Global Insider: Nagorno-Karabakh and the Minsk Group Negotiations

The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group met today in a closed meeting to discuss the current state of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In an e-mail interview, Thomas de Waal, senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explains where negotiations stand today.

WPR: What are the principle issues that still need to be resolved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

De Waal: The fundamental unresolved issue in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the same one that triggered the conflict back in Soviet times in the Gorbachev era in February 1988: the status of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh itself. The Karabakh Armenians — who have been in full control of the territory and surrounding regions since fighting ended between the two sides in 1994 — insist that Karabakh be recognized either as independent or unified with Armenia, while the Azerbaijani authorities demand that it is a de jure part of Azerbaijan and must be reaffirmed as such. The document on the table attempts to resolve this issue with creative ambiguity about postponing the issue of status, but the two sides still have polarized positions and will not move until they get greater clarity supporting their own stance.

WPR: How is that conflict impacting Turkey-Armenia normalization?

De Waal: The non-resolution of the Karabakh conflict is the principle reason why the Armenia-Turkey normalization process came to a halt in April when Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian suspended Armenian official participation in the process. Turkey was insisting on making a linkage between Armenia-Turkey normalization and the Karabakh conflict that was not in the protocols the two sides signed in October 2009. That is not because Turkey cares deeply about the Karabakh issue as such, but it does care about its relations with its Turkic ally, Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan did enough to lobby in the Turkish parliament and to threaten Turkey with higher gas prices to dissuade the Turkish government from pursuing the normalization policy. Now, unless there is progress on the Karabakh conflict, it is highly unlikely that the Armenia-Turkey process will move forward again.

WPR: Recent reports suggested progress has been made in the Minsk Group negotiations. What’s the likelihood for a breakthrough?

De Waal: Unfortunately the Minsk Group negotiations are deadlocked at the moment. This time it is the Armenian side that does not want to engage properly with the latest version of the so-called “Madrid Principles” under discussion. On previous occasions, Azerbaijan has pulled back. But there are deeper problems with the negotiations: It is far too narrow a process to get the kind of traction needed to resolve a major conflict. There is almost no Track Two process involving the two societies and few international resources are being expended to support the U.S., French and Russian mediators. Observers of the peace talks have the perception that the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents actually prefer the narrowly based desultory peace process, which preserves the status quo and produces no results, to a more dynamic process that would force them to take hard decisions and make public compromises to the enemy.

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