Baran interviewed by Armenian media on Nagorno-Karabakh
July 19, 2006
by Zeyno Baran
On July 13, the Armenian news agency Mediamax released an exclusive interview with Center for Eurasian Policy director Zeyno Baran on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The interview was also translated and published in the leading Armenian newspaper Aravot.
Zeyno Baran joined Hudson Institute as Senior Fellow and Director of Hudson’s Center for Eurasian Policy in April 2006.
From January 2003 until joining Hudson, Baran directed the International Security and Energy Programs at the Nixon Center. Her current work focuses on strategies to thwart the spread of radical Islamist ideology in Europe and in Eurasia and to promote democratic and energy reform processes across Eurasia.
From 1999 until December 2002, Baran worked as Director of the Caucasus Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). For more than a decade, she has written extensively on Caspian oil and gas pipeline projects and frequently travels to the region. In recognition of her prominent contribution to the development of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the South Caucasus gas pipeline projects, she was awarded with the Order of Honor by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in May 2003.
- The situation around the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement in recent several weeks has been developing like a "snowball". Shortly after the meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in Bucharest the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs issued a statement that was perceived in the region as an "ultimatum" to the parties in the conflict. Do you agree with such definition?
- I don't consider the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs' statement as an "ultimatum". It is a statement, however, that makes clear that the co-chairs believe they have done all they can in this process. From here on, the burden is going to be on the Armenian and the Azerbaijani sides--if they want a solution, then they need to work with what there is. Neither side is very happy with what is on offer, but each side would be better off if this conflict is resolved, so the two Presidents and the two peoples need to figure out what they want.
I think it is good that the secrecy is now gone and the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan see clearly what is on offer. For too long people were debating the plan based on speculations; the whole process was in the hands of the Presidents and a small group of people around them. Having more of the society engaged is part of the democratic and much healthier way to go about it.
Unfortunately I still do not see how either of the Presidents will move. There are very good reasons for both of them to accept what is on offer, and declare it as a major success to their people. However, I think their calculations are different and both believe it is better to wait a bit longer and see how the situation may evolve. For example, we still do not know what will happen with Iran; in case of increased tension with the West, what will Iran's policy be towards Armenia and Azerbaijan? What will their positions be vis-a-vis Iran and the West? How about the deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow, especially in areas Moscow still considers to be in its "backyard". I think without a clearer picture of the future of the South Caucasus region and the dynamics that affect it, neither president will risk making a move that may leave their country in a worse situation than it is now.
- Can a breakthrough be anticipated at the talks if the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg discusses the Karabakh settlement?
- Of course it would be very important for the G-8 Summit to include Karabakh (as well as the other so-called frozen conflicts). While just raising them at one meeting is not going to lead to any "breakthrough" it would send a message that the G-8 community is committed to the peaceful resolution of these conflicts. It would also be important to underline that it is in Russia's interest too to see these conflicts resolved and the South Caucasus prosper.
- Speaking at "The future of democracy in the Black Sea area" hearings before the Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs on March 8th, 2005 you expressed the opinion that "to change the political and economic conditions on the ground and the calculations of two sides U.S. needs to get engaged into the Karabakh conflict settlement at the highest level." To your mind, can we speak about such engagement today?
- I think over the last year the US has increased its engagement, but still not at the sufficient level. That is why we need to see US President Bush raise Karabakh at the G-8 so he commits the US at the highest levels. Why? Because everyone knows that in addition to working out the issues between the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides, there is also the Russia factor, and only the US has the ability to work with Russia in a way to help them see that solution to Karabakh is in their interest as well.
- You have also stated: "Azerbaijan is told by the West that it lost Karabakh in the war and needs to give up this piece of land for the sake of peace and prosperity and move on with its EU and NATO integration process. This kind of talk only hardens the nationalists, who believe that with massive oil and gas revenues starting to flow into the budget over the next several years, they can strengthen their military and take back their land." What, to your mind, is the West doing wrong and what steps should the West take? Can we describe as nationalists the senior Azerbaijani government officials who constantly threaten to increase the military budget and resolve the problem in a military way?
- There is a lot of frustration in Azerbaijan and a sense that the international community would have supported them a lot more if they were Christian. Making compromise is always difficult and especially in a region where such a tradition is not that prevalent. If one looks at the facts on the ground in Azerbaijan, especially the two digit growth rates and oil starting flow in massive quantities, it is easy to understand that the Azerbaijani people would feel increasingly more secure and feel that time is on their side. Then there is the rise of nationalism which is not just an Azerbaijani phenomenon but is seen in many of the countries, including in neighboring countries like Russia and Turkey. The talk about the military option may be part of the negotiating tactic, or it may reflect the sense of frustration. I am in general opposed to people –including senior government officials--using such language as it fuels mutual mistrust and makes compromise even harder.
- How viable the prospect of determining Nagorno Karabakh's status at a referendum is?
- I do not believe there can be a referendum held in the short term that would have international legitimacy, but there could and probably will be one in the future. It all depends on when and under what conditions.
- In last several years, the representatives of the U.S. Administration have stressed that unlike other post-Soviet frozen conflicts, Russia and the USA cooperate closely in Nagorno Karabakh. Is this conditioned by the specific character of the Karabakh conflict or you may outline other reasons?
- There is a major difference between Karabakh and the other frozen conflicts--in the others, such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia is almost a direct player. Whereas in Karabakh, it is only an indirect player and hence it is easier for the US and Russia to cooperate.
- The opinion that the USA will henceforth connect the Nagorno Karabakh settlement with the internal political developments in Armenia and the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections abandon in Armenia. How justified this tactics will be?
- I frankly have not heard anyone mention this in the US administration. The only thing I hear being mentioned repeatedly is that 2006 is the "window of opportunity" to reach a solution as after this year Armenia will start the election cycle and in that climate it is much harder to resolve a difficult issue like Karabakh.
- Addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs
last March you said that "the strength of Armenian Diaspora limits U.S. ability to encourage democratic change in Armenia." You noted then that "the U.S. simply cannot put the same kind of pressure on President Robert Kocharian as it was able to do with President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine. It is inconceivable to think that Washington would threaten to keep senior Armenian government officials out of the U.S. in case of falsified elections." To your mind, will this tendency be preserved or Washington will be ready to harden its position if the elections in Armenia again fail to meet international standards?
- Well, I guess I do not foresee any change as the Armenian Diaspora is still as effective as it has been and would not want the Armenian government to come under any kind of criticism. But Armenians should be able to join the community of democracies and all those civil society and NGO activists, as well as those reformers in the government, should be able to get the kind of support other pro-democracy people in other parts of the world get from the US. There has to be a way to come up with some sort of a constructive and effective criticism, but I don't have the answer as to how.
- What do you think, has Washington already defined its "allies" at the upcoming elections in Armenia?
- No, I don't think anyone in Washington is really thinking about the elections at this point--those few who cover the region are all focused on the Karabakh conflict. When it gets closer, Washington (by that I mean the US government) will of course be mostly interested in the pre-election process; if there will be some "more favored" candidates, these will be people who will have a vision for Armenia that is democratic, on its path to integrate closer with the European and Euro-Atlantic institutions, has a clear and workable reform agenda, etc.
- Why do U.S. efforts to normalize relations between Armenia and Turkey turn out to be fruitless? How real is it to speak about the possibility of normalizing Armenian-Turkish relations before the settlement of the Karabakh conflict?
- I always had difficulty seeing how Turkey would normalize relations with Armenia, mainly open the border, before there is some progress on the Karabakh issue--it does not have to be fully resolved, but there has to be sufficient progress so that the Turkish people and the Azerbaijani people would let their leaders make such a move. Of course there are regular flights between Turkey and Armenia, and people-to-people exchanges and dialogues are going well. But no matter how much pressure (or encouragement) there is from the US (and the EU), Turks will not be able to change policy before the conditions on the ground change. Turks are simply too close with Azeris in many ways (ethnic, religious, culture, etc) for them to just act on their own.
Zeyno Baran is a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute.