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Conflitti sopiti: Nagorno-Karabakh

1 luglio 2009
Il Nagorno-Karabakh

Il Nagorno-Karabakh

Dopo il conflitto in Georgia legato ai territori di Abkhazia e Ossezia, dopo le tensioni che ho già segnalato in un articolo riportato qualche giorno fa (qui) sulla valle del Ferghana, ecco un nuovo capitolo sui conflitti attualmente non evidenti: il Nagorno-Karabach.

Riporto un articolo del CACI e segnalo i seguenti approfondimenti:


By Fariz Ismailzade (06/17/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The initial hopes that the change of administration in the U.S. would bring new momentum to the deadlocked Nagorno-Karabakh peace process are starting to fade. Although President Obama during the first months of his term in office pushed actively for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian and Azerbaijani-Armenian relations, not much has come out of this process. It is likely now that President Obama, just like his predecessor President Bush, will turn his attention to more global problems, like North Korea and Iraq, and thus forget the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict for the rest of his term.

BACKGROUND: When President Bush was elected, he was searching an opportunity for a foreign policy success. Officials at the State Department presented him with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as one of the world’s ripest for a breakthrough. Urgent high level talks between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia were arranged by U.S. officials in Key West in 2001 and a great push was made to convince both leaders to come to an agreement. Many analysts believe that the Key West talks were the closest the parties have ever come to a peace agreement in the past decade. Yet, both presidents felt hostage to their nationalistic home crowds and were unable to make compromises. Particularly, then Armenian President Robert Kocharian, fearing the fate of his predecessor Levon Ter Petrosian, shied away from committing to a step-by-step solution of the conflict, in which Armenia would first return the occupied Azerbaijani territories and only after that the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh would be determined.

The failed Key West talks, in which the US government invested heavily, including the personal involvement of then Secretary of State Colin Powell, led to a grave disappointment among the mediators. The conflict was put on the backburner for the rest of President Bush’s term in office. The September 11 terror attacks and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq completely changed the foreign policy priorities of the U.S. and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was certainly not on the top list of urgent tasks for the State Department. Yet, much of the blame for the failure in the Key West talks can actually be placed on the US officials themselves. They rushed for a breakthrough without a proper understanding of the conflict’s realities, without proper involvement of Russia, Armenia’s key military ally, and without much change in the balance of power on the ground.

Without proper preparations, it would be very naïve to expect a breakthrough in the conflict.

A similar picture now arises with President Obama. Right after his election, he started pushing for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. His agenda was clear: make a breakthrough in bilateral Turkish-Armenian relations and use this as an excuse not to use the “G” word when referring to the events of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire. It was clear that President Obama did not want to use the “G” word and thus ruin the important relations with strategic ally Turkey. But simultaneously he needed to either keep his campaign promise or get out of the situation with a very solid excuse. Therefore, a very heavy diplomatic push started mounting on Turkey to open its border with Armenia.

Many analysts believed that by opening the border, Turkey could engage Armenia more and thus reduce the latter’s dependence on Russia. Others saw little practical change in the situation on the ground as Armenia’s economy, military and security is practically in the hands of Russia. Thus, a one-sided opening of the border would only damage Turkish-Azerbaijani relations and cause a rift between the two strategic U.S. partners in the region. As a result, the balance of power in the region would shift and the fate of the Nabucco gas pipeline and other mega-projects would be put at risk. After April 24, when both President Obama and the Turkish government managed to avoid the potential disaster in U.S.-Turkish relations, things have calmed down. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan traveled to Baku and assured his Azerbaijani friends that Turkey would never open the border before the occupied Azerbaijani lands are liberated. There also seems to be substantial progress in Turkish-Azerbaijan talks on the issue of transiting Azerbaijani gas to the European markets through Turkey. Thus, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is once again on its way down on the U.S. agenda for the region.

IMPLICATIONS: It is likely that President Obama, after his initial excitement over the potential normalization of Turkish-Armenian and Azerbaijani-Armenian relations, is going to pay less and less attention to this part of the world. In that respect, he will repeat President Bush’s path. Initial diplomatic activity during both presidential terms would produce many hopes, but no concrete results. Thus, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would again be put on the shelf.

There are some clear signs of this trend already. In the latest peace talks in Prague, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian made no breakthrough on the terms of an agreement, despite high expectations and hopes. On the contrary, the Azerbaijani side came out of the meeting in a very frustrated mood, saying that Armenia makes no changes in its stubborn and unconstructive approach to the solution of the conflict. The hopeful remarks by U.S. mediator Matt Bryza also irritated official Baku, which accused Mr. Bryza of distorting the information and purposefully sending optimistic news to the State Department leadership whereas the real situation on the ground remained stagnant.

There are fears that the upcoming meeting of the Azerbaijani and Armenian Presidents in St. Petersburg will put a final end to all hopes for the peaceful resolution of the conflict in the nearest future. No major breakthrough is expected during this meeting and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is likely to enter another 4 years of boredom and stagnation. The U.S. administration has to shift its focus to the North Korean peninsula, and its relations with Russia, Iran and Iraq.

CONCLUSIONS: It has become a recurring pattern that after a change in the U.S. government, the new President rushes to score a foreign policy success by pushing for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This is usually done without much change on the ground and without a proper understanding of the conflict. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is very much an international conflict. Russia’s role in it is huge and the U.S. administration will never be able to resolve it without properly addressing the role of Russia and without taking into consideration the factor of Armenia’s dependence on Russia.

Pushing for an immediate breakthrough and desperately wishing to see immediate successes lead to quick disappointments, after which the US administration forgets about the conflict and hesitates to organize another high level push for its solution. It would be better if the U.S. administration would not push for quick resolution of the conflict, for which the parties are not ready, but instead maintained a high level interest in the conflict throughout the whole presidential term and gradually prepared the ground work for a final resolution. This conflict can only be resolved through preparing a solid ground work and shifting the balance of power in the region. Investing all hopes in the initial months of negotiation will inevitably produce disappointment in the end.

AUTHOR’S BIO: Fariz Ismailzade is a political analyst based in Baku, Azerbaijan.

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