I just read an interesting interview
that Hetq Online conducted with Karabagh war veteran and founder of an organization called the Miatsum Initiative, Alek Yenikomshian. Although I have never spoken with this man I first saw him (and subsequently learned about his background) at the wedding of a friend and fellow blogger a few years ago in Stepanakert. He holds the same opinion as perhaps all Karabagh war veterans do--namely that the return of Armenian controlled lands should not be considered in a peace deal. Here's some snipets of what he had to say:
The present territories must remain because those same territories insure our security. Otherwise, the borders of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, in terms of insuring defensibility, have much to be desired in any number of ways.
Let me restate... that there can be no talk of land or territory concessions. There were those 14 years, before the truce of 1994, on the Armenian side who were talking about minimal demands in the context of mutual concessions and for them the border line was the self-government of the region; namely the demand that Azerbaijan accept the right of the people of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region to self-determination. And Azerbaijan didn’t accept this. Azerbaijan didn’t even accept this minimal demand when simultaneously the weak Armenian side was ready to give back almost all the territories. But if Azerbaijan hasn’t accepted this minimal demand for 14 years, there is no such mutual concession that is possible to realize. This is a fact. Azerbaijan has shown that it will not accept the minimal demand. If Azerbaijan is confident that it can regain those lands by military means from the hands of the Armenian forces it wouldn’t hesitate doing so for a moment. Thus, if we signed an agreement or not, with or without mutual concessions, Azerbaijan will take that step and will not accept the minimal demand of the Armenian side. Thus, there’s a bit too much importance being given to the concept of mutual concessions. There is no such mutual concession that Azerbaijan will accept and we will not enter into obligations regarding the territories. It is possible to think along other lines.
Sadly, the official Armenian side has always been ready to go the way of concessions, with the condition that the self-determination of the people of MK (Mountainous Karabakh) be recognized. But aren’t we aware that after the lands are returned Armenians now residing there will leave especially since they won’t feel protected. The same can happen in Zangezour and Syunik and down the line. Any weakness on our part will just lead to larger loses, both territorially and in issues of existence.
I have always been of the opinion that some territories should be returned in exchange for Karabagh's unification with Armenia proper. Personally, I believe that the regions of Kelbajar and Berdzor (Lachin) should be non-negotiable. It would be absurd to return these lands since they basically form a common land corridor between Armenia and Karabagh, not to mention the fact that there is overwhelming physical evidence of a historical Armenian presence there. Those regions should thus ideally and logically, considering that the Armenian side has controlled them for over 14 years, be incorporated into an Armenian state with newly redefined borders, therefore expanding Armenia's land coverage.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize how flawed the peace process is and has been up till now. There currently isn't any discussion of immediately unifying Karabagh with Armenia once a deal is signed, and as far as I am aware--although it is anyone's true guess since there is so little information about what is really on the table according to the "Madrid principles"--most if not all the territories under Armenian control are to be returned. Furthermore, Karabagh's leadership has always been shut out from peace talks. Whereas before I believed it made sense for the Armenian side to compromise considering it clearly held the upper hand and still does, I tend to think now that indeed no land should be returned at all. In some of those territories, Kelbajar for instance, Azerbaijanis simply ran away and the military retreated. Those actions signalled a total surrender of the region to the Armenian side. It has always been obvious to Armenians since 1988 that Karabagh's autonomy (turned independence) could not be compromised. So why is the Armenian side once again for the umpteen time willing to make territorial concessions in return for a vaguely defined, supposedly internationally recognized status for Karabagh, based on a referendum that would be held by the people there at some point in the future to determine that status?
Some will argue and have been all along that an official end to the war will ensure Armenia's long-term prosperity with a supposed final resolution for regional peace and kumbaya politics. Oh really? A three-room apartment in downtown Yerevan can fetch a minimum of $230,000, depending on the location (I've heard there are apartments selling for close to a half-million dollars if not more on the Northern Boulevard). There are expensive clothing boutiques opening all over the place, and the number of motor vehicles on the roads, especially brand new models, is ever increasing. People are looking better and feeling better on the whole (in the capital at least). What lack of prosperity are we talking about? The economies of both Armenia and Azerbaijan have been booming these last 14 years for different reasons, and naturally the latter is doing astoundingly better because of its oil profits. But the point I am making is that Armenia's economic viability isn't necessarily dependant on the return of all the territories it controlls and the "selling out" of Karabagh. Up until now the growth of Armenia's economy has mostly been dependent on foreign investment, construction and cash remittances. The need for peace has never been a factor in growing prosperity because clearly other factors have been at play--a short walk through the city will make this obvious to anyone. Now Armenia's economic fate is in jeopardy because of the looming global crisis, and there isn't a nation in the world that hasn't already begun to panic. But if an economic downturn should, God forbid, strike Armenia, it will not be because a lopsided peace deal hadn't been signed. Let's not forget that the brief war Georgia waged with Russia in August didn't help Armenia's situation one bit at the time, and the tension between those two counties hasn't really subsided. Clearly, regional peace is far from being close, I don't care how optimistic the OSCE's Minsk Group is. It seems that unfortunately there will always be one conflict or another in the Caucasus. And no one can say that hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia would not resume assuming that a peace deal was eventually signed.
I have been guessing lately that the Armenian side has been continually calling Azerbaijan's bluff, since it has always been the Azerbaijani leadership that has walked away from a final deal when under pressure by die-hard nationalist forces. President Aliev has repeatedly made public statements that Azerbaijan would never let go of Karabagh. "Karabakh will never be independent,” he said during his inauguration speech
having been reelected in October. “Azerbaijan will never recognize it. Neither in five, nor in ten, twenty years. Never.” Meanwhile, the Armenian side will not agree to or even consider an autonomous status for Karabagh under Azerbaijani control. So what are we talking about?
Labels: Nagorno-Karabagh, Politics