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A Response to Michael Kambeck’s “Crisis Group on the Karabakh Conflict”

January 9, 2014 - Fuad Chiragov - Articles and Commentary

Nagorno-Karabakh Occupation Map

Map (CC) Clevelander: commons.wikimedia.org

This article is a response to a previously published text titled Crisis Group on the Karabakh Conflict.

The article “Crisis Group on the Karabakh Conflict” by Michael Kambeck is yet another attempt to diffuse disinformation over the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Based on deliberate misinterpretation of the latest report of the Crisis Group, the author did not even abstain from the intention to present the article in a biased manner. The article from the outset reverses the insights of the report, namely labeling the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh as the “Karabakh conflict”, thus intending to allege the occupied seven regions of Azerbaijan to the disputable areas.

A barrier for negotiations?

The arguments over Azerbaijan’s willingness to hinder the negotiation process are unacceptable, with the very simple fact that the status quo cannot and will never be accepted by Azerbaijan which seeks a peaceful settlement till all leverages are exhausted. Attempts to present the current situation over Nagorno-Karabakh as a fait-accompli prove that Armenian intentions are to maintain the status quo. Thus, the mentioned argument by the author, that Azerbaijan is willing to hamper the negotiation process, is conversely true. There is also a visible contradiction in what the author of the article says. On the one hand Azerbaijan is accused of hampering the negotiation process, whereas on the other hand it is found guilty for seeking conflict resolution in cooperation with international institutions.

Therefore, one may argue that Kambeck’s true intention behind the article is to blackmail Azerbaijan and its goodwill-based activities aimed at reconciling the conflict. Furthermore, the author insists that Azerbaijan tends to ignore the Confidence Building Mechanisms (CBMs), whereas official Baku has never ignored the CBM. As to the issue of Ramil Safarov, which Mr. Kambeck refers to explain the absence of CBM’s from Azerbaijani side, his extradition to Azerbaijan was carried out in full compliance with the 1983 Strasbourg Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons of the Council of Europe to which Azerbaijan is also a party. In accordance with the provisions of this convention, a person sentenced in the territory of a party may be transferred to the territory of another party by the mutual consent of sentencing and administering States. The administering State may continue the enforcement of the sentence or convert it through a judicial or administrative procedure, into a decision of that state. The Article 12 of the convention states that “Each Party may grant pardon, amnesty or commutation of the sentence in accordance with its Constitution or other laws”. In line with the Article 109 (22) of the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, pardoning is the exclusive right of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. An emphasis here should be made on the fact that the issue over Ramil Safarov’s release has been extremely politicised by powers willing to impede the negotiation process.

Instead of groundlessly accusing Azerbaijan for not applying CBM’s, the focus should have rather been made on the unwillingness of Armenia to return “the occupied (by Armenian forces) of seven adjacent Azerbaijani districts” as an act of CBM. If the intention of Armenia is truly that benign, then why “the occupied (seven regions around Nagorno-Karabakh) territories, are increasingly referred to as the “liberated territories”.

In the article, Azerbaijan is also accused of preventing the peaceful negotiations and a special focus here is to be made on the Kazan talks. However, the first thing to be mentioned is that the author mistakenly or deliberately forgets to touch upon the myriad attempts of Armenia to prevent and even hamper the negotiation process, several times even at the very last point of the signing agreement. That was the case, for instance, in September 1997, when the Minsk Group mediators presented a modified “step-by-step” version of the plan, in which security issues for Nagorno-Karabakh were included in the first phase. It was stated that following Armenian withdrawal from the occupied territories and the demilitarisation of Karabakh, the parties would agree to continue to negotiate in order “to speedily attain an all-encompassing regulation of all other aspects of the conflict, including the political aspect, which includes defining the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and resolving the problem of Lachin, Shusha and Shaumian.” Secondly, without the official endorsement on the side the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan the roadmap of the settlement process cannot be considered as accepted.

Who is taking part in an arms race?

Nevertheless the arms race issue raised by the author is the best example to illustrate his biased approach. The author misuses the information given in the report in order to present Azerbaijan in black colours. According to Kambeck, the report of ICG suggests that the war scenarios are much more dominant in the Azerbaijani public than in Armenia. However, in reality the situation is much different. First of all Azerbaijan is the party in the conflict which has no intention of getting into war. The only aim it pursues is to return the occupied territories back.

Secondly, regarding rhetoric, Armenian officials now openly discuss the need for “preventive strikes”. Armenian officials say their recent weapons procurement is more than enough to repel an attack. “Over the past three years, we have acquired as many weapons as we did in the previous twenty”, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan said during a September 2013 visit to a unit in Nagorno-Karabakh (page 6). Moreover, the ICG report even stresses the possible resort to terrorist attacks which the authors of the report kindly call “acts of sabotage”. According to ICG report, Armenian officials call for sabotage of Azerbaijani oil and gas pipelines as well as strikes on densely populated Baku. That is nothing short of a call for terrorist attacks. “Some strategists argue that it might be better to fight sooner rather than later, when Azerbaijan’s forces will assumedly be better equipped and trained. As part of this option, Armenian officials and some of their counterparts mention sabotage of infrastructure, including Azerbaijani oil and natural gas pipelines, and strikes on densely populated Baku”.

The author of the article holds that Azerbaijan is in arms race. Two crucial points are necessary to be mentioned here. The ICG report says that Azerbaijan bought submarines and naval vessels this year. Those machines, however cannot attack Armenia neither theoretically nor physically. The analyst, however, uses this information to back-up his imaginary theory. The above-mentioned argument is rather another set of proof that Azerbaijan stands to boost it defence capabilities rather than prepare for war. Thus, it can hardly be argued that a state, the territories of which have been occupied and remain under the occupation does not possess a right to make investments into its military industry in order to guarantee its security.

The author further suggests that Armenia has no incentives to go to war. Then what does it mean when President Serzh Sargsyan promises “to deliver a devastating and final blow if Azerbaijan attacked?” And why did the author forget to mention the 25 per cent increase in last year’s military budget in Armenia. If Armenia does not enhance its military capabilities, then who is Azerbaijan in an “arms race” with (if any)? The author overlooked, by chance, the direct quote from the report where Armenian officials say their recent weapons procurement is more than enough to repel an attack. While blaming Azerbaijan for being in an arms race, the author also should look at the journal of Military Balance’s 2013 report on military spending. According to this well-known journal, in 2012 Armenia was among the top 15 countries of the world regarding defence and security budget in GDP.

Nagorno-Karabakh as the leverage to distract from internal problems?

The author is deeply distorting the realities by claiming that the government of Azerbaijan misuses Nagorno-Karabakh in order to distract the population from internal problems. In reality the picture is absolutely different, even if the oil finishes in Azerbaijan or if it faces an economic crisis, without Karabakh there is no Azerbaijan and its intractability will never ever be forgotten. Thus, Nagorno-Karabakh is not used as a leverage to distract from internal problems, simply because the conflict cannot be separated from the daily life of Azerbaijanis. Every year internally displaced persons along with the rest of the population of Azerbaijan commemorate another year of occupation of their motherland. To reason the necessity in Nagorno-Karabakh as the cause to distract them from the internal problems is at least a great disrespect towards them.

Regarding the launch of the airport in Khankendi, the author misleadingly interprets the ICG reports. The International Civic Aviation Organisation (ICAO) considers the attempts aimed at putting the Khojaly airport into operation an open violation of international law. The delegation headed by the director of the State Civil Aviation Administration of Azerbaijan, Fuad Guliyev, has attended the Sixth Worldwide Air Transport Conference of the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal, Canada, the administration reported. At the conference, members of the Azerbaijani delegation held a meeting with the ICAO Secretary General Raymond Benjamin. The sides discussed prospects of cooperation and issues related to improving the safety of air travel.

Benjamin emphasized the ICAO’s position on the inadmissibility of the use of Khojaly airport located in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. The ICAO Secretary General said that he supported all the resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council in connection with the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. He also stressed that attempts made to unilaterally put the Khojaly airport into operation without permission of the Azerbaijani side and perform certification can cause great damage to the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He added that these attempts are evaluated as a violation of the Chicago Convention on Civil Aviation as well as international legal norms.

Armenian media had reported on the intended commissioning of the airport in Khojaly in the near future. The commissioning of the airport is an open violation of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (adopted on December 7, 1944 in Chicago), the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry reported. Azerbaijan will strengthen the legal level use of the application of the Chicago convention. Azerbaijan banned the use of the airspace over Nagorno-Karabakh occupied by Armenia, as no one can guarantee safe flights in the area. According to Azerbaijani Civil Aviation Administration, Armenia’s steps towards the operation of the airport are attempts to violate international aviation law. This air space belongs to Azerbaijan, so its use by Armenia is illegal.

Azerbaijan-EU relations, the truth behind the scenes

The author’s vision of Azerbaijan-EU relations are also worth attention. Azerbaijan says that Azerbaijan demands some concessions on Nagorno-Karabakh. Moreover the author claims that Azerbaijan should obey the conditions for which it is responsible. It is worth mentioning that Azerbaijan has been in partnership with the EU for many years and it has observed all the conditions of the EU so far. The EU however had no significant stance on the reconciliation process, therefore all the arguments regarding the demands of official Baku to claim concessions on Nagorno-Karabakh in return of the signature over an Association Agreement is based on conspiracy and can’t be taken seriously.

Regarding outdated proposals that Kambeck mentions such as including Armenia into the energy projects between Azerbaijan and EU, one should bear in mind that Azerbaijan, at a very high-level, declared its readiness to incorporate Armenia into those plans. However, Armenia in its turn must leave the occupied territories otherwise a partnership is not only physically impossible but also theoretically hard to imagine. Moreover, the author suggests that the EU take a part in the Minsk Group’s proposed investigation mechanism for shooting incidents and even deploy observers. Hence, he forgot that the EU does not take part in the negotiation process, not even a request on participation has been made to the conflict parties. Only after the request’s approval by both parties there is a probability to take part in the reconciliation process, whatever measures they would be.

To sum up, after reading the article one come to the conclusion that the International Crisis Group puts all the blame of the continuation of the conflict on Azerbaijan’s shoulders. But in fact the report reveals many more illegal activities intended at exacerbating the current status-quo by the Armenian side that is presented in the following article.

Fuad Chiragov is a Leading Adviser and expert at the Centre for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

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