First published in November 8, 2008 Armenian Reporter.
Russia brokers Armenia-Azerbaijan commitment to “a political settlement,” more talks
Declaration is first major development in peace process since 1994 cease-fire
Short on substance
by Emil Sanamyan
Washington - The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, meeting on the invitation of the Russian president in Moscow on November 2, pledged to reach "a political settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict" via intensified talks mediated by Russia, the United States, and France.
The text of the five-point declaration was read out by President Dmitry Medvedev on Russian television and carried in full by the Regnum news agency.
In substance, the declaration does little more than reiterate the parties' previously announced readiness to achieve a settlement through continued negotiations. It painstakingly avoids contentious issues and waters down any language that could be interpreted as a concession by either Armenia or Azerbaijan.
But the very fact of the declaration is likely to renew expectations for a peaceful settlement and provide for an important milestone in the peace process. Not since May 1992 have the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a declaration of this kind.
Russian mediation, coming soon after the war in Georgia and Russian recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, is meant to reaffirm Russia's leadership role in the South Caucasus.
No commitment to the nonuse of force
The tortured language of the declaration is almost as important in what it painstakingly avoids to say through omission or deliberate vagueness as in what it says.
The first point commits the parties to a "political settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict." Importantly, it does not commit parties to maintain the cease-fire in place or the nonuse of force.
A political settlement, the declaration says, would be on "the basis of principles and norms of international law and solutions and documents adopted in their frames." It does not mention territorial integrity or self-determination or any specific solution or document.
The second point refers to developing "basic principles of a political settlement" in the future. Importantly, it refers to the "meeting" between the mediators, Armenia, and Azerbaijan during the OSCE Ministerial in Madrid in November 2007, rather than the principles offered by the mediators at that meeting. In effect the declaration leaves room for a substantial deviation from the so-called Madrid principles.
The third point stresses the need for "legally binding international guarantees of all . . . aspects and stages" of a peaceful settlement. The purpose of this point is not immediately clear. But it does mention "peaceful settlement" and "international guarantees" favored by Armenia, and "stages" favored by Azerbaijan.
The fourth point reiterates the presidents' commitment to continue with the settlement format in place since 1999 - bilateral meetings of the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan along with the three co-chairs, with occasional meetings of the two presidents.
The fifth point refers to the need for "confidence-building measures." Such measures have long been advocated by Armenia and the mediators; but far from committing Azerbaijan to dropping its hate rhetoric and implementing such measures, the declaration only stresses the importance of "promoting the creation of conditions" for the implementation of such measures.
The absence of any possibly controversial passage from the declaration confirms the impression that the Russian mediators wanted very much to have the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents sign a joint declaration at the end of the summit initiated by Russia.
An important milestone
Although largely devoid of meaningful commitment to a peaceful settlement, the declaration is nevertheless historically important, since only twice before have leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan signed declarations committing themselves to finding a settlement of the Karabakh conflict.
The first was a joint communiqué (declaration) signed on September 23, 1991, in Zhelznovodsk, Russia, by Presidents Levon Ter-Petrossian and Ayaz Mutalibov, with President Boris Yeltsin of Russia and President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan. That declaration pledged a cease-fire and the annulment of both Armenia's decision to reunify with Karabakh and of Azerbaijan's decision to abolish Karabakh's autonomy; the declaration was followed by intensification in violence and a full-scale war in Karabakh.
The last time Armenian and Azerbaijani heads of state signed a joint declaration was in Tehran on May 7, 1992. That declaration was signed by President Ter-Petrossian, Azerbaijan's acting president Yaqub Mamedov, and Iran's President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The declaration was followed by the first major Armenian military success in Karabakh - the liberation of Shushi - and the subsequent overthrow of Mr. Mamedov.
President Ter-Petrossian and President Heydar Aliyev later acceded to declarations by the heads of state of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Moscow in April 1994 and the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in Budapest in December 1994 that called for efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict, which continue to this day.
The May 1994 cease-fire agreement, mediated by Russia, was signed by the speakers of parliament of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and subsequently endorsed by the defense ministers of the three republics.
More than anything, the Meiendorf Castle declaration of November 2 sought to underscore the leadership role played by Russia in the South Caucasus.
Early international mediation efforts in the Karabakh conflict were marked by competition between Russia and the West over who was best suited to help reach an agreement and, by extension, lead a peacekeeping mission in Karabakh.
By 1994 a compromise solution was found, where Russia would co-chair the CSCE (later OSCE) Minsk Group, with European countries rotating as the other co-chair every year.
In early 1997, Russia agreed to a further compromise, establishing a permanent troika of France, Russia, and the United States. A June 23, 1997, declaration by Presidents Jacques Chirac, Boris Yeltsin, and Bill Clinton in Denver (during a G8 Economic Summit) gave high-level political support to the format that continues to this day.
After the failure of the three troika proposals in 1997–98 to achieve a breakthrough, the United States took the initiative in the mediation process, brokering a direct meeting between Presidents Heydar Aliyev and Robert Kocharian in April 1999 during the NATO Summit in Washington. That effort culminated in the near-agreement at Key West, Florida, in April 2001.
Following the U.S. attempts, it was Mr. Chirac’s turn to hold Armenia-Azerbaijan summits. But a high-level meeting between Presidents Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev
at Rambouillet in February 2006 and other France-led efforts also failed to produce a breakthrough.
Significantly, neither U.S. nor French efforts produced any joint declarations, even of the watered down kind made at the Russian president’s Meiendorf castle.
At this time, the Karabakh standoff offers no attractive solutions to either Armenia or Azerbaijan.
The most recent effort by Russia is unlikely to lead to an actual settlement, since such settlement presents both the sides and mediators with more problems than the current status quo.
The peace process serves as a kind of a pressure release valve in the uneasy and dangerous standoff over Karabakh. The Moscow declaration can provide this process with a fresh lease on life, making the existing relative peace just a little more durable.
Moscow declaration on Karabakh welcomed, analyzed in the West
by Emil Sanamyan
Although France and the United States were not involved in drafting of the Moscow declaration on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, the document is nevertheless "totally supported" by the United States, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and envoy to the Karabakh talks Matt Bryza told Azerbaijani media on November 2 and 3.
Mr. Bryza and his French colleague were invited to the summit between the Russian, Armenian, and Azerbaijan presidents, but apparently were kept out of the trilateral talks held near Moscow on November 2, Mr. Bryza told the Trend News Agency.
While hosting Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev in Ankara on November 5, his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gül similarly expressed support for the declaration. A statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry carried by news agencies on November 6 similarly expressed Ankara's desire to "contribute" to the conflict's settlement via mediation by France, Russia, and the United States.
While most Western commentators sought to downplay the declaration's importance, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's leading Caucasus expert Liz Fuller described it as a "victory for Armenia." In a November 3 analysis, she particularly noted that while President Aliyev previously threatened war against Armenia, has now pledged a political solution to the issue.
Writing for Eurasianet.org on November 4, the Russia-skeptic Stephen Blank noted that while "Moscow's opposition to the use of force can be justified for many reasons, but it also is probably the only way Baku could ever stand a realistic chance of recovering its lost lands. All of this means that Russia has imposed limits on Azerbaijan's negotiating position, leaving Baku in an extremely disadvantageous position."
Azerbaijan ceased issuing public threats of going to war after the Georgian attack on South Ossetia resulted in a massive response by Russia.
A report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) on October 29 suggested that even though Azerbaijan had spent some $4.5 billion on its armed forces in recent years, "for now at least, the delicate military balance with Armenia probably still holds."
The ICG report also complained about the lack of even basic public oversight over Azerbaijani government spending, but noted that "a modern and efficient army, even if subject to democratic, civilian control, is not unproblematic while the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh remains deeply resented."