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Thomas de Waal: What was possible between Sweden and Finland in the past century is impossible today between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Thomas de Waal: What was possible between Sweden and Finland in the past century is impossible today between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Interview of Thomas de Waal, a senior associate in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment, with ArmInfo news agency

  • by David Stepanyan
  • Thursday, June 19, 16:21


What is the latest incident at the Naxivan border evidence of?  Even in 1991-94 this sector of the border was more or less quite. What has changed?


After losing the war, Azerbaijan now tries to use skirmishes on the border to somehow exert pressure on Armenians.


In the course of the 1991-1994 war, Nakhijevan was a true exception in the theater of war. Heydar Aliyev did not want to war with Armenia. It was not within his interests. Negotiations with Ashot  Manucharyan, the air corridor via Armenia for Aliyev’s plane, show his special position and status. Many say that nothing has changed since the indefinite truce between the parties to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, I am sure  that much has changed since them. One fundamental change refers to the conflicting parties. In the years of war, the conflict was between Karabakh and Azerbaijan, as Yerevan officially disclaimed its involvement in the military actions. Now, when Armenia and Azerbaijan have become full-fledged states – with some shortcomings and reservations, indeed – there is a conflict, though frozen, between these two countries.  This is a fact. In this light, skirmishes on the Armenian- Azerbaijani border, on the border with Nakhijevan, look quite logical. At least, I am not surprised.


What are the possible goals of the skirmishes?


As for the goals of the skirmishes on the Nakhijevani section of the border, I am familiar  with the topographic peculiarities of the given part of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. However, in the lighting of the growing tension around the conflict,  the sides use and will be using every strategic advantage to occupy high grounds. I am confident that  not only such incidents will continue on the Karabakh-Azerbaijan border but also on the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border.


Which of the parties to the conflict is more concerned about the process of  contribution to the tension?


The Armenian party is not interested in such incidents, and much less in victims. Armenia and Karabakh try to stabilize the situation as much as possible to maintain and reinforce the status quo within the post-war borders. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan, as a defeated party, tries to use that rare lever of pressure on Armenians. Such skirmishes very often happen due to the local specifics. Another matter that such frightening game may have very undesirable scenario for both the parties to the conflict and the mediators.


Many say that nothing has changed around Karabakh for the last 20 years.Meanwhile the geo-politics around the conflict has radically changed. The conflict around Ukraine, Russia’s new role, deeper disagreements between the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair states, etc. May all this lead to the new situation around the Karabakh conflict settlement?



  Certainly, worsening of relations between the West and Russia affects the Karabakh process as well as other processes within the frames of which these force centers have been cooperating in a certain sense.  I would say that democratizing, dialogue and raising of the role of civil society affect Karabakh most of all in the conceptual and theoretical sense.  This is a more European  approach. The realpolitic approach is used regarding Karabakh. Of course, such an approach is  used by the western countries too, but it is chiefly used by Russia especially for the last years. And if Moscow suddenly decides that the time has come to settle the Karabakh conflict, it will be able to push the negotiating process, if it is in the interests of Russia. However, I am not  confident that Moscow can affect the Karabakh conflict settlement, especially in the matter of the terms of settlement.

Certainly, the key for the Karabakh conflict settlement is in the hands of presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, external aspects may also strongly affect the  parameters of the Karabakh conflict settlement. And if the co-chairmen suddenly want very much to push the peaceful settlement process, undoubtedly, they will be able to do it. Certainly, this will cost something to them as well. For this reason, the intermediaries have not made such a step yet. Perhaps, settlement of the Karabakh conflict is not stemming  form their interests yet. I mean not only Russia, but the USA and France too.


 Today may say about the necessity of participation of Stepanakert in the negotiating process. Will that improve the prospects of the Karabakh conflict settlement?


I think that at least at present Karabakh has nothing to say at the talks. And taking into consideration the fact that today we have only one frame document on the negotiating table coordinated with Stepanakert, in Karabakh they are well aware about the content of the given document, and they hardly have something to add. It is more important for the Karabakh Armenians to participate in the negotiations the time when the critical stage of the process starts.  I think that participation of the Karabakhi Azerbaijanis in this process would not go amiss.


There is  viewpoint in our countries that the Karabakh conflict is used by the authorities for their regular reproduction and for taking the eyes of the society from local problems. What do you think about it?



Of course, there is a share of truth in it. The authorities of Armenia as well as Azerbaijan have been actively using the Karabakh factor in the interior policy. But this is a two-edged sword. The conflict serves as a machinery of manipulation of the authorities of both countries. It is actively used by external players, and much limits the maneuvering potential of official Yerevan and Baku. Just for this reason, not knowing what will happen in future, the authorities of Armenia and Azerbaijan themselves do not dare to break the present status-quo, he said. A sudden intention of Armenia to join the Customs Union was also based on the relevant hint of the Russian partners. Serzh Sargsyan’s key task, as a president, is ensuring security of Armenia and Karabakh. I think that in Moscow he was let fall a hint that if Yerevan refuses the “customs prospects”, Russia will be able to revise its role as a guarantor of Armenia’s security.

How will the Karabakh conflict be resolved? What do you think about it, like an expert?

 I think it would be non-productive to specifically speak today about peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict.

The content of the six Madrid principles on the negotiating table is really reflecting all that which the parties to the Karabakh conflict may give and get today. In other words, these principles are more or less drawing what is possible. I think that Scandinavian model of settlement, based on partition of sovereignty, could be successfully used in Karabakh. Unfortunately,  what was possible in Europe between Sweden and Finland  in the past century, is impossible today between Armenia and Azerbaijan. For this reason, they have to start from what is possible, first of all, from creation of the trust atmosphere. I mean even not signing of the document but formation of the trust necessary for its signing.


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