An interview with Mher Harutyunyan, Director of the “Kajar”Analytical Center of Shushi and Assistant Professor of Historical Sciences at Artsakh State University.
The NKR seeks to garner international recognition. This first step could be taken by the RoA. Armenian authorities argue that they will not grant recognition in order to hinder negotiations and lead the settlement process into a dead end. Recently, however, the RoA Presidential Press Secretary stated that in the event of Azerbaijani military aggression, Armenia might grant de jure recognition of the NKR and sign a mutual assistance pact with it. How do you evaluate the likelihood of such a development?
In my opinion, Armenia has dragged its feet regarding the recognition of NKR independence. If Armenia is indeed trying to adjust the recognition process into a more advantageous set of circumstances that can indeed assist in the legal recognition of the NKR, then, I believe that a mutual assistance pact must be signed immediately. This could even take the form of clarifying the status of military personnel in the RoA serving in the NKR. Such a pact is the imperative of the day and would allow for the role of the RoA, as the guarantor of the NKR, to be placed on a firm legal basis and would go a long way to entrench Armenia as defending the interest of Karabakh on the world stage. Secondly, I believe that such a pact would lead Azerbaijan to tone down its military rhetoric and aspirations since it would realize that RoA-NKR relations have been placed on a truly legal and binding basis. This is very important. As a historian, I can state categorically that we have often been late in legally codifying certain realities.
Let’s assume that the RoA recognizes NKR independence tomorrow and that relations between the two are given a legal basis. In that case, wouldn’t Azerbaijan and the international organizations involved in the negotiations ask themselves what is actually being negotiated?
The context of the question is understandable. First, let’s note that Armenia has taken the road of negotiating with Azerbaijan since it has an interest in preserving regional peace and stability. Let me just say in passing that I would call the talks advisory sessions and not negotiations since negotiations must be a total process in which the representatives of the NKR must also participate. The main concern of Armenia is to moderate Azeri policy leaning towards the resumption of warfare and processes undermining regional stability.
But we see that Azerbaijan constantly attempts to create a negative image of the NKR; as a source hindering regional cooperation and a state that threatens regional peace. In truth, though, the reality on the ground is exactly the opposite. It is Azerbaijan, with its aggressive stance and destructive machinations, which poses a real threat. From this viewpoint, the existence of the NKR and its international recognition would increase the prospects for regional security and serve as a stabilizing factor.
As to what should be negotiated, it is my firm conviction, that at the core of the talks must be placed the issue of the continued Azeri occupation of Armenian lands – that of Nakhijevan, the return of lands formerly under the jurisdiction of the NKR, the preservation of Armenian monuments on those lands, the halting of resettling those lands by Azerbaijanis, the return of Artzvashen, compensation to the 500,000 Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan, and all other related issues facing the region due to the aggressive policies of Azerbaijan and the war it started.
Azerbaijan, due to its aggressive and crafty public relations machine, that disseminates disinformation, has been able to cover all this up and direct attention away from these truths. In other words, the goal of our foreign policy must be to present Azerbaijan as the real threat to regional peace and a government sponsor of terrorism. As such, we must present ourselves as seeking positive change in Azerbaijan but never via the route of concessions. This is because historical experience has shown that whenever Azerbaijan receives a pardon for its crimes, it has used it in the name of greater evil and has become more emboldened.
In the Karabakh conflict settlement negotiations, the NKR merely has “observer” status. Do you believe that the RoA authorities made a mistake when it conceded to Azeri demands regarding Karabakh participation and assumed the role of representing the NKR?
People shouldn’t find it somewhat contradictory when I state that I prefer the current situation, when the NKR isn’t a direct participant in the negotiations. Why? I believe the negotiations process isn’t following the correct path. The reason for this can be laid at the mistaken foreign policy adopted by the first leaders of the RoA. We are reaping the fruits of those mistakes today. Thus, I consider it to be a piece of good luck that the NKR isn’t a part of that process today. All that we must assert is that without the consent of the NKR stemming from that process cannot be accepted or implemented. Thankfully, even the RoA authorities and other political figures have declared this on numerous occasions. All this is just a further guarantee that, in the end, the final word rests with the people of the NKR. And this is only natural. It is my opinion that the people of the NKR and its elected leadership would never consent to any accords that threaten our vital interests, that threaten our security and contradict our constitution.
However, the Karabakh conflict settlement process is being conducted on the basis of the Madrid Principles. The RoA authorities and President Serzh Sargsyan have noted that one of the principles contained therein deals with the return of the liberated territories or the “security zone” to Azerbaijan, whereas the current territorial borders of the NKR are safeguarded in the NKR Constitution. This point has also been stressed by the NKR President. How would you explain this apparent contradiction?
First we must take into account that after the passage of the NKR Constitution in 2006, the concept of a “security zone” has disappeared. Today, we have territories inextricably linked to the Mountainous Republic of Artsakh and I don’t understand what negotiations are taking place regarding them. If discussions are about territories outside the border of the NKR then, let me say somewhat off-handedly, that I understand these to be lands neighboring on Iran, the RoA and Azerbaijan. But let’s get serious for a moment. We must assert that the Madrid Principles are not acceptable for the NKR given that the NKR did not participate in their formulation. That’s number one.
Secondly, I would like to hope that they are just principles and that they will not be further developed through the course of righteous diplomacy. I would especially hope that those points that directly contradict our interests would never be put into practice. In my view, the non-constructive policies of Azerbaijan even rule out any agreement to be reached on these principles. One can only hope that the mediators and regional powers sharing their interests will finally realize that the time has come to come up with some truly realistic principles. Naturally, this means that any new set of principles can no longer be based on the concept of parity between the aggressor, Azerbaijan, and those forced to defend themselves, Armenia and the NKR. Such parity, emanating from the Soviet era, has only served to embolden Azerbaijan, to make it more hard-line and bellicose.
In your opinion, are the talks leading towards a settlement or a dead end given that the talks and meetings between the presidents and foreign ministers are often described as consecutive, on-going, but with little tangible results?
No matter how pessimistically we regard those advice sessions, they do play a certain vital role in the sense that they mitigate the possibility of a resumption of hostilities. I feel that meetings are important just from this viewpoint alone. As to whether they are leading to a resolution or not, I can only repeat that it’s a question for the future. But taking into account the past disruptive policies of Azerbaijan, we come to the conclusion that Baku will see to it that nothing comes out of the talks.
In your opinion what will the process of normalizing Armenian-Turkish relations have on the Karabakh settlement?
As has been stated many times before, these are two different processes. I would say that broadly defined there is no issue of “normalizing” Armenian-Turkish relations. What should be on the agenda is the Turkish blockade of Armenia. Ankara closed the border back in 1993 and today it should do the right thing by reopening it.