When asked, whether there will be any progress in the Karabakh talks in 2017, I immediately recall my cousin, who is an unrivaled football forecast master: ‘Neftçi’ will either win or lose, or at least will tie the score. I should admit that being a poor forecaster, I have had an imprudence to assume that after the April escalation of tension on the frontline, the Karabakh talks might get off the ground. And I brought such a ridiculous argument, as: ‘Lavrov has put his reputation at stake.’ Well, at least we now know the value of Lavrov’s reputation.
Apart from failure of the notorious ‘Lavrov’s plan on Karabakh’, the year 2016 also made some important adjustments to the status quo of the conflicting parties. The following two of them were of particular importance:
1. A myth about ‘NKR army’ being the strongest army in the South Caucasus, was dispelled. The four-day hostilities in April proved that it’s not that difficult to break even the most deep-layered defensive line. More casualties were reported and that was a rather serious signal to the Armenian side.
2. Conflict’s hot spot geography spilled over Azerbaijan’s state border with Armenia too. On December 30, a clash was reported on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, in the vicinity of Chinarly settlement, Tavush province. The parties accused each other of provocations. Finally, the Armenian side admitted that it had lost 3 military men, and the Azerbaijani side – 1 serviceman, whose body the Armenian side still refuses to hand over to Azerbaijan. Earlier, the border clashes also took place from time to time, but there had never been any incident similar to that in December before.
3. And the third point that could be conventionally added to the aforesaid: both parties apparently got tired of talks. Neither the expected Presidents’ meeting, nor even the Foreign Ministers’ meeting on the sidelines of the OSCE Summit in Hamburg at the end of 2016, were held.
Before starting a discourse on whether some serious progress should be expected in 2017 or not, let’s first think of seemingly simple question: who and why needs resolution of the Karabakh problem? And whether it is needed at all?
Although I realize that it’s impossible to apply the mathematical modelling methods in politics, but since I have a tech background, I would like to draw a certain ‘matrix’ to have better insight into complexity of the problem and the ways to solve it. It will be a two-dimensional ‘matrix’, where rows are the parties who have a stake (or don’t have a stake) in conflict and its resolution based on the ‘Madrid Principles’. Columns – possible dividends or losses, ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ for each stakeholder.
Here’s, in my opinion, the shortest list of those who have a stake in conflict and its resolution:
Azerbaijani authorities; Armenian authorities and their dependent Nagorno-Karabakh officials; Azerbaijani community; Armenian community; Russia; USA; the European Union; Turkey; Iran.
Let’s try to estimate each party’s stake. The order of rows is certainly conventional, not depending on their importance. And mind that the matter concerns the agreement under the terms and conditions of the updated Madrid Principles, i.e., the worst-case scenarios (deportation of the Karabakh Armenians or recognition of the independence of NKR) won’t be considered here.
- a chance to go down in history as a liberator and a winner, and, possibly, be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize;
- access to the resources of the currently occupied areas around NKR, be it the natural, economic or administrative resources (so many new positions and opportunities);
- raising the blockade of the Nakhichevan AR, opening of railway and, possibly, a highway through Zangezur.
- an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (this time not a would-be one), with a referendum on determining the final status, which is almost equal to NKR’s breakaway), hanging over like a sword of Damocles;
- ‘a pain in the neck’ throughout the NKR’s interim status. Guarantees that all rights of the Karabakh Armenians will be respected;
- foreign troops’ access to its territory under the guise of peacekeepers.
Stake: below average.
Armenian authorities and their dependent Nagorno-Karabakh officials
- NKR status followed by a referendum, de-facto that very ‘miatsum’ [union (Arm.) – Ed.] due to which it all had started.
- an overland corridor linking NKR with Armenia;
- launch of the railway through Nakhichevan, railway communication with Russia;
- possible involvement in transit projects, as an alternative to Georgia;
- opening of land borders with Turkey, development of economic ties;
- cutdown in expenses for maintenance of abandoned occupied areas and the troops deployed around it;
- that same peacekeepers’ lap and possibly the Nobel Peace Prize.
- an inevitable label of ‘traitor of national interests’ and a drop in rating, as in 1997;
- loss of strategic positions around the NKR; after all politics tends to be changable, the guarantee may not work, like those of the allies shortly before the WWII;
- a demographic factor. The NKR’s ethnic composition will surely change after the IDPs’ return.
Stake: above average.
- refugees and IDPs will be entitled to return home, with relevant guarantees and compensation;
- new job opportunities as part of the occupied territory rehabilitation projects;
- the rise in patriotic sentiments, group sightseeing tours to Karabakh, selfies against the background of Shusha castle, ect.
- it will be more convenient to travel to Nakhichevan;
- partial relief of the overpopulated Apsheron peninsula.
- inevitable violations in course of resettlement of IDPs and refugees;
- loss of established ties, work, lifestyle, inevitable stress;
- psychological problems with the yester neighbors, who are already perceived as enemies.
Stake: still above average.
- refugees and IDPs will be entitled to return home, with relevant guarantees and compensation (it particularly concerns Baku Armenians, who will have an opportunity to live in one of the largest cities of the Caucasus, while the majority of Azerbaijanis mostly lived in Armenia’s rural areas);
- economic benefits from opening the borders and resumption of transport and energy communications with Turkey and Azerbaijan;
- improvement of country’s welfare as a result of economic growth following Armenia’s involvement in the energy and transit projects.
All the above-listed disadvantages for the Azerbaijani community are relevant to the Armenian community as well.
Stake: above average.
Needless to include in the ‘pros’ section for both communities the fact that after signing the agreement people will no longer die, and the residents of frontline villages will work without a daily fear of being shelled. It goes without saying.
- a chance to deploy its troops (under the disguise of peacekeepers) and secure their presence, as in the case of Georgia’s conflict regions;
- securing the regional leader’s role and dragging Azerbaijan into the Eurasian projects;
- resumption of direct railway communication with its CSTO/CU ally, Armenia, bypassing unfriendly Georgia;
- strengthening control over the Middle East region.
- weakening of the leverage of pressure upon the governments of conflicting states.
- relaxation of the overall tension in the region, reduction of risks related to the alternative energy projects;
- setting a precedent for conflict resolution in the post-soviet space, with possible application of this precedent to other conflict regions (certainly with its active involvement)
- weakening of Russia’s influence in the region through manipulation with hot conflict.
- Western countries will probably have to cover basic expenses related to implementation of the area rehabilitation projects and maintenance of the peacekeeping forces;
- Possible loss of Azerbaijan, which has become disenchanted with the West and is more often looking North-ward.
Stake: below average.
- opening of borders with Armenia is within the scope of Turkey’s interests. At least, it’s a new market and the opportunities for the residents of border regions and the citizens of Turkey- ethnic Armenians.
- a cost-effective and shorter way of overland communication with Azerbaijan (through Sadarak and Zangezur).
No obvious disadvantages.
Stake: above average.
Iran has stepped back from participation in the Karabakh conflict resolution process after a one-off peacekeeping attempt in 1992. However, an obvious disadvantage for it will probably be a transfer of the occupied section of the border along the Araz River under Azerbaijan’s control. This section is currently beyond any customs control and represents a certain ‘treasure trove’ for a shady business.
In conclusion, I would like to note that the above scheme is very simplified and all my computations are of a judgmental nature. The readers may certainly disagree with some of the ‘matrix’ elements, offer their own options. I will gladly respond to any remarks and I’m ready for discussion in comments.