Russia and Minsk Group: conflict mediators are everywhere simultaneously
Review of developments in the conflict zone from 7 April to 13:00 on 9 April
Reports from Yerevan
News updates from verified sources
Yesterday Armenian and Azerbaijani search parties spent five hours looking for the bodies of soldiers killed as a result of shelling along the contact line on 2 April. The task was carried out through the mediation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the field assistants of the personal representative of the OSCE Minsk Group Chairperson-in-Office, Andrzej Kasprzyk.
The NKR Defence Ministry press service reported that there had been no violations of the ceasefire during the search operations. Two bodies of NKR Defence Army soldiers were found by the Armenian party.
On the same day, 8 April, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs were working in Yerevan. Armenian Defence Minister Seyran Ohanyan told the media after the meeting with the Minsk Group Co-chairs that he considers it necessary to sign a legally binding agreement in order to observe the ceasefire.
According to the Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Ministry press service, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs met on 7 April with the commander of the NKR Defence Army Levon Mnatsakanyan who presented evidence of Azerbaijan’s military aggression and atrocities committed against civilians.
Nagorno-Karabakh President, Bako Sahakyan, also met with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs. According to his report, Azerbaijan’s aggression had posed a serious threat to the stability and peace in the Southern Caucasus and neighboring regions. In this regard, he expects the OSCE Minsk Group to give strict, targeted assessments on Azerbaijan’s destructive policy.
No statements were made to the press following the meetings in Stepanakert. The Minsk-Group Co-chairs were expected to make a joint statement following the talks in Yerevan, scheduled for 9 April.
However, as the Armenian mass media reported in reference to Sahakyan, the Co-chairs were presented with a list of demands, including the main key point that Nagorno-Karabakh shall be recognized as a party in the conflict and shall participate in talks.
“At the Budapest summit in 1994, Artsakh was declared a party in the conflict and no one has gone back on that decision. Our desire to get back to the negotiation table is not based on mistrust towards Armenia which would represent Artsakh’s interests, but rather by the fact that there is not a single world conflict that could be resolved without the participation of the main party involved.”
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Yerevan on 7 April. At the news conference following the meeting with his Armenian counterpart, he stated: “As it had done before, Russia is ready to play a mediatory role as part of the Minsk Group and to use its influence. The most important thing is to not let the conflict escalate into a ‘hot phase’. Russia has always been and still remains a reliable partner and friend to Armenia.”
However, Medvedev has had to listen to Armenian President’s hard-hitting statements:
“I am sure you know that the fact that Azerbaijan is actively using all the arms that it has recently procured from Russia has led to it becoming a high profile case in Armenia … and Russia is considered the closest ally to Armenia at the national level!”
Serzh Sargsyan also stated that Armenia did not rule out the possibility of future provocations on the contact line. “We don’t have high hopes. We expect the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs and our allies to make purposeful statements and take action … The second attempt will lead to wide-scale operations.”
Armenia’s print media has reprinted a letter of the French National Assembly and Senate officials, addressing the OSCE with the demand to bring Nagorno-Karabakh back to the negotiation process. The letter was published in the French news portal Le Monde.
The authors of the letter suggest recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh in order to avoid similar developments in the future.
The Armenian media reported that the Russian and French Foreign Ministers agreed to unite their efforts in the resolution of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
On Social Media
Trend one: Do not rely on Russia and CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) allies
“In 1921, Russia split Armenia and Turkey up (Moscow Treaty). In light of this fact, who can expect Russia to guarantee security for Armenia?”
“On the night of 7 April during the officially announced ceasefire, Azerbaijan shelled Vardenis, located on the territory of Armenia (not Karabakh!). The question is: What obscenity would best suit the CSTO?”
“I wouldn’t say that there are anti-Russian attitudes in Armenia. However, people gradually realize that Russia cares exclusively about interests, whereas Armenia could wait.”
Trend two: Developments in Karabakh – the result of growing animosity between Russia and Turkey
“Today, as never before, Karabakh has become a playing card in the hands of Russia and Turkey. Just see how the demands are put–there will be no reconciliation until Turkey offers an apology to Russia for the aircraft it shot down. And now, instead of the scheduled Putin-Sargsyan-Aliyev meeting, Russia is negotiating separately with both countries with the help of the RF Defence Minister with each of the country’s capitals. The situation is such that the parties do not need the 14th Russian-Turkish war right now, but they don’t want to openly admit to it and put out the flame in Karabakh either. At this stage, it is highly likely that Russia’s and Turkey’s armies will inevitably come into conflict, should the local war becomes more wide-scale.”
Trend three: Russian-Turkish conflict may escalate into a bigger war
“If the Armenia-Azerbaijan confrontation continues, there may be a conflict between Russia (Armenia’s ally) and Turkey (Azerbaijan’s ally), in other words between Russia-CSTO and Turkey-NATO. This is regardless of what the consequences may be.”
Trend four: Jokes about the OSCE Minsk Group’s passivity
“They cut off the power in the office last night. I went out and saw electricians working there. I asked them: ‘What’s going on, can’t you warn us before you turn off the power? Can’t you see that we’re working here?’ They started raising their voices and so did I. Then, all of a sudden, the Minsk Group appeared and said that it was deeply concerned over the unprecedented increase in tension between us and that it calls for a rational assessment of the situation.”
Trend five: The country has no choice – The West or Russia
“Our vision of the future is limited to our survival; we have no answer to the question: Where do we see ourselves in 10 years? While we will be dependent on Russia, it will continuously betray us.”
“The security issue with the USA can be settled as well. No one can deny that Russia is trying to hamper that. I don’t admire Moscow, but we must not lose our decency. The USA is not going to help us. There is the Turkey factor as well.
Armenian MP Edmon Marukyan commented the following during a round table discussion on the Karabakh Escalation: Conclusions and Future Actions:
“I don’t know of any country selling weapons to the enemy of its strategic partner, and for offensive purposes at that. I’ve submitted a written proposal to my Russian and Israeli colleagues: the weapons that have been supplied up to this point have already been paid for. However, from today onwards … it is necessary to stop the supplying and maintenance of weapons.”
“Today’s truce, if it can be called a truce, has been reached by the armed forces. Let no one try to pass it off as Moscow’s achievement.”
The Armenian media reprinted the statement made by Armenia’s first President, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, in November 1997: “One should not engage in self-deception nor cherish unrealistic hopes; when it comes to Karabakh’s independence, we do not have any allies. No one will solve this problem for us. We should solve it and we should do it to the best of our ability.”
Alexander Iskandaryan, Director of the Caucasus Institute, told JAMnews:
“Our main tasks at the moment are to stop violence, bloodshed, keep the two sides from reinitiating conflict and resume some kind of negotiation process.
“Russia has more opportunities to achieve this at the moment. The parties involved are working together, giving each other carte blanche. Of course, France and the United States are also working on this, but, it seems that Russia is more seriously engaged in this matter, particularly, if one bring in Sergey Lavrov’s trip to mind.
“All three sides have the same interests, since no one needs a legitimate and serious war on their hands. We are located a few hundred kilometres from ISIS and Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as from the Northern Caucasus. Plus, there is the Ukrainian conflict with all of its problems.
“At this stage the priority is not resolving the conflict, but rather stopping it. It is hard to seriously influence both Armenia and Azerbaijan. There are no real tools for that. And, in principle, it’s not Armenia, but rather Azerbaijan, that we need to exert pressure on because it initiated the recent escalation.
“There are revanchist sentiments in Azerbaijan; it lost the war. In this light, the problem falls on Azerbaijan’s shoulders – if it had not fired, Armenia would not have fired either.
“Expansion of the OSCE Minsk Group’s mandate cannot help solve the problem either. The Co-chairs cannot resolve the conflict without the parties involved. The matter is how to help the parties resolve the conflict. I can barely imagine any serious progress that could be done in this regard.”
Karintak village, Karabakh, April 2016. Photo by Gevorg Kazaryan
Reports from Baku
News updates from verified sources
At 3 pm on 8 April 2016, Baku time, an agreement was reached to reinstate the ceasefire agreement on the contact line, reported Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defence. A plan was made to remove the bodies of servicemen who were killed on both sides of the battlefield from then up until 8 pm.
However, the APA news agency reported that morning that the Armenian side violated the ceasefire 120 times, having shelled the Azerbaijani posts in many areas.
A personal meeting between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was held in Baku on 8 April.
Following the meeting, Aliyev and Medvedev each made a statement for the press. Medvedev pointed out that he was concerned about the situation in Karabakh and would do everything possible to resolve the conflict through negotiation.
He stated that Russia would continue to supply weapons to Azerbaijan as per its contracts that were already in place, reported ANN.az.
“Armenia is unfairly blaming Azerbaijan for escalating the conflict,” said Ilham Aliyev. “We are just defending our land and its civilians. Azerbaijan is interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict and we will continue negotiations.”
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Eduard Nalbandyan and Elmar Mammadyarov, participated in the CIS Foreign Ministers’ Council meeting. A meeting between them was not scheduled. The ministers shook hands with each other, though, as an Azerbaijani media outlet emphasized.
On 8 April Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with the Russian Security Council. RF Presidential spokesperson Vladimir Peskov reported that the efforts made by the Russian side to resolve the conflict were discussed at the meeting:
“Armenia is the one who occupied the territories and used force against Azerbaijan disregarding international law and the UN Charter. Armenian Armed Forces are illegally staying on the occupied territories,” said Hikmet Hajiyev, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry Spokesman, in response to statements made by the Armenian MFA that Karabakh would participate in the negotiation process as the third party. On 5 April a ceasefire agreement was reached between the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan and Armenia – the parties in the conflict.
“Armenia has been and will be represented at the negotiations as an occupant state. There are Armenian and Azerbaijani communities in Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku has been in support of initiating contact between the two communities.”
The Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made a statement that Azerbaijan received with enthusiasm: “Ankara perceives any threat against Azerbaijan as a personal one. Regrettably, despite the fact that Turkey is a member of the OSCE Minsk Group, other Co-chairs, such as Russia, oppose Ankara’s participation in the settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
In the video footage the military explained that, as a result of the occupation in Talish, the village of Tapgargoyunlu would no longer be subjected to shelling.
Baku, 6 April 2016
Review of social media
Trend one: Putin, go away
“No Russian ‘peacekeepers’ in Karabakh. Get out from South Caucasus, Mr Putin!”
“It is high time to wake up and realize what Russia is.”
“Russia will never go against Armenia! It will continue its game, trying to keep all frozen conflicts on a short leash – the most effective way of putting pressure on and manipulating other countries.”
“The war is, in fact, in progress on Azerbaijani territory and Russia has no legal grounds for intervention.”
Trend two: I will teach you how to love the homeland
Many users have diverted their attention from the conflict itself and got back into their normal routines, discussing who is a patriot and who is not:
“The winds in Baku do not allow us to have plants on all our balconies – at our place, for example, they were swept away at the very first strong gust of wind. But we have an even more beautiful decoration for our balcony – our flag. No need to wait for 28 May (the day of Independence of Azerbaijan) to hang the flag – all of us can do it right now. My old flag faded and so I’ve bought a new, bright and huge flag and have hung it from my balcony.”
“Who do you work for? I’ve got a feeling that on such important days for the country, a true son of Azerbaijan will never write what you have written.”
Trend three: Enough blood
“Well, that’s easy for you to say. My son is a serviceman, and an opportunity to get something through peaceful negotiations is like manna from heaven for me (to say nothing of my wife).”
“Why are you roaring as if you are at a football match? You really think that it’s a football match or chess? It’s not you who is being shot at.”
Trend four: Government is cynically using us
“Why doesn’t our rich homeland send a professional army of mercenaries to the front? Is the country that poor that it could not afford it? Why should the top officials do it if there is cannon fodder, and they could better appropriate the money for their personal needs? It’s a pity that people have been brainwashed so much that they can no longer think straight.”
“If the fortieth day of the soldiers’ deaths happens to fall on the Flower Festival, will they celebrate it or not? Take a guess.”
Trend four: Nothing finished yet
“Here’s the answer: ‘Nagorno-Karabakh puts forward an ultimatum for negotiations with Baku.’ So, we will go on fighting.”
“Armenians have missed their moment. We had previously offered Armenians alternatives in Kosovo-Shmosovo, but they were all blatantly rejected. Whereas now, from 2 April onwards, Azerbaijanis have believed in their strength and will cling to the land as never before, fight for their roots, will tear the enemy into pieces for each inch of land.”
Inscription on a bus screen: ‘All roads lead to Karabakh!’
Eldar Zeynalov, Director of Azerbaijan’s Human Rights Centre:
“I will start with the point that the elementary rule of conducting talks is the neutrality of mediators. None of the Minsk Group Co-Chair countries can boast that. As far as the Minsk Group is concerned, a mistake was made right at the beginning when selecting mediators. No breakthrough could be achieved in the talks without changing the Minsk Group format and 22 years of experience proves that.
“In 1996 and 2001, the UN and the Council of Europe, respectively, gave up on their own initiatives on Karabakh in favor of the Minsk Group’s. Thus, the entire peace process is dominated by it now. In 22 years, the Minsk Group could have developed and introduced a mechanism of control in the observance of the ceasefire, though in no way interfering with the withdrawal of heavy ammunition from the parties’ line of separation.
“In addition, the OSCE Minsk Group has actually refused to use the nongovernmental initiatives in the peace process. The NGOs have ideas in bulk, whereas the official negotiators are lacking them. However, there is no sharing of ideas. Moreover, the Minsk Group does not seem to want to include measures for building trust between the parties in the strategy.
“The mediators in the peace talks should not be military allies to any of the parties. This is a basic rule. Thus, it will not be the Minsk Group, but rather Russia or the USA to whom one should listen to.
“Russia’s guilt, so it seems, is that it has started selling arms to the parties. Europe refrains from selling arms to the Karabakh conflicting parties. There was a real scandal when the UK sold several sniper rifles to Armenia, whereas in this case, the arms were sold to us, as well as to poor Armenians. In other words, they remained on the stage so to speak, with as many as two guns, of which at least one of them was supposed to go off, as it occurs in such a case.
“As it usually happens, they will now request the parties to live in peace and friendship. And everything will come to naught again, like in 2014 when there was a similar situation, but then it was Armenia that moved its posts. It was on the Lyakya-dag mountain, but now it is on the Lyalya-tepe height. That’s the difference.”
Matanat Azizova, a human rights activist and head of the Women Crisis Centre, states:
1. “Azerbaijan is both morally and legally entitled to regain its land and conduct operations to clear those areas of illegal armed units.
2. I understand those who demand war. A cumulative effect has been noticed. A strong emotional outbreak could be observed.
3. I also understand those who are against war. These are their principles: Some are against using weapons, some against people being killed, no matter if they are friends or enemies.
4. I treat the Aliyev-Sargsyan agreement with caution, and even distrust.
5. Emotionally I am happy about each regained piece of land. However, it breaks my heart when I hear news about soldiers who have been killed. It’s a dubious feeling – you’d like the land to be regained, but you don’t want war, yet you rejoice over successful operations.
6. For me, the notions of people’s diplomacy and peacekeeping died the moment I saw the appeals to destroy my nation (referring to us in a humiliating and insulting form) on part of my colleagues – the peace-building ‘upper crust’ from Armenia.
7. Despite the differences, I still have and will always have friends from Armenia, and together, we will show this world a thing or two!”
• JAMnews has been reviewing what has happened in the conflict zone since 7 April.
• Information provided by the official sources of the conflicting parties is controversial and does not allow an answer to the questions: Who started the military actions, and who responded? International sources also cannot answer this question yet.
• The armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh took place from 1991 to 1994. Since entering into a truce, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has existed as a de facto independent republic, unrecognized by any country in the world, including Armenia. Azerbaijan considers Karabakh and the adjacent areas, acquired during the war, as occupied territories and demands their return.
• The OSCE Minsk Group – a group of OSCE member-states, which headed the process of seeking peaceful solutions to the Karabakh conflict, was set up in 1992. At of the beginning of 2016, the OSCE Co-chairs are: Igor Popov (Russian Federation); as of 2014 Pierre Andre (France), and from 6 August 2013 James Warlick (USA). The OSCE Minsk Group comprises Belarus, Germany, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Turkey, as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The opinions expressed in the article, convey the author’s views and terminology and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial staff.