Armenia: the expectations and worries of the society in regard to the forthcoming meeting of the presidents on the regulation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Guest blog by Edgar Khachatryan, Director of Peace Dialogue, a young but vibrant NGO in Vanadzor, Armenia.

After the Sochi Summit of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents on March 5 initiated by the president of Russia, and despite the achieved agreements and the announcements about launching investigations into recent violations of the 1994 cease fire along the line of contact, the context over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflicting region did not change. Actually, both Armenia and Azerbaijan refused to withdraw their snipers from the border, although the number of fatal incidents at the contact line has been critically increased from the beginning of 2011. Furthermore, in the same period of time Azerbaijan declared its militant attitude towards the opening of an airport in Stepanakert and Armenia responded with an announcement that the Armenian army command has decided to hold reserve drills on a more consistent basis and will be also more intensive than in the past and even more, the Defense Ministry declared that  Armenia acquired “unprecedented” quantities of modern weaponry last year and will continue the military build-up in 2011.

The next round of the negotiations between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan and their Russian counterpart is expected to be held in the Russian city Kazan on June 25. What are the expectations of the Armenian society from the upcoming meeting in Kazan and what processes take place in connection with this matter? What is the Armenian community getting ready for and what should it get ready for? To answer all these questions it’s necessary to find out what the society knows about the process at the moment.

Today the Armenian media is full of materials which tell about the expectations of the Co-Chairs of the Minsk group from the upcoming meeting in Kazan. According to B. Fassier the French Co-Chair of OSCE Minsk Group, the mediators expect the parties to “consolidate the progress in a written form in the nearest future.” In addition to this, it’s considered that the parties have come to agreement on several basic principles. The basic principles were first formally presented to Armenia and Azerbaijan in Madrid in late 2007. Since they have undergone several modifications aimed at making them more acceptable to both sides. The document calls for a gradual settlement that would start with the liberation of Azerbaijani districts around Karabakh that were occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war. In return, the dispute territory’s predominantly Armenian population would be able to determine its final status in a future referendum. The conflicting parties have disagreed on some crucial details of this peace framework, which are still not made public by the mediators. Fasier said the breakthrough did not materialize because Armenia rejected a modified version of the basic principles in early 2010. He added that chances of an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace deal again increased after Presidents Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev made “some progress“ at their last meeting held in the Russian city of Sochi last March.

Practically, any publication, article or reportage, either in printed or in electronic media, referring to the topic of the regulation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, contains the phrase “Armenia is exclusively for peaceful regulation of the conflict”. A phrase which is crucial and comprehensive on the one hand, but on the other hand, being continually repeated or compared with the mentioned in the previous paragraphs, it loses its entire contents and becomes trite /dull/ wordplay.

Another phrase that is continually voiced by mass media with the links to the top officials of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, the international and national politicians and experts, is “the regulation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should be based on compromises”. What compromises is the society of Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh ready for? No one has given an intelligible or a clear response to these questions yet. Although the concessions have been clearly announced for which neither Armenia nor, especially, the Karabakh side will go in any case, this is the so-called “peace in exchange for territories” and “matter of the special status of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

“Already for two decades our country has existed as an independent country which does not threaten any of the neighboring countries. Today the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh is one of the most stable countries not only in the region, but also in the whole post-soviet area. The conflict with Azerbaijan could be solved only in one way – in the case of legal recognition of the independent Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh at the international level. This is the opinion of both the nation and the officials of our republic”, announces in his interview Bako Sahakyan, the president of Nagorno-Karabakh. At the same time he underlines that serious disagreements between Stepanakert and Yerevan in the tactics of negotiation does not exist, adding that it’s impossible to solve the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict without the direct involvement of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In addition to this, the political elite both in Armenia and in Karabakh calm down the society in connection with the possible risk of resumption of full-scale hostilities. In May Seyran Ohanyan, the Minister of Defense of Armenia, announced that in the case of aggression Armenia expects to meet the obligations by their CSTO partners. In his turn, Andrey Tretyak, the supernal representative of the Ministry of Defense of Russia, assured that in the case of such turn of events Russia will fulfill its obligations under the contract, i.e. it will hurry to defend its ally in the CSTO.

The next interesting phenomenon that may be encountered when trying to figure out what Armenian society should expect from the forthcoming meeting in Kazan is the fact that there exist two different categories of information – the first one is internal, got by an ordinary citizen of Armenia on television, from printed media in Armenian or Russian languages, and the other is “politically correct information”, which is published by the mass media for the English-speaking readers. One can often face the fact that the same article in English and Armenian languages ​​touches upon different aspects of the regulation of the Karabakh problem. The fact of the debate on the entry of peacekeeping forces in the zone of the Karabakh conflict for some time was not touched upon the national press and was spread mostly due to the international press and the information of the Azerbaijani mass media that affected the issue. Further, the Armenian press mentioned this fact only in the English versions of their publications. At the same time the political leaders, reacting to this fact, emphasized that they considered it as a secondary and ineffective for the negotiations in this phase. There is a fear among the society that, like the press, political leaders also express refuting statements in front of the negotiating table and their own society.

Comparing the facts that are currently under the disposal of the Armenian community, it can be considered that Kazan is not perceived so much as an expectation of something new, but even more, a fear of the unknown, fear of losing what is already achieved. For the society the question is like this: what will have, or vice versa, what can lose Armenia (Karabakh) in the case of the successful progress of the negotiations?

  • Peace? At least some, but there is. Besides, Russia will prevent any aggravation of the situation.
  • Status? What is the status of Nagorno Karabakh for the international community and what will bring this vision?
  • What the symbolism of Kazan hides in itself, a region which has a comparatively “special” autonomy within Russia…
  • How will the Azerbaijani party behave itself? What will be its further requirements and isn’t it a trap made against Armenians by the world?
  • Why do the Armenians have to return the territories which were defended with the price of the lives of our brothers and fathers, in the war which was started not by the Armenians and on the territory historically belonging to Armenia?
  • Who are the peacekeeping forces and what do they have to do in our region? They have already brought not a few troubles in other conflicting zones, do they?

This is not the full list of problems, worrying the ordinary citizens of Armenia today. The situation is more pumped by intra-political conflicts that exist in a society where the parties rush to accuse each other of political illiteracy and the near failure of the matter in the interest of the nation.

The existing fears, lack of trust towards the officials, lack of more or less intelligible answers to the existing questions and complete absence of democratic debate on the matter of regulation of the Karabakh conflict within the community, continual blowing of the enemy image of the mass media, beginning from cartoons and entertaining programs and ending with soap operas and political analysis in news blocks have led to complete ignorance and mistrust in regard to the peaceful regulation of the conflict and, particularly, to its upcoming phase in Kazan.

For more information about Peace Dialogue, please check the website: www.peacedialogue.am

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About Mountains of Peace

Mountains of Peace is the weblog of the Caucasus Team of IKV Pax Christi, a Dutch peace movement working in the South Caucasus since 1992. IKV Pax Christi is currently active in peacebuilding work related to the conflict on Nagorno Karabakh and the Georgian-South Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhaz conflicts.
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