In this op-ed for commonspace.eu, Onnik James Krikorian says that as the topic of the future of the Armenians of Karabakh within Azerbaijan becomes more urgent, it is now time for Armenian and Azerbaijani analysts and political scientists to elaborate potential models for integration in unison. Though Baku says it already has a plan, no details are known or even if it exists at all. And even if it does, then Armenian and Azerbaijani civil society could have suggestions and recommendations. "If they want, of course, but they should. Otherwise such models could be determined without their input and imposed from above or outside regardless of the potential consequences", he adds.
The situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the past few weeks has been tenser than ever. Yet, in three weeks time it is hoped that the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders will again meet alongside the presidents of France and the European Council and the Chancellor of Germany in Granada. In addition to that on the margins of the European Political Community summit, hopes of another meeting in Brussels facilitated by European Council President Charles Michel remain, but it is uncertain whether a peace agreement can be signed by end of year.
Pashinyan said at the weekend, that it will certainly not be signed in Spain.
Even the U.S. has changed its tone now. Only a few months ago a long overdue peace agreement was considered within reach, but in the American discourse it has now been relegated to being part of a long-term strategy. Its immediate concern is instead re-opening the Lachin Corridor, the strategic lifeline between Armenia and Karabakh before a full humanitarian crisis drives the sides even further apart. News that Stepanakert has finally agreed to a compromise on this is at least promising.
But there is still much to do. In particular, there is the matter of the rights and security of Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population.
By most interpretations, this means accepting the reality that Karabakh will not gain independence from Azerbaijan. Instead, the population will be integrated into wider society. Yet nobody knows how this would be achieved or even if the region’s Armenians would remain living there. Nobody is even sure if any discussion between representatives of the Karabakh Armenians and official Baku will be internationally mediated, visible, or now, a new word in the official lexicon, verifiable.
Instead, only the rather ambiguous phrase international mechanism is used in statements leading to selective interpretation by all sides.
The Azerbaijani government has mentioned some models, of course, such as arrangements for the Hungarian minority in Slovakia but few have explained what that means in practice, leaving the public as confused as ever. Some, such as the Baku-based Topchubashov Centre, have gone further by openly discussing various models and have apparently done so since the end of the 2020 Karabakh War.
But there is one missing ingredient. There have been no similar pronouncements in Armenia or any known discussion by Armenian analysts and think tanks.
Pashinyan says he is prepared to recognise Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity if it in turn recognises Armenia’s and also agrees to the ambiguous international mechanism through which Karabakh and Baku can engage in negotiations over integration and the rights and security of Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population. However, he has not revealed what he means by these terms, and nor has anyone else.
But there are plenty of models for the integration of conflicting ethnic and/or religious groups in conflict zones to consider. Though none can simply be imported and transposed from outside, they could at least be considered as base frameworks for further discussion. There is also the 1997 package peace proposal that offers an insight into what a future arrangement looked like in the past, though the situation has of course markedly changed since.
True, it is unlikely that the sides will agree fully and more probable that they won’t, but there could be space for identifying some areas of mutual benefit where consensus can be reached. Until then, it is unimaginable to consider how any integration progress can occur without a transition period that could take years even in a best-case scenario. The divisions are that deep and the issues that complex.
It is difficult to imagine, for example, that a Karabakh Armenian could be expected to serve in the Azerbaijani army anytime soon, and nor would Baku likely want to provide them access to military-grade weaponry. At the same time, the free and secure movement of ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis around the territory of Azerbaijan, including Karabakh, is hardly likely in the short-term.
But as a first step towards facilitating people-to-people contact, perhaps through a market on the Askeran-Aghdam road, is necessary to start the ball rolling. Then, other key elements such as gas pipelines and electricity or telecommunication networks can follow. But those are the ‘easier’ issues. Even the fact that new generations of ethnic Armenians can’t understand Azerbaijani remains.
Here, the lesson of Georgia and attempts to increase official language proficiency among its ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani minorities could offer some examples to take onboard. However, integration rather than assimilation will be key as will learning from mistakes made elsewhere.
In a white paper on an Armenia-Azerbaijan peace co-authored by Gerard Libaridian the former diplomat and academic stressed the need to prepare for the eventual departure of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Karabakh regardless of whether that happens in 2025 or 2030. He has also argued that emphasis must be on ensuring that Karabakh’s Armenians can remain in their homes.
It is arguably now time for others to do precisely that and a good place to start would be for Armenian and Azerbaijani analysts and political scientists to elaborate potential models for integration in unison. Though Baku says it already has a plan, no details are known or even if it exists at all. And even if it does, then Armenian and Azerbaijani civil society could have suggestions and recommendations.
If they want, of course, but they should. Otherwise such models could be determined without their input and imposed from above or outside regardless of the potential consequences.
source: Onnik James Krikorian is a journalist, photojournalist, and consultant from the U.K. who has covered the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict since 1994.
photo: A Russian Red Cross truck carrying goods for Nagorno-Karabakh drives to Aghdam on September 9
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