Op-ed: Azerbaijan has a plan if OSCE Minsk Group returns to the issue of the status of Armenians in Karabakh
Former head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, Tofig Zulfugarov, commented on the options for a diplomatic solution to the issues facing Azerbaijan and Armenia in the post-conflict period. In his opinion, the return of the OSCE Minsk Group to the negotiating table does not bode well for official Baku, and Azerbaijan has a plan B.
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The diplomatic period of the conflict
Tofig Zulfugarov, who took an active part in many negotiations on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, notes that each conflict, including the Armenian-Azerbaijani one, has a military and political period.
“After the war in the fall of 2020, diplomatic activity increased. But the question remains open, in what format this activity will be centralized and which parties will become participants in the negotiation process”, he said.
“Let’s immediately highlight two topics: the framework for the conflict and the format of cooperation in the region in the post-conflict period. The second topic is different from the first, and it does not directly relate to the conflict itself. As for the format of the conflict itself, they are currently looking for it”, Zulfugarov added.
Tofig Zulfugarov served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan in 1998-1999. He also worked as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Azerbaijan to Latvia (2005-2010) and Estonia (2007-2015).
“Not long before the war, during the war itself and after it, the tandem of Russia and Turkey was the main political and diplomatic format. In this format, political moves were made, negotiations were organized. But this format has an obvious weak point. What is it?
In this tandem, Russia has the opportunity to communicate with both Azerbaijan and Armenia, organize meetings and negotiations. But Turkey does not have such opportunities, because Armenia does not accept it. The balance is upset here, and if we give preference to the Russian-Turkish tandem, we will see that this format is unsatisfactory for the political and diplomatic phase.
Mediation of Georgia
Currently, another format is called: the mediation of Georgia. It should be noted that this is not a mediation in a traditional way but only an offering of goodwill services.
In other words, Georgia does not act as a mediator – it does not prepare political documents, etc. He can simply organize some kind of meetings, create a communication between the parties.
But we have already seen diplomatic moves from Georgia in the previous period. For example, this neighboring country for the first time organized the exchange of saboteurs on its territory [Armenia refers to them as prisoners of war – JAMnews] for maps of mined territories.
Return of the OSCE Minsk Group
Another format is the OSCE Minsk Group, which has returned to the agenda. The attitude of the Azerbaijani society towards this group is well known.
They have been doing practically useless work for almost 30 years, and naturally, the attitude towards them is not positive. Frankly speaking, the Minsk Group in Azerbaijan has long become an object of jokes.
But as Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly stated, the status quo has changed.
Madrid principles from the point of view of today’s realities
If you look at the “Madrid principles” of the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, here two sub-themes were at the fore.
The first of them is the liberation of the occupied territories. According to those principles, first 5 regions were to be liberated, and only then it was necessary to discuss in parallel the liberation of the other two regions and the issue of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.
If the parties went this way, the Armenians would agree to this, the resolution of these issues would be delayed.
If we take into account the territories in which Azerbaijanis lived before the conflict began, 97% of these lands have been liberated, and from a political point of view, forced refugees from those territories can return there.
The second sub-theme in the “Madrid principles” was the question of status. This question also found its solution. According to President Ilham Aliyev, Armenians in Karabakh will receive the highest status that is possible in Azerbaijan – the status of a citizen of this country.
The third sub-theme in the “Madrid principles” was the resumption of communications, but the question was in a generalized form. Currently, this issue remains relevant. in other words, two questions have been resolved, one is still open.
New challenges for the OSCE Minsk Group
Now other tasks are on the agenda. For example, the question of the border. The “Madrid principles” do not say anything about this. Another topic is the issue of corridors and restoration of communications.
The issues of corridors and communications must be separated from each other. Because in order to resolve the issue of opening communications, it is necessary to comply with general safety requirements. The situation along the corridors is a little different. These issues were not reflected in the proposals of the OSCE Minsk Group in due time.
In December last year, Azerbaijan already gave its answer to the OSCE Minsk Group. During the meeting with the co-chairs, Ilham Aliyev stated that the status quo has changed and they should come with new, relevant proposals. Only after that will Azerbaijan evaluate these proposals and express its attitude towards them.
For example, a large return of internally displaced persons to the liberated territories is expected in Azerbaijan. In 1994, we had 857,000 internal migrants – forced migrants from the conflict zone within the borders of Azerbaijan. According to the rules of demography, their number has naturally changed. It is a lot of work to bring such a huge number of people back to the destroyed territories. In this work, the OSCE Minsk Group can help Azerbaijan by organizing humanitarian aid. Let’s say they can organize a donor conference.
At the same time, the OSCE Minsk Group can take part in the issues of borders and corridors. Sometimes the Armenian side states that the statement of November 10, 2020 does not say anything about the corridors. But the concept of a corridor is that extraterritorial conditions must be created there.
If we take the Lachin corridor, it is already operational and peacekeepers guarantee security there. As for Meghri, the security guarantee here rests on the shoulders of the Russian border troops. And there it is supposed to create extraterritorial conditions.
Plan B from Azerbaijan
`From this perspective, the return to the negotiating table of the OSCE Minsk Group is beneficial for Azerbaijan. Because here all decisions are made on the basis of consensus. From this point of view, we are in an absolutely secure position. If suddenly in the future some offer turns out to be unprofitable for us, they will not be accepted.
As for the erroneous move of the OSCE Minsk Group regarding the return to the status issue, Azerbaijan responded to this as well. If they want to return the issue of the status of Armenians in Karabakh to the negotiating table, our country has a plan B. In response, the Azerbaijani side can say that if the Armenians of Karabakh are granted status, then it is necessary to discuss the issue of the status of Azerbaijanis who have become refugees from Armenia and return to their native lands.
Therefore, thinking several moves ahead, Azerbaijan’s positions are very strong. This is facilitated by both the logic of things and international law.
Personally, I do not believe that the OSCE Minsk Group will be useful for the process, but I can say with confidence that it will not harm us. Because she does not have such an opportunity”, Tofig Zulfugarov said in his speech on the Public Television of Azerbaijan.