Op-ed: What Hoagland kept quiet about and why diplomats have tongues
On 23 August, the same day as the meeting between the Presidents of Russia and Armenia, the US co-chairman of the Minsk Group of the OSCE, Richard Hoagland, stated in an interview with the Armenian ‘Voice of America’ service the main principles of regulating the Armenian-Azerbaijani Karabakh conflict.
Hoagland’s words gave rise to a number of questions. Despite the fact that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia and the head of the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic stated there is nothing new in the words of the American co-chairman, the Armenian society met the interview with hostility.
Read more on the matter in the JAMnews article: ‘OSCE MG Co-Chair’s statement stirs up heated debates in Armenia‘.
What Hoagland said is well-known though there are still some questions: why did he say all of this and what did he leave out?
The answer to the first question lays on the surface, and it’s supposedly because on 28 August, Hoagland’s authority is coming to an end and in transferring his authority to the new US co-chairman Andrew Shaffer, he conducted the procedure of ‘position surrendered, position accepted’.
But there are other questions here. As far as I remember, not a single former co-chairman ever ‘passed the baton’ in such a fashion.
What forced the American diplomat to make the position of the USA (an amateur performance is definitely excluded) known, and why specifically on the day of both the meeting between Putin and Sargsyan and on the day of the interview with the Armenian service of the Voice of America? Did he want to deliver a message to the Armenian society? If yes, then one must admit that he was successful in doing this.
The authorities of both Armenia and Azerbaijan claim that they both accept – in principle – the Madrid principles, put forward by mediators of the Karabakh conflict, and they claim that all there is left to do is to make some technical adjustments.
But in actuality, neither the Armenian authorities nor the authorities of Azerbaijan are doing anything in order to clarify to society what is hidden behind these principles, and for what they must be ready if tomorrow a peace agreement will be signed on the basis of these agreements.
For example, Armenian society at large is not at all ready to swallow the bitter pill of returning the seven regions around Nagorno Karabakh to Azerbaijan. And that’s not even bringing up the idea of returning refugees to these regions, and possibly to the territory of Nagorno Karabakh itself. But how could it be different?
Azerbaijani society is not ready to come to terms with the idea of an intermediate status, which these principles entail for Nagorno Karabakh. And that’s not to mention the special status of the Lachin Corridor, which connects Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia. But how could it be different?
Based on this, we have all the reasons to believe that the authorities of both countries dream of extending the current situation of the conflict for many years to come and they will be clinging to any formal reasons, such as the interview with Hoagland in order to justify their lack of a desire to go forward with ‘substantive’ – as has become trendy to stay in recent times – negotiations.
Let’s move on to the second question. What did the American co-chairman leave out?
A tongue, as one clever French diplomat said, ‘is given to a diplomat in order for him to hide his thoughts’. After the interview with Hoagland, everyone commented on what he said, but let’s look at what thoughts he hid in this interview.
The first that really stood out was the complete lack of any variant of the word ‘referendum’. At different times this word was present in different formulations. In its last formulation it sounded thus: ‘the legally binding will’. In Hoagland’s statement, it sounds like ‘the sides must define its final status through mutual agreement and mutually-binding expression of will’.
That is to say one isn’t speaking here of a separate vote for voters of Nagorno Karabakh itself. First, mutual political accord must be reached.
This reminds one of the procedure of the referendum in Ireland. After a long and bloody conflict, the sides in 1994 reached a political agreement (the Good Friday Agreement or Belfast Agreement).
After this a referendum was conducted simultaneously in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. There, the question of the unification of Ireland was already not present – nor the question of the independence of Ulster.
The people were invited to either give the Good Friday Agreement legitimacy or to reject it. In the end, both sides supported the agreement.
Is such an analogous agreement possible in our region? I strongly doubt it. Not because the nations don’t want peace, but because we don’t have the experience of conducting (and, what’s more important, the desire to conduct) honest voting. That’s not even to mention the scrupulous nature of the question.
But for now we can state the fact that, through the mouth of Hoagland, the USA did not say the word ‘referendum’ in its list of obligatory questions.
Let’s move on to the second point, which Hoagland was quiet about. This is the participation of Karabakh Armenians in the procedure of accepting the above-mentioned political decisions.
Karabakh Armenians, in the first years of the conflict, participated in practically all the stages of the negotiations. Back in 1992, when the Minsk Group of the OSCE had been created, the then-chief mediator at the negotiations, Italian diplomat Mario Rafaelli, told the dissatisfied delegates from Karabakh that ‘you have the right to veto, but you don’t need to scream out loud about this’ (There is a participant of that meeting in Rome – the President of the Stepanakert Press Club Gegham Baghdarsaryan).
The signature of the chairman of the parliament and of the Minister of Defense of the NKR is present on documents on the cease fire from May of 1994. All attempts of the Azerbaijani authorities to add to the negotiation process a fourth participant in the form of the leaders of Karabakh Azerbaijanis have been not received seriously.
It even got rather strange when the architect of the Bishkek Protocol on the cease fire, Russian diplomat Kazimirov flew to Baku with a ready-made text of the agreement, and the chairman of the parliament of Azerbaijan Rasul Guliyev signed the document on the agreement that the document must also be signed by the chief of the community of Karabakh Azerbaijanis, Nizami Bahmanov. But Bahmanov was unable to be found that day (then there were no mobile telephones) and Kazimirov flew back to Moscow with three signatures.
Next, the status of the representatives of the Karabakh Armenians also changed – they were often called the ‘legitimately elected representatives’ or something of that nature. But after the appointment of the leader of Karabakh Armenians, Robert Kocharyan to the presidency of Armenia, he took upon himself the function of representing Karabakh Armenians. The Azerbaijani side, of course, did not object.
And since that time, Stepanakert has been asked less often the traditional Russian question of: ‘Will you be the third’? Hoagland didn’t ask it either.
Another nuance in the interview with Hoagland. He used the expression, ‘territory of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, which Baku does not control, which should receive temporary status’. There are two things here. First off, no one used to use the phrase ‘former NKAO’ (at least, I don’t remember and in official documents there was definitely no reference to the NKAO). Of course, former Soviet administrative boundaries played a substantial role in defining the borders of new countries on the territory of the USSR. But the successor to the USSR, the Russian Federation, based on the examples of Georgian and Ukrainian autonomous regions, showed that this doesn’t really work. And so the administrative boundaries of the NKAO are not really indestructible for Russia.
The second nuance. ‘The territory of the NKAO, which Baku does NOT CONTROL’. As is well-known, on the territory of the former NKAO there are two plots which are under the control of the Azerbaijani side. In the south, on the territory of Martuni and in the north, on the territory of Mardakert.
Moreover, the northern part of these territories after the April fighting of 2016 spread to several dozen square hectares. Based on the words of Hoagland, it DOES NOT follow that Baku will be obliged to return these territories. Let’s read it again – ‘the territory of the NKAO’ which Baku does NOT CONTROL’, about the territory of the NKAO, which Baku controls but about which the diplomat was silent.
In November this year, it will be 10 years since the creation of the Madrid principles. The conflict is already 30 years ago. They said that the situation must change in order for the Karabakh conflict to change.