Interview with Razi Nurrulayev, an Azerbaijani politician and chairperson of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP). Interviewer: Małgosia Krakowska.
MAŁGOSIA KRAKOWSKA: For years, Armenia and Azerbaijan have remained hostile to each other over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The area – populated mostly by Armenians – has been a source of tensions between Yerevan and Baku and despite numerous attempts of both the EU and Russia, the peace talks have not lead to reconciliation between the two nations. On May 23 2017, Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry informed that the Armenian side fomented trouble when its armed forces violated the ceasefire in the Gazakh district 115 times. Meanwhile, joint Turkish-Azerbaijani drills held in May saw protests of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population. Should we be alarmed by the current fighting outbreak?
RAZI NURRULAYEV: It was the Armenian army that violated the ceasefire. I want to point out that ceasefire violations occur in the region on a daily basis, with direct casualties on both sides. Military drills might have caused some commotion but they did not intimidate Armenia to the extent that we could link them to the incidents which happened in April and May.
But we are concerned on the security front. The OSCE’s efforts to resolve the conflict were unsuccessful and Armenia itself failed to implement four UN Security Council resolutions which ordered a withdrawal of military forces from the Nagorno-Karabakh.
But there is the Bishkek Protocol ceasefire of 1994 signed by Armenia and Azerbaijan which was meant to “normalise” the situation. What keeps on dismantling the commitment to the ceasefire initiative?
The 1994 Bishkek Protocol is a Russia-brokered ceasefire. Both sides acknowledged the need to commit to a ceasefire and continue negotiations, however, until now it has not resulted in any serious resolution of the conflict.
The government of Armenia continues its aggressive policies toward Azerbaijan. For example, during his visit to the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan said that Armenia would use Iskander missiles to bomb strategic infrastructure and gas pipelines if Azerbaijani forces entered the Nagorno-Karabakh.
Flexing nuclear muscles is the manifestation of Armenia’s reassertion of military superiority. Yerevan wants to keep the status quo, which is not acceptable for us.
I must admit that there were moments when Azerbaijan and Armenia were close to peace deal but it was Russia who successfully prevented it. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has become a trump card for Russia. Russia needs this war to leverage its interest in the region.
Azerbaijan has a long-term strategy of avoiding entangling alliances with either the West or Russia. Some experts, however, see the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as one of the key pillars behind the post-Soviet reconstruction. Is the expansion of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) an example of this process?
For Armenia, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has no economic advantage. Instead, it shrank the economic potential of the country.
Given our energy resources, we are a very attractive partner for Russia. On numerous occasions, Russian president Vladimir Putin invited Azerbaijan to join the organisation, yet our government chooses to cooperate with Russia without any serious commitment to integration with its Eurasian Customs Union.
This is also the case with the EU. The enhanced cooperation with Brussels – mostly in the field of trade and transport – does not mean that we seek a deeper integration with the EU.
The EU association agreement has prompted the Ukrainian crisis. We fear that if Azerbaijan tries to establish a closer cooperation with Brussels by signing such an agreement, it could share the fate of Ukraine. Thus we must strive for neutrality in order to fortify our security.
Razi Nurrulayev is an Azerbaijani politician and chair of the Azerbaijan Popular Front party.
Małgosia Krakowska is a Polish journalist focusing on international affairs and international security issues.