Friday

28th Jul 2017

Opinion

Nagorno-Karabakh: on the knife's edge

  • The Safarov case has dragged ordinary people on both sides into a fresh outpouring of racist hatred (Photo: lib.utexas.edu)

A mere two weeks ago the name Ramil Safarov was meaningless to most people.

Today he is the cause of a diplomatic storm between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Hungary which has sucked in the US, Russia and the EU and deepened regional hostility and bitterness in the South Caucasus.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Safarov, an Azerbaijani soldier, was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering an Armenian soldier, Gurgen Margaryan, during a Nato Partnership for Peace training programme in Budapest in 2004.

Hungary's decision to extradite Safarov to Azerbaijan, where he was immediately pardoned, has unleashed a widespread tirade of condemnation on both Baku and Budapest.

Hungary says that the extradition was approved in accordance with the terms of the 1983 European Convention of the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, to which Azerbaijan is party. It also claims Azerbaijan pledged to keep Safarov incarcerated for the remainder of his sentence.

Article 12 of the convention states: "Each party may grant pardon, amnesty or commutation of the sentence in accordance with its constitution or other laws."

Azerbaijan declared it was entitled to pardon him under Item 22 of article 109 of the Azerbaijani constitution, meaning that while it may have been a highly provocative decision, it was in accordance with all international norms and rules, something which Hungary must have been aware of.

This decision had an immediate negative effect on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and inter-ethnic relations with the Armenians.

While Armenia has now cut diplomatic ties with Hungary, Azerbaijan feels bitter about the way the international community has treated the case.

An open statement co-signed by various representatives of Azerbaijan's ruling and opposition parties considers last week's European Parliament resolution regarding the Safarov case as unconstructive and a clear reflection of the institution's policy of double standards.

A closed and elite-driven peace process

Celebrated by the majority of Azerbaijanis and condemned vehemently by Armenia, the Safarov event exposes again the significant level of smouldering acrimony that has grown, boiling in the pressure cooker of the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and in a closed and elite-driven peace process.

The loud local public reaction to this case came as no surprise for close observers of this process and should not be treated by international diplomacy as an episodic incident to be dismissed with quick and short-sighted measures.

Very sadly, this turn of events will almost certainly set back efforts to find a solution to the conflict and efforts to build up trust between the peoples of the region.

Political debates and statements have fired up emotions which were displayed in the public domain in a myriad of ways. During the past weeks, regular citizens on both sides - not just radicals and ultra-nationalists - have poured into local, international and social media an impressive compilation of poisonous insults, hollow statements and calls for violent action, all of which are rooted in a dangerously racist attitude towards each other. The few moderate and analytical articles were met with threatening tones.

This alone is sufficient to show that the 'frozen' polarisation and isolation on all sides has done nothing during the past 20 years but sharpen perceptions of the enemy and further alienate people regardless of their age, education or political orientation.

At this critical level of political cleavage, trying to stimulate and build change from within the societies affected by conflict appears to be most badly needed yet impossible endeavour.

In the current setting of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the possibilities of promoting peace from the outside are limited. International pressure and mediation have predictably and repeatedly hit a dead end.

The official peace process has maintained a self-centered approach and insisted for too long on a confidential and secretive structure for the talks, ignoring the need to work with the public, to include all the relevant actors and stimulate significant changes at the level of local people caught up in the conflict.

The radical reactions to the Safarov case are a reflection of public feeling which is not prepared for dialogue, let alone any compromise.

Youth deserving better

For several years now different local and international non-governmental organisations have tried to bridge the divide where direct cross-conflict activities were impossible to carry out. Despite the politically stagnant environment around the official negotiation process, efforts have continued to build trust between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, in particular among young people - a constituency which desires and deserves a brighter future beyond the bloody past it has inherited.

Some of these projects were supported by the EU in line with its declared commitment to provide support to civil society for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. For those people who have been painstakingly trying to improve dialogue across the divide, the aftershocks of the Safarov event will not only challenge the tentative results obtained so far but will also put on shaky ground all civil society initiatives in the future.

Local NGOs and respected insiders who work at multiple levels in society will now struggle to find their feet. The limited space they had to promote conflict transformation, propose alternative conflict resolution activities and broaden the options in the dominant discourse on the official peace process risks shrinking significantly in the wake of the Safarov case.

They will need all the support they can get from the EU and from other organisations.

Playing the blame game is not going to help this process and will do nothing in the long run but push the two sides into their own corners and make any sort of interaction and dialogue difficult if not impossible.

No one will be worse off than the people of the South Caucasus if the region, steeped in hatred and constantly teetering on the edge of armed escalation, is relegated to hopeless status by a disappointed international business and diplomatic community.

Amanda Paul is an analyst at the European Policy Centre (EPC), Roxana Cristescu is an advisor at Crisis Management Initiative (CMI)

Stop blaming Trump for Poland’s democratic crisis

If you were to judge events purely on the US media's headlines, you would be forgiven for wondering if the Polish government had anything to do with its recent controversial judicial reforms.

Stronger EU-Egypt ties must not disregard human rights

The EU’s apparent willingness to water down its stance on human rights in Egypt could seriously compromise its credibility and have far-reaching consequences for its relations with other countries in the region.

Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive

Candidates from all political families should be presenting their vision on where the Union should be headed. European socialists want to keep the Spitzenkandidat procedure for future elections.

Stronger EU-Egypt ties must not disregard human rights

The EU’s apparent willingness to water down its stance on human rights in Egypt could seriously compromise its credibility and have far-reaching consequences for its relations with other countries in the region.

News in Brief

  1. EU citizens will need registration to enter UK in Brexit transition
  2. Italy weighs up sending navy into Libyan waters
  3. Swedish PM fights for survival amid IT scandal
  4. Poland's Kaczynski vows to continue judicial reform
  5. Werner Hoyer re-appointed as EU investment bank chief
  6. Spanish PM denies knowledge of party corruption
  7. France 'routinely' abuses migrants, says NGO
  8. Swedish government rocked by data scandal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  2. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  3. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  5. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  6. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  7. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  9. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  10. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  11. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  12. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug

Latest News

  1. Spain's PM appeals to court over Catalan independence
  2. Senate backs Russia sanctions, setting scene for EU clash
  3. France and Italy quarrel over shipyard and Libya
  4. Corbyn re-opens Labour's single market wound
  5. Visegrad lobby makes food quality an EU issue
  6. EU court could dismiss national borders in cyberspace
  7. Confusion swirls round Macron's Libya 'hotspots'
  8. Insults fly after EU ultimatum to Poland

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  2. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  4. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  5. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  7. EU2017EEPM Ratas: EU Is Not Only an Idea for the 500mn People in the Bloc, It Is Their Daily Reality
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy
  9. ILGA-EuropeGermany Finally Says Ja - Bundestag Votes for Marriage Equality!
  10. EPSUJapanese and European Public Sector Unions Slam JEFTA
  11. World VisionEU, Young Leaders and Civil Society Join Forces to End Violence Against Girls
  12. UNICEFNarrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Health of the Poorest Children