First published in the June 14, 2008 Armenian Reporter
Karabakh gathers experts for conference
Hears views, ideas and proposals
by Emil Sanamyan
STEPANAKERT – Retired senior diplomats, sitting and former parliamentarians and experts from Yerevan, Moscow and European countries arrived in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR) between May 23 and 24 on invitation from its National Assembly to take part in a conference dedicated to the Armenian republic’s pressing challenges.
Ashot Ghoulian, the NKR’s Parliament Speaker since 2005 and earlier its Foreign Minister (2002-4), led the organizational efforts for the conference. Mr. Ghoulian told the Armenian Reporter that the idea for the conference was born as part of the government commission planning to mark the 20th anniversary of the Karabakh movement being marked this year.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Ghoulian said that the conference sought to address and de-construct stereotypes that have emerged around the conflict that have to do with its legal framework and the conflict’s external perceptions.
Asked by the Reporter if NKR sought to invite Azerbaijani participants, Mr. Ghoulian said that such participation would have been welcome, but unfortunately impossible because of the Azerbaijani government’s attitude towards visits by its citizens to NKR.
(Editor’s note: While a high-profile Azerbaijani delegation did visit Karabakh in June 2007 (see the Armenian Reporter for June 30 and July 14, 2007), no further exchanges followed. Previous unofficial visitors have been condemned and one, journalist Eynullah Fatullayev who visited in 2005, has since been imprisoned on charges stemming from the visit).
Oskanian touts Madrid principles and warns of looming challenges
Vartan Oskanian, who just completed a decade at the helm of Armenia’s Foreign Ministry and served since 1994 as a lead member of Armenia’s negotiating team in the Karabakh peace process, spoke of the most recent developments in the negotiations process.
“The document on the table today is the best there has been,” Mr. Oskanian said in reference to the general principles of settlement based on talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan since 2004 (the socalled “Prague process”) and summarized by French, Russian and U.S. mediators before the OSCE Ministerial meeting in the Spanish capital last November (and, hence, known as the “Madrid principles”).
“It plainly spells out Nagorno-Karabakh’s right to self-determination,” the former foreign minister stressed of the draft document that has been criticized both in Azerbaijan and Armenia.
According to earlier media reports the Madrid principles call for providing Karabakh with an interim status before its final status is determined through a new referendum; in the meantime, Armenian troops would have to pull out from most of the areas that formerly comprised Azeri-populated districts located outside Karabakh’s Soviet-era administrative borders.
Any territorial compromises, particularly prior to finalizing the nature of Karabakh’s relations with Azerbaijan, are strongly opposed in Karabakh and elsewhere in Armenia.
According to town hall research conducted by the International Center for Human Development in Karabakh last year, majority of local residents would prefer the existing territorial configuration even to immediate international recognition. (See the Mediamax news agency analysis published in the Armenian Reporter on June 2, 2007.)
Mr. Oskanian went on to outline developments that are likely to add to Armenians’ challenges: the recognition of Kosovo and subsequent backlash, in Mr. Oskanian’s view, will lead to renewed anxiety of the international community towards self-determination; deepening of differences between the U.S. and Russia will have a negative impact on Armenia; as will the post-election crisis in Yerevan.
Kazimirov urges campaign to prevent a new war
Vladimir Kazimirov, the retired Russian Ambassador who was instrumental in securing the Karabakh cease-fire agreement in May 1994, suggested that the mediators’ focus today should be neither the Karabakh’s future status nor any kind of territorial rearrangements, but preservation of the cease-fire.
“Prevention of new fighting and strengthening of the cease-fire must be the highest priority and an overarching imperative” of the peace process, Amb. Kazimirov
stressed, arguing that the threat of war itself prevents any political settlement and is not sufficiently appreciated by mediators.
Mr. Kazimirov called on Armenian leaders, as well as the mediators, to launch a sustained diplomatic campaign for strengthening of the existing cease-fire. Had such campaign been underway, Mr. Kazimirov said, Azerbaijan would have greater difficulty in securing adoption of documents such as the UN General Assembly resolution last March.
Azerbaijan may be seriously considering “shaking things up” militarily on a smaller-scale to then launch a political offensive and try to shift the approaches of settlement in its favor, Mr. Kazimirov said.
But, according to the 78-year-old diplomatic veteran, far from achieving any
breakthroughs a new bout of violence in addition to causing bloodshed would only serve to solidify uncompromising attitudes on both sides further diminishing the likelihood of a final peace agreement.
Mr. Kazimirov again reminded of the February 1995 agreement on dealing with cease- fire violations along the Line of Contact that has been largely forgotten by the mediators and ignored by the parties, setting a bad precedent for any future agreements between the parties.
Rights, perceptions and information wars
With two incomplete days of conferencing and 30 presentations, participants broke up into three thematic groups focusing, respectively, on:
1. Karabakh’s self-determination in international law (with discussion led by Gen. Hayk Kotanjian of the Armenian Defense Ministry’s Institute for Strategic Studies and Prof. Aleksandr Manasian of the Yerevan State University);
2. Foreign perceptions of the conflict (with Prof. Suren Zolian of Yerevan’s Bryusov University and former Armenian Parliament member Shavarsh Kocharian moderating); and
3. Information challenges, or in other words propaganda campaigns having to do with the conflict (moderated by NKR National Assembly member Vahram Atanesian and advisor to NKR Foreign Ministry Arsen Melik-Shakhnazarov).
Most conference proceedings are available in the Russian language at http://www.defacto.am/pages/konferens.html .
Conference participants also had an opportunity to meet the NKR President Bako Sahakian, visit the Defense Army armored forces training center, and the Gandzasar monastery.