Opinion: Armenia needs to better explain what it means by an international presence in Nagorno-Karabakh

In this op-ed for commonspace.eu, in light of recent Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations in Washington D.C., Benyamin Poghosyan argues that Armenia needs to better explain what it means by its demand for an international presence in Nagorno Karabakh. "Lack of clarity on what Armenia is seeking to see coming out of the negotiations makes it difficult for it to build international support to put pressure on Azerbaijan to at least discuss these issues instead of expressing blanket rejections. A more detailed Armenian vision can also be useful in bringing the current negotiations to a successful conclusion," he writes.

As Armenia – Azerbaijan negotiations entered a more active phase after a months-long limbo with marathon discussions in Washington, an upcoming trilateral meeting at the level of foreign ministers in Moscow, and a possible Pashinyan – Aliyev summit in Chisinau on 1 June 2023, the key contested issue remains Armenia's demand for a long-term international presence in Nagorno Karabakh and the establishment of an international mechanism for Azerbaijan – Nagorno Karabakh negotiations. 

In his 5 May 2023, interview with Radio Liberty, Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan stated that the rights and security of Nagorno Karabakh Armenians remained the main issue, where the sides still had divergent views. The concept of "rights and security of Nagorno Karabakh Armenians" came into center stage in early 2022, as the Armenian government dropped its demand for autonomy for Nagorno Karabakh within Azerbaijan. Since Spring 2022, Armenia has avoided the terms of status and self-determination in its rhetoric on Nagorno Karabakh, instead emphasizing the necessity to protect rights and provide security for Nagorno Karabakh Armenians. 

Simultaneously, the Armenian government argued that due to multiple reasons (the 35 years of anti-Armenian propaganda in Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan's dismal record on human rights, the rule of law, and democracy), Armenians could not have rights and security within Azerbaijan with no status, just simply receiving Azerbaijani passports. The only way to guarantee the rights and security of Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh is a long-term international presence there. The Armenian government also called for establishing an international mechanism for negotiations between Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh about the region's future.

Despite public rejections of Armenian demands, Baku may discuss these issues behind closed doors

Azerbaijan rejects both ideas as nonstarters, arguing that any issues related to protecting the Armenian minority within Azerbaijan are an internal issue of Azerbaijan, and Baku will never allow any outside interference. One may anticipate such a reaction from Azerbaijan, as President Aliyev declared the end of the conflict immediately after the 2020 Nagorno Karabakh war and claimed that Nagorno Karabakh conflict was a remnant of history and that no Nagorno Karabakh existed anymore. 

However, anyone accustomed to conflict settlement and international negotiation methods and principles knows that leaders may declare whatever they want, but usually, at the end of the day, negotiated and approved texts differ from the initial positions of the sides. Thus, while publicly rejecting any idea of international presence in Nagorno Karabakh or international guarantees for the rights and security of Armenians, the Azerbaijani leadership may discreetly discuss these issues behind closed doors. 

However, to increase the chances of success, the Armenian government should provide more details about what it understands with the terms – 'international presence in Nagorno Karabakh", "international mechanism for Azerbaijan – Nagorno Karabakh negotiations," or "Azerbaijan - Nagorno Karabakh negotiations visible for the international community." First of all, there should be a clarification regarding the presence of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno Karabakh. Does the Armenian government view them as a sign of international presence, even if they have no UN Security Council mandate or approved rules of engagement?

Armenia must provide more details of what it wants

If yes, then the Armenian demand for a continued international presence in Nagorno Karabakh should be focused on extending the Russian peacekeepers’ mandate beyond November 2025. Since Armenia speaks about a long–term international presence, Armenia can probably suggest extending their mandate for another ten years to avoid new drama in November 2030. However, if the presence of the Russian peacekeepers does not satisfy Armenia's vision of an international presence in Nagorno Karabakh, then Armenia should provide more details too of what it wants. Does Armenia want an international peacekeeping mission with a UN Security Council mandate to be deployed in Nagorno Karabakh, or an EU mission within CSDP?

It should be noted that since the first CSDP missions and operations were launched back in 2003, the EU has undertaken over 37 overseas operations, using civilian and military missions and operations in several countries in Europe, Africa, and Asia. As of today, there are 21 ongoing CSDP missions and operations, 12 of which are civilian and nine military. Providing more details about the Armenian understanding of an “international presence in Nagorno Karabakh" will allow for the start of detailed negotiations with the international community and Azerbaijan, and can help build support for the Armenian vision.

A more detailed Armenian vision can also be useful in bringing the current negotiations to a successful conclusion 

The same applies to the "International mechanism for Azerbaijan – Nagorno Karabakh negotiations." As of now, it is quite a vague idea with a lack of significant details. What mechanism does Armenia want, and how should this mechanism be established? If anything should be done within OSCE, does it mean that Armenia wants to legally end the existence of OSCE Minsk Group and establish another group with a new mandate to facilitate negotiations between Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh? And what countries should or can be members of this new group? 

Another issue is the status of Nagorno Karabakh while negotiations continue between Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh. Should the post-November 2020 status quo remain unchanged, and will these negotiations be open-ended, or with a defined timeframe? As Azerbaijan has already changed the post-November 2020 status quo by establishing two checkpoints over the Lachin corridor, what will be the fate of these checkpoints during the negotiations? Lack of clarity on what Armenia is seeking to see coming out of the negotiations makes it difficult for it to build international support to put pressure on Azerbaijan to at least discuss these issues instead of expressing blanket rejections. A more detailed Armenian vision can also be useful in bringing the current negotiations to a successful conclusion. 

source: Benyamin Poghosyan is a Senior research fellow, APRI – Armenia, and the founder and Chairman of the Centre for Political and Economic Strategic Studies in Yerevan.
photo: UN
The views expressed in opinion pieces and commentaries do not necessarily reflect the position of commonspace.eu or its partners

 

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