"The new war between Azerbaijan and Armenia will be long and hard"

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Niccolo and Donkey
The new war between Azerbaijan and Armenia will be long and hard


March 6, 2012

(Exclusive interview with Turan of the Director, Europe Program of International Crisis Group )

Question: ICG has just published a big report on IDP` problems in Azerbaijan. Can you say briefly what are the main problems of this category of people? What are recommendations of your organization to the government of Azerbaijan ?

Answer: The International Crisis Group published a report on 27 February entitled Tackling Azerbaijan’s IDP Burden where we emphasized that the government has significantly improved its care of this population of approximately 600,000 over the past five years. Though many still face precarious existences, the state has been investing heavily in new housing and increasing benefits. In a very poignant sign of change, the notorious railcar and tent camps have closed.

At the same time even though the government has constructed new housing for over 100,000 people some complain of poor construction and infrastructure, lack of community participation in planning and limited access to land or job opportunities in the new communities. IDPs should be more effectively integrated into decision-making about housing, services, and other community needs, as well as contingency planning for emergencies and confidence-building measures (CBMs).

Azerbaijan’s IDPs’ ability to express their interests is limited by their inability to elect municipal representatives. The some 40,000 from Nagorno-Karabakh are in principle represented as a group by the Azerbaijani Community of Nagorno-Karabakh Social Union, but its leadership is not fully popularly elected, and the 560,000 displaced from the occupied districts around Nagorno-Karabakh are not well represented. The political voice of IDPs thus remains weak and the government should allow IDPs, while their villages and towns remain occupied, to vote for municipal councils in their places of temporary residence.

To protect IDPs and other civilians along the LoC, the Azerbaijan authorities should also agree with the Armenian government and the de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh to an expanded interim OSCE monitoring role, to an OSCE proposal to remove snipers from the LoC and to set up an incident investigation mechanism, as well as to immediately cease military exercises near the LoC and advancing trench positions

Question: Several weeks ago the French Senate adopted the law on criminalization of denying of Armenian genocide. This decision coincided with campaign or the wave of protests in Azerbaijan with demand to exclude France from the OSCE Minsk group. Do you think it is correct for France to be in a Minsk group, insisting that Paris is impartial moderator in resolving the conflict?

And the second: do you believe that Azerbaijan can make serious steps to exclude France from the Minsk group? Is it is interests of Baku if Paris will be excluded?

Answer: The French Constitutional Court has overturned the law on criminalization of genocide denial and I am convinced that the passage of this law had much more to do with internal French politics, and the presence of some 500,000 ethnic Armenians in France, than on the country’s view of Turkey or Armenia.

We are about to reach the 20th year anniversary of the Minsk Group and I think that it is totally fair and appropriate to question whether this is the best format through which to negotiation a solution to the conflict. However I don’t think that the law on the criminalization of the genocide means that France is pro-Armenian and anti-Azerbaijani. Few in France would ever link Baku to the tragic events of 1915. They may not even realize that Azerbaijanis have any relations to Turkic populations. If anything this would be a good time to remind Paris that Azerbaijan still has 600,000 IDPs with no permanent solutions to their plight in sight.

I think that it will be very difficult to change the co-chairs of the Minsk Group within the current OSCE format. Would with decide on such a change? The OSCE chairperson in office, all Minsk Group members or all OSCE participating states? In any event it is highly unlikely that a clear consensus would be achieved and first and foremost European Union member states should themselves support such a change, together with Baku and Yerevan.

Question: What are your estimations of combat readiness of Azeri and Armenian army ? Can Azerbaijan win if the war begin?

Answer: A year ago International Crisis Group published a report called Armenia and Azerbaijan Preventing War where we warned about the possibility of an accidental work as both countries are engaged in an arms race, escalating front-line clashes, vitriolic war rhetoric and there is a virtual breakdown in the Minsk Group peace talks.

Some people think in Azerbaijan and Armenia that they can win a quick war. But we demonstrated in our report that any war would be long and hard. Azerbaijan’s armed forces are estimated at nearly 95,000, Armenia’s and Nagorno-Karabakh’s at around 70,000. The two sides’ arsenals are increasingly deadly, sophisticated and capable of sustaining a protracted war. Both can hit large population centres, critical infrastructure and communications.

For Azerbaijan, the main problem would be that Armenian forces have the tactical advantage, as their forces control most of the high ground around Nagorno-Karabakh. Any offensive beyond Fizuli and Jebrail would be literally and figuratively an uphill battle over difficult mountain terrain for Azerbaijan, requiring at least triple superiority in troops and arms.

Question: What could be the role of Big Powers in this case: Russia, US, Turkey, Iran? Who of them and why will give (if will) support to one or the other side?

Answer: It is very possible that the regional powers would be dragged into the war even though Russia and Turkey are very close strategic allies.

Armenia would likely try to secure Russian military involvement by invoking CSTO mutual defence commitments, even if direct Russian military participation would be far from
Guaranteed. Russia’s Gyumri base agreement was modified in August 2010, when an extension was signed, to include security guarantees against general threats to Armenian security even if it does not fully clarify Moscow’s military obligation if war resumes over Nagorno-Karabakh.

On 16 August 2010, days before the upgraded Russian-Armenian military deal was announced, Turkey and Azerbaijan signed a strategic partnership and mutual assistance agreement, stipulating they will support each other “using all possibilities” in the case of a military attack or “aggression” against the other. The agreement is not public so it is impossible to say what would happen if there was a resumption of war but clearly there would be much public support in Turkey for assistance to Azerbaijan.

I don’t believe that the US or the EU would get directly involved. But a resumption of hostilities would seriously undermine U.S. and EU energy interests. Both seek to develop the Southern Caucasus as an alternative source and transit route for energy imports to Europe. A full-scale war would also threaten the Caucasus air corridor that accounts for nearly
70 per cent of all NATO’s military transport flights to bases in Central Asia, as well as the alternative overland supply route to Afghanistan via Azerbaijan

Question: Do you believe that Armenians and Azeris in principle can resolve the conflict peacefully? If yes, why the can not do it 20 years? If not – what is the main obstacles?

What is the main reason which is blocking efforts in adopting Basic principles of resolution of the conflict? Do you believe that Baku can agree for referendum in Karabakh?

Answer: I believe that Armenian and Azerbaijan can in resolve this conflict and the Basic Principles offer an excellent blueprint to move forward. But clearly there is a lack of trust between the sides, at all levels from the Presidents to the average people. This makes an agreement on the Basic Principles much more difficult because it calls for a long term process of return, rehabilitation, and normalization, not an immediate solution to the conflict. The sides need to trust that after a decade or two of slow but steady progress they will be able to agree on the final status of NK. To start this process they need much trust and confidence. It is not as though the international community was just coming in and imposing a solution.

At this point, Armenia and Azerbaijan cannot agree on the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenians of course want a clear perspective for an independent Nagorno-Karabakh (in return for much of the surrounding occupied territories), while Baku says that NK will remain part of the Azerbaijan. The Basic Principles try to delay any decision on status, but both sides constantly try to include something on status to secure their position.

Azerbaijan has used different formulations suggesting that it can agree on a vote on NK status. The problem is not the notion of a referendum or a vote. The problem is in the details of what question will be asked, where the vote will be held, who will vote, will a vote in NK have to be followed up by one in Azerbaijan to be valid…

Question: What do you think about suggestions to establish a new format of international moderators instead of Minsk group of OSCE?

Answer: As I said earlier twenty years after the setting up of the Minsk Group it is appropriate to ask whether it is effective. Clearly it needs to be more transparent and do more to build up trust between the sides. Does it need to be replaced all together by another mechanism? Perhaps. But who can replace the biggest regional powers: Russia, the US and through France, the EU? This question will also be the topic of a future Crisis Group report.
Niccolo and Donkey

Georgia & Turkey would back Azerbaijan
Russia and Iran would back Armenia.
The US & UK would like to get NATO behind Azerbaijan, but France will do what it can in Armenia's favor.