Why and when the mediations? A theoretical approach and practical experiences
It is known from the theories of diplomacy and conflict resolutions that in principle conflicting parties are willing to start to resolve their differences when they are ready to forego unilateral means for attaining a settlement favorable only to themselves and the Nagorno-Karabakh case proves it as well as that the intervention of mediation has to be timed propitiously for the reason that a conflict’s focal elements would fit together, thereby enabling the political leaders to move from confrontation to cooperation to resolve their political, national, strategic, or any other differences and different viewpoints. Theoretically, it can be turned to the concept of ripeness in order to discover why some agreements prove possible and others do not. These moments for settlements of conflicts can be seized by the parties themselves or they can be introduced by third parties. Nevertheless, both types of motivations for peaceful settlement have been on agenda in the case of the Armenian-Azeri conflict over the district of Nagorno-Karabakh.
In practice, five of the diplomatic mediations have happened at the time of intense conflict, but before those two parties suffered major casualties or losses of weapons, equipment, and/or logistic supplies of them. I would claim that when neither side sees a likelihood of victory and they have exhausted their resources, they have strong wishes to negotiate directly or to seek international mediation. Truly speaking, the pain for continuing warfare is of such great magnitude for all parties involved in the conflict that continuing the course of events that gave rise to the mutual hurting stalemate (the MHS) is unlikely. Nevertheless, viewed as a defining feature of ripeness, the MHS has become a popular idea for the very reason as it is understood as critical for the policy-making of parties in the post-Cold War 1.0 era who seek to mediate disputes in the international arena. The side previously winning is sobered into negotiation while the former underdog, being strengthened, will contemplate negotiation. This fact specifies a relationship between changes in military strength or casualties and decisions to negotiate or to engage in related peaceful behavior.
Violence, destruction, and casualties
The open conflict over Nagorno Karabakh was a consequence of the declaration of independence from Azerbaijan of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (the NKR) on September 2nd, 1991. This republic was recognized only by three non-UNO’s members or quasi-states: Transnistria, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia. For political reasons, Armenia did not recognize the NKR. The capital of this republic is Stepanakert with some 50.000 inhabitants in 1996. At the same time, there was around 143.000 population of the republic including some 300.000 non-Armenians. A Government of the country is, in fact, an internationally unrecognized Presidential Republic. Used currency is the Armenian Dram. Legislature body is a National Assembly (the Parliament.)
During the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, it was particular violence and destruction during the military offensives from April 1993 to February 1994. Warfare period which occurred during that time was the bloodiest one during the whole war similar to the Balkan case of Central Bosnia-Herzegovina during the conflict between the Croat and the Muslim forces with many local offensives and counter-offensives. In December 1994, a Human Rights Watch, for instance, issued a report which claimed that estimated the combined deaths in Nagorno-Karabakh were some 25.000 (soldiers and civilians) following almost a million refugees from both sides. Very similar figures have been presented by the US Congressional Research Service as well as by the US Institute of Peace.
Nevertheless, if we are using a globally accepted well-known formula of three wounded for each killed, the result can be up to 2.400 injured Armenian soldiers and up to 18.000 wounded Azeri soldiers. In addition to the lives lost and people displaced by this conflict, the economy and social infrastructure of each country were, in fact, destroyed by the war efforts. The particularly difficult living conditions were created for civilians in both countries by warfare. It was compiled 1.675 military incidents from 1990 to 1995. However, it has to be clear that one incident may have more than one event. Basically, during the whole war, there were three parties involved in the conflict: The Republic of Armenia, The Republic of Azerbaijan, and the District of Nagorno-Karabakh. Ethnically speaking, there were two sides involved in the combat: the Armenians and the Azeris.
The combined deaths for the five years before the offensives started in April 1993 have been estimated at some 10.000 or, in other words, an average of 2.000 per year. However, the number of casualties drastically dropped down since February 1994, when the ceasefire has been agreed. Practically, very few casualties occurred from that time to the end of the war in December 1995. There were some 500.000 Azerbaijani refugees (as a similar number of Serbs from Croatia in 1990−1995) as a result of the huge Armenian military offensive on Kelbazar in April 1993.
Post-Soviet Security and Stability?
The focal question with regard to the right to self-determination and territorial integrity in practice split not only the nations of Armenia and Azerbaijan but many others too like Serbia and Kosovo Albanians or Moldova and Transnistria. The questions of re-unifying the district of Nagorno-Karabakh with “mother Armenia” or liberating the “occupied territories” by the military forces of Azerbaijan caused a very clear-cut division of political opinion not only in the Caucasus but and worldwide. We have to keep in mind that first post-Communist inter-ethnic conflicts in Europe based on the right to self-determination started in the Caucasus but not in the Balkans. As a result, the political-national programs of conflicting parties from the Caucasus to the Balkans became entrenched. Their proponents acted under popular pressure to justify national policy in the face of a militant and nationalistic opposition, which could easily reinforce its legitimacy by constant complaints about social injustice and uneven redistribution in the country. An additional problem was and is that the framework for peace negotiation is strictly limited from within the ranks of the Government itself. This is particularly true if we speak about the departments of defense and national security, who, in fact, usually profile themselves as the best guardians of national interest and, therefore, can directly appeal to people’s identities, aspirations, and ambitions (as it was, for instance, in F. Tudjman’s Croatia in the 1990s).
As a matter of good examples, we can present two cases:
- In 1998, the first Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan (1991−1998), who was a leader of Armenian movement in Nagorno-Karabakh for the unification with Armenia, was forced to resign as a result of general unwillingness to compromise on issues of national and foreign policy.
- The steady rapprochement achieved by several secretly held face-to-face meetings between two former Presidents od Armenia and Azerbaijan, R. Kocharyan, and H. Aliev, was ruined by the assassination of Armenian MPs in 1999, the background of which is still waiting for political clarification.
In essence, any Government in power is taken hostage with regard to Karabakh (as Kosovo the same) and the peace question by more than the hands of opposition alone. The actions by the state, indeed, became open to blackmail by some forces, who are merely sailing under a national flag but to pursue their interest and business. It applies well, for instance, to the authoritarian hierarchy of an oil-rich Azerbaijan with its clan- and clientele-structure but as well as to the competing oligarchs of a resource-poor Armenia. This is, basically, the capture of policymaking or more precisely, the capture of the state and its Governnmental institutions.
A small republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) is one of the key points of the security and stability issues in the Caucasus. One of the crucial points in this matter is the very fact that the republic’s standpoint regarding national question is quite clear and totally not under any negotiations. In practice, that means two focal points:
- The formation of a federal or confederal political structure with Azerbaijan which means a return to territorial administration of the former sovereign in the Soviet time is absolutely unthinkable, as the theoretical framework of the contested common-state model can hardly translate into everyday policy.
- It is so far unclear the degree of independence of the republic to be able to keep versus “mother” Armenia. The fact is that the tax income of Artsakh is still insignificant and gong to be further reduced due to the investment policy of the Government. Much of the republic’s budget is financed by a worldwide diaspora, but the focal share is coming from Armenia, which is indebted to Russia alone. It means that practically Russia is feeding the “independence” of Nagorno-Karabakh. It is a very fact that Armenia is increasingly supporting reconstruction in all civil sectors and facilitating adaptation of Artsakh to the Armenian administrative system and practice, which makes the integration of the republic as a kind of privileged province of Armenia.
The features of post-Communist conflicts in South Caucasus
The collapse of Communism and its ideology in East Europe followed by the break-up of Yugoslavia and the USSR released nationalist, historical, confessional, and ethnic animosities and rivalries in each country as age-old antagonisms and different types of divisions re-emerged after WWII. Bloody wars broke out in the Caucasus and the Balkans (Yugoslavia) and they are still a source of trouble today (Nagorno-Karabakh and Kosovo-Metochia). Both the USSR and Yugoslavia consisted of federations of partly (in the Soviet case) and fully (in the Yugoslav case) autonomous republics with many peoples held together in a single state under the rule of the Communist Party. Some of republics had autonomous districts or provinces like Nagorno-Karabakh or Kosovo-Metochia.
In the Caucasus, which nations became incorporated firstly into imperial Russia in the 19th century and later in the next century into the USSR, modern conflict in this region started in the district of Nagorno-Karabakh as the historically disputed territory between Armenians and Azeris. An independent Armenian republic became announced in 1920, but in 1922 Armenia was united with neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan into a single Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic which split in 1936 into three separate SSRs. Since then, there has been constant friction between the Islamic Azeris and Christian Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh which wanted to be part of Armenia but not of Azerbaijan. In the wake of the collapse of the central Soviet Government, in 1989 ethnic violence erupted over the status of predominantly Armenian district of Nagorno-Karabakh (Cristian Orthodox) within Azerbaijan (Shia/Shiite Muslim). Armenia became independent in 1991 by declaring itself being no more part of the USSR like Azerbaijan did the same on October 20th, 1991.
Armenia and Azerbaijan became soon involved in the conflict in order to support their ethnic compatriots in the district. The enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh was officially part of, and totally surrounded by, Azerbaijan but was historically part of Armenia and was 75% Armenian in terms of population. Its district assembly voted to join Armenia in February 1988, prompting widespread inter-ethnic violence as Azeris have been expelled from Armenia and Armenians forced out of Azerbaijan. In January 1990, the Azeri popular Front won an election held in Azerbaijan and declared not only Azerbaijan’s independence from the USSR but as well as the war on Armenia. However, the Soviet tanks crushed the revolt, killing 100+ people in the capital Baku. Nevertheless, as the USSR soon broke up, both Armenia and Azerbaijan declared their independence. In 1992, Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh’s irregulars occupied the narrow border region between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, geographically linking the two together. Violent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has continued, despite a ceasefire agreement in 1994, and Armenia temporarily withdraws from peace talks in 1995. The conflict was only interrupted in 1994−1995 by a ceasefire between Armenians and Azeris. In the next year, the (Armenian controlled) district unilaterally declared independence. Attempts to conclude a permanent peace agreement have, nevertheless, continued. Despite several mediation efforts followed by peace talks in 2001, the future of the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh still remains unsettled today with Armenia occupying 20% of Azerbaijani territory and one million+ Azeris being displaced as a result of the hostilities. The newest armed conflict between the two sides started in summer 2020.
The post-Communist conflicts in South Caucasus (Transcaucasus) in Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia or Abkhazia, followed by those in the Balkans, vested the military and national security forces with undue influence over the state. In essence, their activities and ultimate interests have been hidden from both the public eye and Government’s control. In all of those cases, while tying up a huge amount of Governmental funds on defense, a huge share of the state’s budget was spent on the military sector every year, whereas a fraction of this money would be sufficient to ensure economic and social welfare was it spent in civil sectors. However, instead, networks and institutions – promoted by a state of emergency and a semi-legal situation in no-man’s-land – are fostered for many years, and usually getting out of the control by the Government as proved, for instance, in the case of Nagorno Karabakh.
The Caucasus as a whole all the time was under the spheres of influence by different neighboring powers. After the Cold War 1.0, there are three of them: Russia as the most influential, Iran, and Turkey. The region was considered after 1991 by Moscow as “near-abroad”, but is divided into two kinds of states: 1) The Commonwealth of Independent States (the CIS); and 2) The framework of co-operation between Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova (the GUUAM) as sub-regional structures. However, and moreover, the region of the Caucasus is subject to the American geopolitical interests and activities predominantly in the oil business as well as to the EU’s and NATO’s designs.
The threat to security and stability in the whole region of Caucasus, after 1995 is emerging from tensions along the Line of Contact (the LOC). This line is dangerous in itself and an incentive to dangerous war games as it runs so close to each other that overreaction among soldiers of both sides and shootings are common, especially in the night and during weekends when top officers are off duty. In addition, constant sniper and drone fires are used intentionally to keep soldiers on the other side of the LOC on the alert and the civilians insecure but particularly during the sowing and harvest seasons.
It can be claimed that stability in the South Caucasus will be achieved not as a result of secured borders alone, for which a peace treaty regarding Nagorno-Karabakh is a prerequisite, but rather by social security followed by strong civil institutions and wide participation of the people in democratic activities and particularly the process of political making decisions. Finally, monopolizing by certain oligarchs and the polarization of society followed by the lack of constitutional rights and restrictions on the freedom of the media and access to information, are still being covered up by a situation that continues to be neither war nor peace in the district of Nagorno-Karabakh.