Karabakh: The big debate
Commonspace.eu today publishes the third 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 Rovshan Rzayev, Member of Parliament of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijani Community Board Member.
Interview with Masis Mayilian
Masis Mayilyan was born in 1967, and has served in the authorities of NKR since 1992 - initially in the NKR Information and Mass Media Department under the NKR State Defense Committee, between 1992-1993. Between 1993-2007 Mayilyan held several different positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of NKR, including Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs between 2001-2007. Mayilyan was also a Presidential candidate in the 2007 elections, winning13% of the official vote.
Biographical notes are provided by the interviewees themselves.
Can you summarize your overall position on the Karabakh conflict and the conflict resolution process?
We believe that the conflict is between the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Azerbaijan, with deep roots, since the appearance of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the Eastern Transcaucasus region in 1918. The conflict developed with varying degrees of complexity in the years of Soviet rule. The protests and unwillingness of the Armenian majority of Artsakh in Soviet times were against being part of Azerbaijan even as a self-autonomous region. The issue of reassignment and transfer of NKAO to the Armenian SSR was brought up on various occasions. In the era of the Gorbachev "perestroika" policy the same issue kicked off, i.e. conditions were created for the people of Karabakh to stand for their rights. In 1987 a de-facto referendum was held, and tens of thousands of signatures were gathered under a document (petition) demanding a transfer of NKAO from Azerbaijan to Armenian SSR rule. Soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union the society of Nagorno-Karabakh self-organized and began building its own statehood. As it is known, the ultimate form of absolute self-organization for any nation is the establishment of their own state and state institutions. The people of NKR stood firmly for their independence in the war of the early 1990s. Now that the peace process is going on in parallel, I believe that the diplomacy of Armenia, Artsakh and even the Diaspora should work hard to achieve international recognition of our independence. I see the international recognition of our independence as an effective mechanism for national security, although this is not an end in itself. The effectiveness of such a mechanism has been proved in Kosovo, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, South Sudan and elsewhere. Practice shows that international recognition gives newly born states more security and prosperity. Security for us in Karabakh is the key issue.
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?
I do believe that the independence of NKR should be recognized internationally, it should exist as an independent state with close ties to the Republic of Armenia. In the future, possibly, some powers will be delegated to the Republic of Armenia, because, perhaps, it will not make much sense to have structures with duplicating functions, such as currency production, financial policies, customs issues, etc. But these are issues for the future. Before that, of course, NKR should be recognized as an independent state. This will establish the important legal basis and conditions for signing appropriate treaties or agreements with the wider world, including the Republic of Armenia. The scenario of being part of Azerbaijan is wholly excluded. I am surprised indeed that in your questionnaire you have such an option. Many questionnaires that I have reviewed, since the early 2000s, do not include such a scenario as the authors of the questions themselves exclude such possibilities.
What is your biggest objection/concern to Nagorno-Karabakh being part of Azerbaijan?
As I underlined earlier one of the primary concerns is the security issue. The reason is that all the successive authorities of Azerbaijan - in 1918-20, the Soviet period and after gaining independence in 1991, all of them - always abused massively and systematically the rights of Armenians in NK, and have always exercised attempts at changing the demography of NK, to annex the territory. If in Soviet times this was commonly done in a subtle manner - having in mind the Kremlin, 1918-20 - when Azerbaijan became an independent state and after 1991 it has continually tried "to solve" this issue by force, by military force. So, the main problem is the threat to our security. The background of the last 100 years confirms these concerns are valid. This is why I exclude such a scenario.
Are you satisfied with the policy of the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic authorities towards the conflict and its resolution?
The NKR authorities have been left beyond the current format of negotiations since 1997 (I was a member to our delegation then). After 1997 NKR was left out of the process. I don't think there are negotiations being conducted, what we have is a process of consultations between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and between the Foreign Ministers. Sometimes, of course, the OSCE MG (Minsk Group) co-Chairmen visit the region, including NKR, but this isn't totally enough.
NKR should be a full party to the negotiations because NK is a recognized subject of the conflict - in the OSCE documents, in one of the four resolutions of the UN SC (Security Council), and other international documents as well. Therefore NK's status as a negotiating party and a full-party of the conflict should be restored.
In this regard very little has been done on behalf of both the Armenian and NKR authorities.
Were you directly involved in armed hostilities between 1989-94?
I wasn't involved in the armed hostilities, but during those years of course I lived in NKR and was serving in the government since 1992 (as I mentioned earlier), in 1989-91 I was still a student. Since 1992 I was in the State Defense Committee which was the executive body in NKR at the time - in the Information and Mass Media Department.
How do you evaluate the work of the OSCE Minsk Process?
As a whole, I believe that the format of the OSCE MG is the most optimal with the co-Chair countries being permanent members to UN SC, thus securing the balance of interests among those countries having a stake in our region. This format can bring a final settlement to this conflict.
But the problem is not in the format. The methodology of the conflict resolution applied by the co-Chairs is an obsolete one. There is a need to reconsider those approaches. This very false (weird) approach that was adopted in 1991 with regards to this conflict (I mean the position of the OSCE back then) was obsolete. The thing that needs to be recognized is that in 1991, at the collapse of the USSR, in the territory of Soviet Azerbaijan was established two states - the Azerbaijani Republic and NKR. However, the international community ignored this fact, the fact of the legal and legitimate establishment of NKR, even though that was made according to the norms of international law and the effective legislation at the time. Just because only Azerbaijan was internationally recognized at that time, in Baku the authorities thought that was a carte blanche for them to try solving the issue by force. So, non-recognition of NKR by the international community was appreciated as a carte blanche by Azerbaijan and they tried to wage war against the people of NKR. And the so-called Madrid Principles are just another attempt to kick us back to the status quo of 1991. So, methodologically this approach is not right, and it should be changed. The Minsk Group doesn't try to solve the issue by incorporating the new emerging norms of international relations and law, but, as I see it, is making an effort to turn back time to the status quo of 1991.
Do you have a publicly expressed a position on the Madrid Principles?
My position on the Madrid Documents, especially the six published principles, has been voiced on various occasions (see below).
To keep it short here, the main mistake is about the "interim status" of NKR and also the methodological mistake of trying to solve the consequences of the conflict without taking note of the roots and causes of the issue. The main cause of the conflict is the known controversy between NKR and Azerbaijan concerning the status of NKR. We are suggested to accept an "interim status" that downgrades what we have today - a step back from what we have achieved over the last 20 years - which is our independence based on the Constitution adopted in the referendum by our people. When only the consequences are discussed - like refugees, territories etc., without taking into account the roots of the conflict, I believe that is very dangerous. We do not appreciate this kind of approach. This kind of approach will bring more confrontation instead of building peace.
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?
I believe that the official delegation of NKR - the Government of NKR - should take part, and be a full party to the peace process, because NKR and Azerbaijan are the primary parties of the conflict. Armenia, I think, is just an involved party. However it isn't necessary to have NKR authorities at the table only through replacing Armenia, because Armenia has its own interests (stakes) in the conflict, and it is affected by the conflict.
Regardless, the participation of NKR in the peace process is a must, because that is the main party, the conflict is about the future and the destiny of NKR and its people. What pertains to Armenia, I think, is that there are also issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan, for instance, the issue of enclaves like Artsvashen and others, as well as border issues and security. If we talk about a comprehensive conflict settlement, I don't think we can have it without the participation of Armenia either. However there should be issues which are to be solely under the ultimate authority of the NKR Government to negotiate. Regarding these issues, Armenia will be a more passive player - in issues like the final status of NKR, issues of territories, security, demarcation and delimitation of the NKR-Azerbaijan border etc. Meanwhile, all these players need to take part in the peace process on regional security matters and share responsibility for their decisions both before their people and the international community.
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?
Again here we see the issue, which I highlighted earlier, of causes and consequences. This sounds like an attempt to solve the consequences of the conflict without taking into account the roots, the causes of the conflict. NKR should have international recognition. There is no issue of specific territories - the issue should be understood by clarifying the borderlines. This is international practice. If a new country emerges, its borders with its immediate neighbors are either established by the inter-governmental demarcation commissions; or this right is transferred to a third party to have an arbitrary decision by an "honest broker". In our case we don't have such a commission yet, and it can only be convened after NKR gets international recognition, as well as after NKR and Azerbaijan recognize each other. Azerbaijan has such bilateral commissions with Georgia, Russia and Iran (amongst the Caspian states). This is the international practice! What we are offered is beyond reason - that is the language of preconditions. In our region recently we saw another proof that this kind of language is not the best way to solve issues - the case of failed Armenian-Turkish rapprochement. The same is with regards to NKR - preconditions are a no-go. Instead, we need, firstly, international recognition, and then, secondly, application of the international practice to move forward. There isn't such a thing as "recognized borders of Azerbaijan", this is a bluff. The UN recognized the independence of the state of Azerbaijan, whereas the issue of borders is to be solved with immediate neighbors.
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?
First, the US, Russia and France (and by extension the EU), are OSCE MG co-Chairs - I am all clear with them, as I mentioned above. Turkey is another story, it plays dual and contradicting roles. Turkey is formally a Minsk Group member, but informally the main actors in the MG - the co-Chairs - have been reporting to the MG members on progress. However on its second face, Turkey is a close, strategic ally of Azerbaijan, and they have declared the "two states, one nation" formula. Turkey has therefore always been assisting Azerbaijan in whatever it could, including during the wars of the 1990s. Even if we date back the roots of the conflict to 1918, Turkey lobbied for the establishment of the state of Azerbaijan. De facto, I would say, Turkey is a direct party to the conflict, as it closely supports Azerbaijan against Armenia; for example Turkey imposed blockade against Armenia in 1993. In international law blockade is considered as a measure of aggressive policies. The role of Turkey in this conflict is entirely negative.
Iran is the only state among those listed, which shares a common border with Azerbaijan, NKR and Armenia altogether. Although it joins statements of anti-Armenian nature in the OIC, these declarations don't reflect any stake or the real policies of Iran with regards to the conflict. It was even once a mediator in the conflict, in February-May 1992. Recently, since last year, the leadership of Iran has again highlighted its readiness to become a mediator in the conflict. Armenia and NKR however prefer to work within the frameworks of the Minsk Group.
The EU is not engaged in the conflict resolution directly, but it's assumed that France plays the role of the EU in the co-Chairmanship. It's noteworthy, that continuously the EU has noted that it's ready to provide peacekeepers and financial assistance in case of a comprehensive agreement. The EPNK project itself shows that at least on the track-two level the EU is interested in taking part in the conflict resolution around NK. Even in light of the quite modest contributions of the EU, public opinion is quite positive on possible EU engagement to be more active.
I would also like to touch upon the PACE ad hoc committee on Karabakh. This format might be effective and positive, because not only the executive authorities should be engaged in the conflict resolution, but also the legislature - the elected representatives of the people. This format would make sense if all three parties of the conflict were presented in the commission so it does not just become another chamber for meetings between Armenian and Azerbaijani MPs, and risk becoming yet another chamber for mutual accusations and propaganda. Moreover, I guess, this has been done unilaterally by Azerbaijan - employing the ethnic background of PACE President Mevlut Cavushoglu.
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?
As of today the two societies are insufficiently engaged, insufficiently informed (about the peace process), at least before US co-Chair to the Minsk Group Matt Bryza began telling what was being discussed at the regular meetings of the Presidents and Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Before this society was totally unaware of the essence of talks, and was left beyond the scope of the peace process. However, gradually, the situation is changing, now we can see more openness. Certain statements of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and then the partial publication of the Madrid Principles, contributed to the openness. Of course, I have already mentioned that my personal position on these principles is negative, but the very fact that through this openness the societies are more informed about this processes, is a very positive development in itself.
So, my first argument would be that the societies need to be informed in order to get engaged in any process. As I said, today the situation is changing for good. If this is done, the conflict affected societies can enter into a dialogue and through the dialogue they will contribute to a viable peace in this region.
I do believe that these societies have the potential to further the peace process. Of course, it shouldn't be anticipated that everything will be open. There are certainly layers that must be confidential. The latter is to be unclassified only after the sides reach a comprehensive agreement on the matter. Otherwise, whatever is signed, it will not be possible to secure its implementation. This is why the societies, ignored until 2008, should be engaged.
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 of all, there are not two, but three established statehoods in this conflict, including the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. I think that before the final settlement on the status and other issues, the borders should be opened for some trade relations, so the economy can function - which, at the end of the day, will make the solution of hard political issues easier to deal with. Azerbaijan, as you know, took the opposite position. My position, again, is that before the final settlement - the bilateral and multilateral contacts among the aforementioned parties - humanitarian, educational, economic, trade relations etc. are quite natural and welcomed.
Do you think that Armenian and Azerbaijanis will ever be able to live together peacefully in Karabakh again in the future?
Everything will be grounded in politics. I have already mentioned that in Azerbaijan all the regimes - independent or Soviet - adopted the annexation of the territories and the change of demography of NK as a state policy, including the politics of the early 1990s to use force against the Karabakh people. So long as these policies are kept on the agenda - this cohabitation will not be possible. On the contrary, if Azerbaijan rejects this kind of approach - maybe cohabitation will become possible.
Besides, everything should be dealt with on a parity basis - there are refugee issues on all sides - Armenia, NKR and Azerbaijan. The issue should be whether Armenians and Azerbaijanis can live in one state together. If we talk about this, we should also deal with the issue of Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan - as according to different estimations around 350-500,000 were forcefully expelled. So, on the basis of parity, if we talk about the issue of refugees, we must deal with all refugees and IDPs, not only those in Azerbaijan.
What is your opinion on the issue of return of refugees/IDPs to Nagorno-Karabakh
I have answered this question above. Adding to that, when we participated in the negotiations, as is also obvious in international documents, it is underlined that the refugee issues should be solved on the principles of reciprocity, security, dignity etc. So, restoring the refugee rights should be done on all levels and no group should be forgotten. Any unilateral actions on this matter are unacceptable. Besides, international law also says that there are political processes for dealing with these issues - there are tools for restitutions and compensations to those people (which is considered as a measure for solving such issues for example), even if an individual's security is under threat. This is just another measure for solving this issue.
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