Mark your calendar: 25 June, peace in Nagorno Karabakh

Wouldn’t it be nice if peace could be planned? On June 25, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet again in Kazan, Russia, to discuss the resolution of the conflict on Nagorno Karabakh. The international community is increasing the pressure to the presidents to ‘deliver’. This is not the first time such a meeting is called “a last chance for peace” (see for example my blog – in Dutch, sorry about this), and it will probably be not the last time.

There are however some interesting developments. In May the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group issued a quite strong and clear statement. This statement is interesting for a couple of reasons: first of all it was signed by the three presidents of the countries acting as Co-Chairs: Medvedev, Sarkozy and Obama , and not their ambassadors who normally issue statements. Secondly, it states clearly that they are loosing their patience: “Further delay would only call into question the commitment of the sides to reach an agreement”.

Secondly, in different media high level representatives of both the governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia were quoted that something may actually happen in Kazan.

From one of my partners in Armenia I heard that all this created a lot of rumors again in Armenia. And of course I heard the same from a friend in Azerbaijan. The main problem is that there is hardly any official reporting in their societies on the content of these negotiations. Both governments promise their societies not to accept anything less than the maximum in the negotiations: full independence of Nagorno Karabakh (Armenia’s position) or territorial integrity and ‘getting all our lands back’ (Azerbaijan’s position). So people with some brains rightfully think that there is something wrong here: or the presidents are not really negotiating at all, but just re-stating their demands over and over again, or the presidents are negotiating compromises, and therefore lying to the people.

The stakes in the current negotiations are actually quite clear. The negotiators aim to get agreement on the so called Basic Principles. These principles are what the name suggests they are: principles, not ready-made solutions. They more or less describe a process and deliberately leave some of the crucial issues open, such as “return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control” (how, when?), “interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh” (what does that mean?)  and the “future determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh” (when, how?). In other words, even if both sides would accept these basic principles, it leaves enough space (and time) for further negotiations.

This has two consequences:

1) Yes, agreeing on the Basic Principles would be a sign of good will and bring some honesty in the discussions in the societies on the future resolution of the conflict on Nagorno Karabakh. It would show that in the end there will be a compromise and it will make clear that all sides will win some, but may also loose some.

2) No, peace cannot be planned. At most 25 June will be the start of something, not the end…

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