Karabakh: The big debate
Commonspace.eu today publishes the first 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, to be published on Tuesday, 13 September, will be with Mr Bayram Safarov, Chairman of the Managing Board of Public Union of the Azerbaijani Community of the Upper Garabagh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and Head of Shusha District Executive Power.
Can you summarize your overall position on the Karabakh conflict and the conflict resolution process?
Arthur Tovmasyan was born in Stepanakert in 1962. He graduated from the Stepanakert Pedagogic Institute in 1986, and then worked as a teacher of Physics in the local school in one of the villages between1986-88. Tovmasyan was admitted for postgraduate studies at the Mechanics Institute of Armenian National Academy of Sciences in 1988, and holds a PhD in Mathematics. On graduation he worked in Artsakh State University.
Tovmasyan was elected as an MP for the NKR Parliament 2nd convocation in 1995. From 1996-97 he was Speaker of the National Assembly of NKR, and resigned from the position to compete in the presidential elections in 1997 and later 2002. He then worked at the Shushi Public University in different positions until 2002, before returning to the Artsakh State University between 2003-2009. In 2005 Tovmasyan founded the "Free Motherland" Party with four other co-chairs, including the incumbent prime-minister Ara Harutyunyan.
In May 2010 the party won 14 seats in the National Assembly, and is now the largest faction in the parliament. Tovmasyan is currently the vice-Speaker of the National Assembly, a position he has held since the May 2010 elections.
As you know, on May 12th, 1994 in Bishkek a so-called ceasefire agreement was concluded between Armenia, NKR and Azerbaijan, and the "no war no peace" situation has continued ever since. After the CSCE/OSCE summit in Budapest we were recognized as a full party to the peace process.
In 1998 when Robert Kocharian was elected as the president of Armenia, we remained out of the scope of negotiations, which continues up to now. We don't participate in the ongoing negotiations directly. From 1998 the peace talks were held in the format of Robert Kocharian vs. Heydar Aliyev. Of course, the biggest result of that format has been that those were peaceful years. In this regard, we can underline that the status quo got firmly established during those years. I would say that Heydar Aliyev is one of the most "long-headed" leaders in post-Soviet space - he lost a war but he is now a national hero in his country. I can't simply imagine what would be the future of our president if he had lost that war.
My impression is that Heydar Aliyev clearly felt he lost Karabakh, and the so-called Paris Principles, as well as the deals in Key West (Florida) were attempts to solve the Karabakh issue by only minor concessions by Azerbaijan. Of course, Aliyev was a proponent of a re-unification of Armenia and NKR rather than the establishment of a second Armenian statehood in the region. However, after the death of Heydar Aliyev - Aliyev the Younger inherited the throne. Although following elections on all levels - be that parliamentary, presidential or for local self-governance - all elections were falsified, and they don't correspond to international standards for a democracy. Considering this, the Robert Kocharian vs. Ilham Aliyev format of negotiations on Karabakh began weakening, and soon fell short of working at all. In fact, there was a moment when the peace talks in the frameworks of OSCE Minsk Group were heavily endangered and were on a verge of complete collapse. Ilham Aliyev breached the spirit of negotiations, which he inherited from his father, together with other baggage. He began claiming a military scenario was possible to solve the "Karabakh knot". I think that those militaristic statements are primarily for domestic use, and are aimed to show the public that if Azerbaijan is unable to fulfill its nationalistic agenda through peace talks, it is able to do it militarily. Azeris wrongly believe that being wealthy is a guarantee for victory. During the 1992-94 war Azerbaijan was tens of times stronger than the Karabakh side, however it lost the war on a large scale. There are dozens of other examples in post-WWII history of such victories. The Soviet Union was much stronger than Afghanistan, and the United States was much stronger than Vietnam - but we are well aware of the results of those wars. So, being wealthy is not an important prerequisite for victory. The most important thing is the bravery and the soul. We have both of them, as we clearly know what we fought for in 1992-94. We fought for our independence; that was a war of independence for us, we fought in the name of our families, to protect the graves of our fathers, our churches. Azeris have invaded these lands only in mid-19thcentury, while we have been living here for ages.
The war was - using the Dashnak slogan - a "victory or death" dilemma for us. They, in turn, fought with the logics that if there is no Armenian, there is no Armenian issue, no Karabakh issue. The same way they proved their ownership of Nakhijevan autonomy. Can you find a single Armenian in Nakhijevan today!? They even destroyed our cultural heritage - our khachkars of the 12-13th centuries from those lands.
Now we strongly believe we need to turn back to the decisions of the CSCE/OSCE Budapest Summit, and our right to participate in the peace process should be restored.
Here I want to put a distinction between a war and confrontation. There is clearly a confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, between these two countries there are certainly issues, like Artsvashen, etc. however there hasn't been a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There has been a large scale war between NKR and Azerbaijan, and Karabakh's rights as a negotiator should be restored in a status of "warring party", a party which faced Azerbaijani aggression and armed attack.
We support the Armenian and Azerbaijani president's ongoing talks and all the joint statements of the presidents which have a humanitarian character, like the exchange of POWs and pullback of snipers. We welcome this. But we believe that any document, signed without NKR, will remain only a paper at best.
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?
Our people declared their independence on September 2nd, 1991 as the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and restated its will saying "yes" to independence in a NK-wide referendum with 99% of the vote on December 10th, 1991, and again in a referendum which adopted a Constitution on December 10th, 2006. These are the foundation stones of our independence and the Constitution also framed the territories of NKR and the common will of our people to live and build its happiness and statehood in these lands. I guess this is more than telling to assess the real situation on the ground. Our people see its existence and sustainability only within an independent statehood of NKR. Today we cannot question our referendum on independence or our Constitution. We are ready to show our achievements to the international community.
What is your biggest objection/concern to Nagorno-Karabakh being part of Azerbaijan?
Artsakh, or NKR, has never been part of independent Azerbaijan and never will be. NKAO was part of Soviet Azerbaijan. When Azerbaijan declared its independence, they clearly stated that they didn't consider themselves as a successor to Soviet Azerbaijan. Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan have the same rights to claim ownership of Nagorno-Karabakh, as Azerbaijan today. Armenia can do the same. Russia can also claim this.
We declared our independence and chose an independent path of development. We have firmly established our statehood during the first 20 years of our sovereignty, electing presidents, national assemblies, and bodies of local self-governance in regular elections with free and democratic principles. We have all the attributes of independence. Each successive election is one step forward in our bid to become a true democratic state, with sustainable civil society and other attributes of a mature democracy. We are quite sure that in the 21st century the international community will come to terms with all the unrecognized or partly recognized democratic entities around the globe. Furthermore - the international community should realize that an independent and democratic Artsakh will not be able to survive in a totalitarian Azerbaijan.
Are you satisfied with the policy of the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic authorities towards the conflict and its resolution?
I guess I will now need to repeat myself. We closely follow the peace process. The Minsk Group co-chairs regularly meet the NKR President. Our authorities are aware of the Madrid Document. We are also aware that there were the so-called Paris Principles, some deals in Key West, as well as some other scenarios and documents. The international community should realize that the only key to a sustainable settlement lies in Karabakh. Perhaps, I will call them the "Stepanakert Principles" of conflict resolution.
Regarding your wording of "de facto", which I would not agree with, we have so far established sustainable democratic institutions for our statehood and are looking forward to their recognition by the international community.
Were you directly involved in armed hostilities between 1989-94?
In 1988-92 I was a post-graduate at Armenia's National Academy of Sciences and earned by PhD in 1992. Then I went back to NKR in 1992 and began working at Artsakh State University. I was attached to a reservist military unit, which in case the enemy reached Stepanakert, would fill the lines of freedom fighters.
How do you evaluate the work of the OSCE Minsk Process?
We are positive on the OSCE Minsk Process, but the latest example - the report of the Field Assessment Mission - is not that objective and may be regarded as a one-sided paper. We believe that another Field Assessment Mission should also be conducted in Shahumian, Getashen and those parts of the Martuni and Mardakert districts under Azerbaijani control, which are constitutionally parts of NKR.
Any undertaking of the mediators should consider all the sides of the conflict and their interests in order to have sustainable results.
Do you have a publicly expressed a position on the Madrid Principles?
We welcome the parallel consideration of territorial integrity and self-determination principles in the Madrid document. We also welcome that these principles underline the necessity of a peaceful solution to the conflict. These are so dear to our hearts.
However, of course, there are points which are rejected both by the NKR authorities and its citizens. As soon as there is the final version of the Madrid Document, the NKR authorities will voice their position on them, as it doesn't directly participate in the ongoing peace process.
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 didn't know you had such a question, when answering to an earlier one. I already said that there is a confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, whilst there has been a war between NKR and Azerbaijan. So, the peace process should embrace NKR, Armenia and Azerbaijan. You can refer to my earlier point to extract an answer to this question.
For example, Artsvashen is occupied by Azerbaijan. Why don't the politicians in Armenia voice this issue in their public statements?
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?
In 1996 when I was the Parliament Speaker I publicly underlined that the core issue of the peace process is the political status of NKR. If Azerbaijan rejects the independent status of NKR, we cannot discuss any issue, any concession or anything with Azerbaijan. It simply will not make sense. Today the incumbent authorities in Baku don't have enough legitimacy to voice this scenario publicly in Azerbaijan. Though I am sure that they clearly understand that since 1988 they haven't had any real political legitimacy here in Karabakh. Today in the Karabakh Defense Army we have the young generation that didn't see any Soviet Azerbaijan, being born in 1988 .
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?
I do think that the Minsk Group does its job in an effective way. However there is a history of negotiations and other specifications that make it simply senseless to pass the mediation over to another international body. This would not make much sense at all. The co-Chair countries generally are very much balanced in their public statements on the conflict.
Turkey should not participate in the mediation efforts around Karabakh. When it puts the Karabakh issue as a precondition in the rapprochement process - it turns into a stakeholder and cannot be impartial and objective.
We welcome any balanced statement by any high level official of any foreign country. The conflict will be solved only when mutual trust is established between our societies.
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?
I am very much positive on these track-two efforts. Those activities will create an atmosphere of trust between the conflict-affected societies.
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?
We will trust the leadership in Azerbaijan when they respect our Constitution and our Declaration of Independence. After all, of course, we are neighbours, but Azerbaijan should not breach our efforts to create an atmosphere of mutual confidence and trust. We don't believe it so far, because on a daily basis on the Line of Contact their snipers make subversions before and after each important round of peace talks - be that in Astana, Astrakhan or Sochi.
After they recognize our independence - you know, we are neighbours - all other issues may be solved on a human dimension.
Do you think that Armenian and Azerbaijanis will ever be able to live together peacefully in Karabakh again in the future?
The previous answer was in part also to this question. Do you seriously think an Azerbaijani citizen can live in NKR if he/she doesn't respect our laws and the Constitution? We have minorities here in NKR that have successfully participated in all the elections, casted their ballots in referendums on Independence and the Constitution; they respect our laws, they respect the laws of their country of citizenship, and we - the authorities - naturally respect them. This is the right way forward.
What is your opinion on the issue of return of refugees/IDPs to Nagorno-Karabakh?
So far the refugee issue has been discussed in a one-sided manner. We have more Armenian refugees from only Baku and Sumgayit, than Azerbaijanis do from everywhere else. Unfortunately, the Armenian refugees are forgotten and their destiny is uninteresting for the international community. Take the numbers of Azerbaijanis formerly living in seven adjacent regions (I am referring to them as "adjacent" following the common perception, though those regions are parts of NKR under our Constitution), calculate the sum and you will see that the Armenian refugees only from Baku and Sumgayit are much more, much more than the Azeri refugees, still not talking about Armenian refugees from Getashen, Shahumian and other Karabakh territories occupied by the Azerbaijani army until today.
Armenian heritage in Azerbaijan has been continuously destroyed at the orders of authorities. See what happened to Armenian khachkars in Nakhijevan in 2006, to Armenian gravestones and cemeteries all around Azerbaijan. On the opposite, tour around Karabakh - you will see mosques. Each year the government allocates financial resources from the budget to support the reconstruction of destroyed Muslim sacred places around NKR, including the famous mosque in Shushi. Without preserving this cultural diversity we cannot build a meaningful democracy and pluralism in NKR, which were the values that we fought for in the early 1990s.
Read previous interviews in this series:
Tehran has launched shuttle diplomacy and announced an "Iranian Plan". In this analysis Noman Ahmed says Iran seeks to reduce risks and costs for itself from the ongoing conflict