Karabakh: The big debate
Commonspace.eu today publishes the 15th in a series of twenty interviews with key personalities from Nagorno-Karabakh. The interviews give a vivid, even if sombre picture, of the attitude of Armenians and Azerbaijanis from Karabakh whose lives have been deeply affected by the conflict, and whose destiny will be at the heart of any future conflict settlement. Those interviewed sometimes use harsh language. Their opinion is almost inevitably controversial, as are sometimes their biographical notes. However it is through listening to these opinions that a path through the labyrinth that is the Karabakh conflict can be found. A full editorial policy of commonspace.eu is available at the About Us section. The next interview in the series will be with Vagif Jahangirov, a medical doctor and civil society activist.
Interview with Hayk Khanumyan
Hayk Khanumyan was born in 1984 in Ijevan, Armenia. He graduated in 2009 from the Yerevan State University, with a BA and MA in International relations, and also took special courses in Political Science at the Caucasus Institute, Yerevan (2007-2008). Khanumyan is also a graduate of the Institut des Hautes Études Européennes (Strassbourg). He was a guest lecturer at Artsakh State University in 2009-2010, and is the founding member of the European Movement in Artsakh, and Chairman of the Board since April 2010.
Biographical notes are provided by the interviewees themselves.
Can you summarize your overall position on the Karabakh conflict and the conflict resolution process:
To be honest, in my opinion, there is no "Karabakh conflict" at all, there is the statehood of the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) Republic. The new generations should strike for the well-being, development and prosperity of Artsakh.
I guess we are too much concentrated on the "conflict", while we need to concentrate more on state-building issues, as I think that all three parties cannot achieve any result solely by being concentrated on the "conflict". The only result-oriented option is through the establishment of sustainable state institutions in all three societies – sustainable, effective and functional institutions, which will lead all three societies to effectiveness, thus eliminating any "conflict".
In the long term do you want to see Nagorno-Karabakh (a) as an independent state; (b) as part of Armenia (c) as part of Azerbaijan; (d) none of the above but in as yet undefined status. Comment on your choice:
I would exclude options C and D at once. Options A and B are indeed issues of pan-Armenian discourse. There is no difference between being a "united" state with Armenia or staying independent. In reality, both A and B are commonly appreciated scenarios for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
In the long term, I am personally inclined towards seeing NKR as an independent state which is in a sort of confederation with Armenia, as the systems of these two countries are deeply integrated, especially the education and financial systems.
What is your biggest objection/concern to Nagorno-Karabakh being part of Azerbaijan?
To have NKR as a part of Azerbaijan means to expel Armenians from NK, it means to annihilate Armenians in NK, or in other words – it means to demolish NK in the form it is now. NK was part of Soviet Azerbaijan for 70 years and we saw the results of that rule. I consider it senseless to have new "tests" (referendums) for Armenians here.
Are you satisfied with the policy of the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic authorities towards the conflict and its resolution?
The authorities in NK are both de facto and de jure, as they are elected by the people of Artsakh, according to the Constitution and the laws also adopted by the people of NK. Therefore, I am first concerned by the term "de facto" in your wording. Regarding the second part of the issue, I would say I am not satisfied by their policies, as the foreign policy has been ineffective since 2007. In my opinion, this is a result of a very weak team both in the Foreign Ministry and Presidential administration.
Were you directly involved in armed hostilities between 1989-94?
Yes, I was directly involved in the war, or the armed hostilities, as you phrased it, between 1989-94. The armed hostilities were not limited to the territories of NKR, but also spread to the regions of Armenia close to the border with Azerbaijan. The village where I was born – Khashtarak (Ijevan region, Armenia) was bombarded, our school there was also bombarded with artillery shelling from "Grad" stations. I was a schoolboy during those years, but I suffered all the direct consequences of war. This is to say that, together with my family, we were living in crypts, under direct fire and bombardments.
How do you evaluate the work of the OSCE Minsk Process?
I think that the OSCE has already wasted itself not only in the frameworks of the Minsk Group, but also as a system of regional security architecture. Since the very outset, a very much unjust decision was made with regards to Artsakh and other non-Soviet republics when the OSCE recognized the independence of only the Soviet republics, leaving other subjects of the USSR outside of that framework. The latter subjects had the full right to become full members of the international community. I guess that in 1992 that same mistake (i.e. the mistake of the UN and other organizations in 1991) has been repeated, as they feared that the former Soviet republics would not be viable. Quite the opposite, in the example of NKR, I would claim that time has so far proved that the other subjects of the USSR in 1991 were quite stable as emerging members of the international community. If this main mistake isn’t corrected, the trust and belief towards the OSCE will be very low, especially in Artsakh.
Do you have a publicly expressed a position on the Madrid Principles?
So far I have published various op-eds and other contributions touching upon these Madrid Principles. Primarily, we are against the "interim status" and a new referendum to determine a status, as far as I think that a number of referendums (direct and indirect) have taken place and we just need to respect those outcomes. By saying an "indirect" referendum I mean the NK-wide referendum on the Constitution in December 2006.
It is also kind of unacceptable for me to have Azeris returning to partly-settled areas of Artsakh, as I think this will bring new tensions to this issue. In the post-Potsdam world there are various examples when the issue was not solved that way. Particularly, I would remind you about Sudeten Germans which didn’t return to Czechoslovakia after the Second World War.
Do you think it is important/appropriate that the de facto authorities of the Nagorno-Karabakh republic be part of the peace process facilitated by the Minsk Group? If yes should they be there instead of the Armenian Government?
The elected representatives of the people of NK, according to OSCE documents, are considered as negotiators, and as a full party in this dispute. As a matter of fact today this principle has been breached. Armenia is also a party to the conflict and I therefore don’t think that NKR should participate in the peace process instead of Armenia. As I noted earlier, I was born in a border village of Armenia which was bombarded by the Azerbaijani regular army. Plus, Armenia lost a slice of its sovereign territory as a result of the conflict – Artsvashen. So, Armenia should take part in the peace process concerning these issues, while NKR shall have its own agenda.
Sometimes the possibility is mentioned that the territories around Nagorno-Karabakh under Armenian control since 1994 should be returned to Azerbaijan as part of an interim peace arrangement, leaving the issue of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh to a later date. Do you have an opinion on this issue?
International law strictly and clearly states that the subject of aggression has the right to resort to any measure, including the occupation of the aggressor's capital city. In this particular case, those territories are historical Armenian lands, and have been inhabited by Muslims for the last 100 years only, as a consequence of Azerbaijani aggression.
Today, some parts of Poland are Eastern German lands, and Germany doesn’t claim those territories back. Right after the Second World War the international community decided to grant those territories to Poland as a compensation for its deprivations. The same applies in the case of Artsakh. I consider those lands as an inalienable part of NKR. In my head I cannot imagine how those regions may be returned to Azerbaijan.
What is your opinion with regards to the role of Turkey, Russia, Iran, the United States, the European Union or any other country or international organisation, or the international community in general, with regards to the Karabakh conflict and its settlement:
All those international actors should undertake all available measures to build up a system of economic partnership, prosperity, effective governance and well-being for all nations in our region. I don’t see any other role for them. Including Turkey, by the way. I think that Turkey also may play a crucial, positive role with building up an effective governance and society in Azerbaijan, taking into account the close relationships between those two states.
I would also like to touch upon the PACE sub-committee on Karabakh. Honestly, I don’t see any value in whatever the CoE is doing, it has created a very formal structure and whatever it does is a result of that formality. PACE is good at leaving certain "open windows" for some states to wage propaganda wars, nothing more.
How do you evaluate the role of informal, NGO-level contributions to the peace process? Do you believe that informal contacts have a useful role to play prior to or after a formal agreement?
Naturally, all the non-formal contacts and cotributions may play a positive role, but we perhaps should not concentrate on this too much because in some instances this becomes a way to attract "grant-money" to some organizations under the veil of non-formal contributions. Much more important is the potential of the conflict-affected society's contacts with other nations, not necessarily those around our case. I dont mean, like, the people of Artsakh gather in Tbilisi and discuss something with Azeris. Instead, Karabakhis go to France and discuss, let’s say, environmental issues with Germans and others in Europe. This means the widest possible interaction and cooperation of these conflict-affected societies with others in the world, which would also help us understand the experience of other nations in meeting challenges.
Do you have a position on the desirability or not of free movement of Armenians and Azeris between their two countries before a final peace agreement?
First and foremost, "before a final peace agreement" you will need to mention not only "their two countries", but also the third country – the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. This is first.
Secondly, the right of free movement is a basic human right which is nowadays often limited by state boundaries etc., but I guess these limitations will be erased at some point and the citizens of these three countries will gain the opportunity for free movement into each others' territories.
Do you think that Armenian and Azerbaijanis will ever be able to live together peacefully in Karabakh again in the future?
Once we already had such an experience – during the Soviet times, times of a great empire, which gave the utmost favorable conditions for such an experience. Anymore is unthinkable for me. However, the use of force should be excluded as a measure to make peoples live together. The well-being and prosperity of peoples, new generations and the change of mentality, some day, maybe, will change the overall situation. The generation, that suffered the war, is still alive and therefore it's premature to speak of this opportunity so far.
What is your opinion on the issue of return of refugees/IDPs to Nagorno-Karabakh
Around 500,000 Armenians, who were expelled from Azerbaijan to Central Asia, the North Caucasus and Rep. of Armenia have their rights abused and prostrated; they are deprived of what they had previously before the conflict. The restoration of the rights of these people is of utmost importance and urgency. As one of the successors of Soviet Azerbaijan, NKR is obliged to recover the rights of these people, which includes not only resettlement of these people in NKR but also reimbursement of their lost property, as far as Azerbaijan is willing or able to do this.
On the other hand, I think that a return of Azerbaijani refugees will cause new serious challenges and threats. The history of international relations shows examples where the demography of a region was changed in order to escape any escalation and a conflict, i.e. the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 when Muslims left Greece for Turkey and vice versa. In our case, we already have the changed demography which happened independently from our will. This situation keeps us away from a new conflict.
Read previous interviews in this series:
The public debate between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Munich on Saturday was not there to be won or lost, but was itself a confidence-building measure, argues Dennis Sammut in this week's Monday Commentary