Today.Az » Analytics » A suitcase without a handle: Is it easier for Armenia to lose a war than to sign a peace treaty?
27 November 2009 [13:10] - Today.Az

Day.Az writer

The details of the talks between the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents in Munich are withheld for obvious reasons. Official sources, including the OSCE Minsk Group and Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, cautiously confirm that the sides have achieved progress. But neither the mediators nor the parties are going to disclose details and the essence of the progress.

It is no secret that Armenia was expected to make a breakthrough in this matter such as liberating the occupied Azerbaijani regions. The talks focused precisely on this issue. Before leaving the post of the OSCE Minsk Group U.S co-chair, Matthew Bryza stated outright that Armenia will have to leave these regions. The U.S co-chair has now been replaced, but as a rule positions in such negotiations do not change with the swapping of chairs.

One knows progress in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is impossible without liberating the occupied regions. Unfortunately, for more than a dozen years, this fact did not prevent mediators, specifically the Minsk Group, from switching to a more active mediation model. Real results and real progress in this dialogue should start first and foremost with returning the IDPs to the region.
Another bit of progress occurred when mediators began cautiously talking about "progress" and "shifts" in the negotiations. The world, especially Europe and the U.S., already have a different vision of security in the South Caucasus. However, in the early stages when the Minsk Group was just expanding its activities only Azerbaijan was concerned about repatriating IDPs.

Meanwhile, the “shift” was caused by transit countries experiencing regular gas supply problems and the August events in Georgia. Suddenly it became clear that frozen conflicts could easily be defrosted, and source-countries of oil and gas reserves should be diversified so as not to wind up without heating in the dead of winter.

Although little has changed on the frontline in Nagorno-Karabakh, major and revolutionary changes have taken place elsewhere. Addressing security issues in the South Caucasus suddenly became much more important for Europe than ever because “alternative transport communications," and above all else, oil and gas pipelines, pass through the region.

Azerbaijan remains the principle, and, in fact, only uncontrolled gateway from Europe to Central Asia. Nabucco, TRACECA and many other projects that the EU values cannot be implemented in the long-term without solving security issues. Most importantly, Europe will not get the same alternative energy, of which it enjoys an increased demand after earlier gas supply problems.

To put it simply, the negotiations saw a kind of "wind shear." Armenia has been called to withdraw its troops from the occupied Azerbaijani territories since long ago. The relevant U.N. Security Council resolution was adopted in 1993-1994. Now, many indirect signs indicate that diplomatic pressure on Armenia has increased many fold in recent months. Armenia’s opposition and pro-government media already say Armenia is "under pressure" today as never before. The media mercilessly criticizes the foreign minister as a result, which allegedly does not provide effective resistance.

But how can the Foreign Ministry of a poor and hungry country, which has also captured foreign lands, tackle this kind of situation? This is the question Armenia continues to sidestep. It is rather difficult to withstand increased diplomatic pressure.

The Armenian government likely understands that the economy crushes stronger than any type of pressure. They boast a simple and prosaic economy, and Armenia has broken all records in terms of declines. One of the local pro-government newspapers described the economy as having hit “rock bottom.” It is impossible to revive the economy without resolving Nagorno-Karabakh.

Even the old "last valve” no longer works. According to Armenian economists, remittances from family members working abroad have declined 50-60 percent in recent months, leaving two-thirds of the families dependent on these funds without their primary source of income.

Although more recently Armenia pinned great hopes on opening the border with Turkey, Ankara has bluntly confirmed at all levels that there will be no progress without resolving Nagorno-Karabakh.

It becomes clear that the regions, the occupation of which Yerevan regarded as a major military success until recently, today have turned into the classic "suitcase without a handle,” which  you are too sorry to throw away, but no longer have the strength to carry. More likely, Armenia will fail to change the balance of power in the talks to its favor.

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s supporters could promise to "make Azerbaijan more tractable, to continue the offensive until Yevlax and Mingachevir” during the election campaign, but Armenia is now unlikely to be mistaken.

Such statements could go without reactions during the campaign. But if one tries to apply them in practice, it is unclear what will happen. Azerbaijan's military budget has surpassed the entire state budget of Armenia in recent years. Claims that "Armenia has an army, while Azerbaijan has armed groups" cannot be admitted either.

The Munich meeting was accompanied by a storm of bustle in the Armenian political and quasi-political circles under the slogan of "We Will Not Surrender" the liberated, that is, occupied, territories, to Azerbaijan, specifically those surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.

Politicians who dared to remind the Armenian audience that no matter what temporary status Karabakh will have in the end, Horadiz and Agdam will remain within Azerbaijan encounter obstacles and are accused of treason.

Armenian opposition parties maintaining close ties with the diaspora already seek to push through parliament a law or a statement depriving the authorities even of a theoretical way to retreat both in a literal and figurative sense.

Moreover, almost the entire Armenian political elite are people who have amassed political capital on the so-called "Karabakh Movement," namely, territorial claims against Azerbaijan. This is equally true of both the ruling team and the opposition. The situation in this respect becomes clear since the opposition, which is by and large not responsible for the situation in the country, especially economy and diplomacy, has far more opportunities to score points on pseudo-patriotic rhetoric.

This arises another question – even if the negotiation process marks the necessary progress and the sides reach mutually acceptable agreements, will the current Armenian leaders have the political credibility to "impose" the necessary concessions on their own country?

Apparently, Azerbaijan is right not to exclude other ways to restore its territorial integrity outside peace talks. In the end, it would be easier for the Armenian authorities to lose a war than to sign a peace treaty in the current situation.

Copyright © Today.Az