TODAY.AZ / Politics

European expert: Ongoing occupation of Azerbaijani territories is unacceptable - INTERVIEW

12 August 2014 [12:10] - TODAY.AZ
Interview of Day.Az with Amanda Pol, expert of the Center for European Policy in Brussels.

-How would you comment incidents on the contact line in Karabakh, the most bloody over the last 20 years since cease-fire agreement was signed?

The recent tragic events clearly underlines the fact that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is still very much alive and dangerous. I am concerned that the international community still fails to recognize the seriousness of the situation and the broader implications of a possible new war for the region. It also shows that after two decades we are faced with almost unprecedented levels of animosity, distrust and frustration. We are at the cliff edge and there is an increasing chance of the conflict being tipped over into a fully blown war.

-How real is a threat that military clashes will lead to a new war?

While I do not believe that either Azerbaijan or Armenia want to engage in a new war and so far they have been able to prevent military clashes from spiraling into a fully blown conflict, this new incident shows that tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia are red-hot, with frustration and anger sky-rocketing. There is an ongoing risk that eventually they will no longer with able to “contain” these sporadic clashes and a new war will kick-off. Nobody should underestimate what the outcome of a new conflict would mean in terms of loss of life and the implications for the region. It would almost certainly drag in – one way or another – the three big neighbors, Russia, Iran and Turkey, possibly spill over into the North Caucasus which is already a hot bed of problems and endanger infrastructure including important energy pipelines. Enough blood has already been spilled and the international community needs to step up its efforts to help bring an end to this conflict. While this comes at a particularly difficult time with the crises with Russia, Gaza, Iraq and Syria, there is an urgent need to bring together the two leaders – perhaps as a troika with the President of the United States at the upcoming UN General Assembly (or earlier), and not just deal with the problem with press statements and words of concern.

-May we hope that international community won’t be treating this conflict as a “frozen” one any more?

Nagorno-Karabakh has never been a frozen conflict. It is an active conflict and unfortunately many lives are lost each year. The international community is well aware that this conflict is not frozen yet there seems to be a problem with mustering the necessary political will to change the current format for resolving it. Everybody has become very comfortable with the OSCE Minsk Group and to a certain degree it acts as a perfect fig leaf to cover-up the lack of will to do more. While clearly I am not saying that the Minsk Group is to be blamed for the non-solution of the conflict, at the same time as a format for supporting the solution of the conflict it has become stale and jaded. Over the years it’s role seems to have progressed to that of a conflict manger rather than resolver. It needs to be shaken up and broadened with new blood and ideas injected.

Nagorno-Karabakh needs attention from the highest political level from the West, but for the most part it seems to be little more than a footnote. When there is a serious clash it is in the headlines only to disappear again a few weeks later. Moreover, during a period where there are few meetings between the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia and little or no process on the Madrid Principles this further heats up tensions and frustration. After more than twenty years almost twenty percent of Azerbaijan’s land remains under occupation; hundreds of thousands of internally deplaced people and refugees cannot plan for the future. The current situation not sustainable and one day it will explode unless more measures are taken to bring about a solution.

-What role of (for instance) the EU you see in the settlement process?

Until now the EU has been happy to stay on the periphery backing the efforts of the Minsk Group and supporting efforts aimed at building trust between the parties of the conflict.

Through its EPNK (The European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh) it has financed mediation and confidence building measures including related to youth. The EU has been punching under its weight and could do much more. There is no real reason why the EU cannot initiate meetings between the two leaders. Conflict Resolution in its Eastern Neighbourhood, including the South Caucasus is an important element of the EU’s Security Strategy yet it has done little to meet this objective. The recent initiative of the French President, Francois Hollande, to organize a meeting in Paris between President Aliyev and President Sargsyan is positive and both leaders should be encouraged to accept. Consistent dialogue and open channels of communication are crucial in terms of not allowing tensions to boil over.

-These incidents should definitely affect the plans of international mediators to hold a new meeting of the presidents Aliyev and Sargsyan. To your opinion, what shold be done to stop violence on the contact line and push a peace process forward?

The only way to stop the violence is to hammer out a deal as soon as possible. While it is up to the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia to find the necessary political will to do this and also begin to prepare their societies for the concessions a deal will almost certainly require, at the same time there needs to be much greater international engagement. There needs to be a clear road map of what needs to be done; regular meetings of the two Presidents and Foreign Ministers; a greater engagement with other stakeholders including civil society, the grass root population and the two Karabakh communities. The Armenian and Azerbaijani Karabakh communities need to be given the space to meet and get to know each other. An elite driven process needs to be transformed into an inclusive process. And as in the case with other regional conflicts, it needs to made clear that ongoing occupation is unacceptable; as are actions and narrative than undermines the conflict resolution process.

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