Tuesday

1st Dec 2020

Opinion

War in Nagorno-Karabakh – the ceasefire that never was

  • Should Armenia ever agree to such a demand from Azerbaijan to end the current fighting, there would remain little, if anything, for there to be subsequently negotiated (Photo: Timon91)

Great hopes and optimism were placed in the ability for a Moscow-brokered ceasefire to hold this weekend.

Such misplaced optimism highlights an unwillingness to accept what the current problem actually is.

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Azerbaijan has tired of negotiations and concluded that its aims are best served, at least for now, by the use of force. Convincing it otherwise is the real task at hand.

Finding a negotiated peace to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has occupied the OSCE for nearly 30 years. This fact alone serves for some as reason enough to dismiss its role.

Indeed, president Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan has himself taken to criticising its function in recent months and during one public address, even declared the process "meaningless".

Time, however, should not be the measure for judging the long-term value of negotiated settlements. If ever Andrzej Kasprzyk (the longstanding representative of the chair-person in office at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for these negotiations) should despair, he can perhaps draw inspiration from the Prespa Agreement, signed in 2018 between Greece and North Macedonia.

Matthew Niemitz spent nearly twenty years as personal envoy of the UN Secretary General before being able to conclude negotiations on the naming dispute between the two countries.

Not wishing to undermine the seriousness of that dispute or its resolution but the factors at play in Nagorno-Karabakh clearly present a significantly more complex set of issues. In this context, thirty years can perhaps be forgiven.

Time has, nevertheless, compounded barriers to a negotiated solution in Nagorno-Karabakh rather than eased them.

As events of the past two weeks have shown, in no way has it reduced the possibility of a return to war. What we are witnessing today is the worst fighting since the original ceasefire in 1994.

As part of a negotiated solution, the international community, both in terms of sate actors and expert observers, has coalesced around an ensconced doctrine of neutrality and balance. Of course, this is necessary to maintaining the confidence of both sides and enabling them to try and bridge divides.

Such strict neutrality, however, whilst key to third-parties playing a role in mediating the overall conflict, must have its limits when examining individual events and issues that constitute the whole.

To put it another way, in a conflict that rests broadly on the basis of weighing the arguments of territorial integrity versus the rights of self-determination, outsiders will always run the risk of being accused of subjective bias.

In establishing the series of events that have peppered the conflict, however, we can seek to establish actual facts. Such an exercise does not necessitate neutrality or balance – there is simply an objective truth to be found.

The current clashes constitute one of those moments. As hundreds of lives are lost, the international community watches on, calling for peace and a return to the negotiating table. Notably, it largely continues to make those calls to both sides, ultimately undermining its message in the current context.

During the European Parliament's debate last week on the subject, EU foreign affairs chief Borrell made the following comments in responding to MEPs.

"The Turkish [Foreign] Minister [Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu] was in Baku, and I was really concerned when I saw that he was expressing full support to Azerbaijan. My last talk with Azerbaijani Minister [Jeyhun Bayramov] was also very worrisome, because he was clearly saying that the fight will continue until Armenia accepts a concrete schedule for withdrawing from Nagorno Karabakh, which is a precondition for conversation, for talks."

Position laid bare

In these remarks we not only see the position of the Azerbaijani leadership laid bare but also that the senior leadership of the EU is aware of that position.

This latest, resumption in the conflict, as it's somewhat euphemistically called, is not simply a resumption in the conflict but is rather a self-declared offensive by Azerbaijan, aimed at achieving its desired outcome to the conflict by force rather than by negotiation.

In the aftermath of this weekend's failed ceasefire, president Aliyev expressed that view with ever greater strength and clarity when noting that "we'll go to the very end and get what rightfully belongs to us".

Given that the EU's own role in the conflict is limited, it should start to use the one tool it does possess - its voice – more effectively. The problem at hand is about convincing one side, a side has given up on negotiations as a means to resolution, to re-embrace such a path to peace.

If that can be achieved, the principles of neutrality and balance can then, once again, take centre stage in assisting both sides to make the necessary concessions for a negotiated peace to the overall conflict.

For now, however, the focus must be to ensure that the negotiating table is at least still there for tomorrow.

The EU must use its voice to say something meaningful that can truly address the issues of this particular moment. It must ask Azerbaijan to cease its current offensive, to have faith in a negotiated solution, and to return to the peace talks.

Crucially, it must make these call on Azerbaijan alone.

Author bio

Will Lavender is senior policy and advocacy officer at the European Friends of Armenia.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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