what he said was directed at the Balkans, the same principle of transatlantic cooperation has and must applied for the Caucasus region. Both the EU and the US share a broader objective that more accurately defines our interest than energy resources and domestic US politics.

In sum, whether the region is or is not an area of "vital interest" for the United States, the conflict concerning Nagorno-Karabakh must be solved. It can only be solved with the positive engagement not only of the parties, but also with the support of the regional countries and the transatlantic community, including the United States.

We have seen the political costs to countries that because of conflicts with their neighbors remain outside of both the global economic system and the web of international political and security structures that provide the basis for resolving such conflicts. That is why the United States has insisted that the Minsk Group help mediate a solution to the conflict. As co-chairs of the Minsk Group process along with Russia and France, we have been working hard with the parties to help overcome the main obstacles to peace.

The Minsk Group alone cannot solve the conflict -only the parties can. That is why the confidential contacts between President Aliyev and President Kocharian are so critical. At last year's 5Oth Anniversary NATO Summit in Washington, Secretary Albright used the occasion to bring the two Presidents together. Similar exchanges took place last year in Geneva, on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and at the Istanbul OSCE Summit. This January, they met in Moscow and Davos. The fact that these con- tacts continue -and President Aliyev during his February visit to the United States spoke of the need for compromise from all sides -creates the expectation that peace is possible.

Sadly, in Armenia and Azerbaijan some forces continue to oppose any solution that does not meet their extremist and unrealistic political objectives. Progress is slow. Nevertheless, increasingly, enlightened leaders understand the costs of continuing the conflict - the plight of the refugees, the lack of economic growth and the hemorrhage of the "best and the brightest" from the region needing them to build a better future. That is why we must not allow this opportunity to pass.

In summary, the military status quo is stable, the cease-fire is holding and there is no security reason not to invest in Azerbaijan. There were and should be again important economic complementarities among Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. The key point is that the Caucasus, when integrated economically, will become an important market and trade crossroads to the East and the West. Further steps toward peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan will hasten this new opportunity for economic growth and stability in the region.

FACT BOX: Editor's Courtesy

Territories under Occupation
Nagorno-Karabakh 2,069 sq. miles (5,358 sq. km)
Seven Azerbaijani regions beyond Nagorno-Karabakh
3,404 sq. miles (8,818 sq. km)

  • Lachin 709 sq. miles (1,835 sq. km)
  • Kalbajar 748 sq. miles (1,936 sq. km)
  • Aghdam 422 sq. miles (1,093 sq. km)
  • Fizuli 535 sq. miles (1,386 sq. km)
  • Gubadli 308 sq. miles (802 sq. km)
  • Jabrayil 409 sq. miles (1,059 sq. km)
  • Zanghelan 273 sq. miles (707 sq. km)

TOTAL TERRITORIES UNDER OCCUPATION 5,472 sq. miles (14,176 sq. km)

OSCE Minsk Conference -The mediation efforts are carried out under the auspices of the OSCE. In 1992, the OSCE initiated the Minsk Conference for a peaceful resolution to the Armenia- Azerbaijan conflict. The name of the process originates from the capital of Belarus, where the final peace conference would be held. At the moment, the Minsk Conference is co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States.

The working body of the OSCE Minsk Conference is the Minsk Group, which includes USA, France, Russia, Poland, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Belarus, Austria, Germany, Sweden and Turkey.
 

From "Azerbaijan Investment Guide 2000" p.17.
United States-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce

http://www.usacc.org

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