Wilfried Furman: "Armenia wants to take advantage of tension in relations between Russia and West"

The recent clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh, which have claimed the lives of dozens of people on both sides, were characterized by extreme ferocity. Many people fear the resumption of a full-scale war. Professor Wilfried Fuhrmann from Potsdam spoke to Vestnik Kavkaza about the conflict and ways out of it.

- Mr. Fuhrmann, how do you assess the situation in the Karabakh conflict zone?

- I hope that the current situation won't lead to war, but I can't rule out the possibility of its resumption. The situation is becoming, in my opinion, more and more unstable – not only on the frontline, but also in Armenia itself. At the same time, numerous politicians, especially German, who are hurrying to speak with the media with overused calls for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, do not reassure me.

At first glance, it is not clear why the side that has been occupying Azerbaijani lands for 25 years, in spite of international law, and serves as a military umbrella for the separatists, has a reason for the clashes to reignite. But the clashes that have occurred should be considered in the context of military incidents in the past few years. And they are not a "proxy war" between Russia and Turkey, supposedly assisting Armenia and Azerbaijan, respectively – as many commentators in the German newspapers write.

This, I hope, is only a temporary escalation in the war, which the Armenians started with terrorist attacks in 1987 and 1988, and which led to the seizure of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani districts. Since 1994 there has been an armistice agreement, albeit fragile. Since 1994, the world has been postponing the settlement of another "frozen" conflict, as well as diplomatically holding back Azerbaijan.

- Why have the hostilities intensified right now?

- There is a lot of speculation about this. But I know too little about such factors as willful rioting of soldiers or political "hawks" in the elites, and I do not tend to believe in a "conspiracy theory". I follow national, public and political events, as well as the geopolitical situation, and can highlight the following points.

Firstly, at the moment, the internal political situation in Armenia is very tense, or rather hopeless. The economic situation there is very difficult, the population lives badly. In such situations, nationalistically oriented politicians tend to look for the guilty abroad and go on foreign adventures in order to justify internal failures. Under the conditions of tension prevailing now in Armenia, ceasefire violations with victims and the tough response from Azerbaijan, even planned as a small "sting" to the Azerbaijani side, even though it may sound cynical, can be used as a justification for austerity policies in favor of increased military spending. The scenario of external threats and fears, provoked by them throughout the world and in Europe, lead to an increase in military spending. That is, hostilities in order to obtain weapons.

Secondly, the clashes with Azerbaijan on the front line serve both the chauvinistic arguments and the demands for preparations for a closer inclusion of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding districts to the Republic of Armenia. That is, clashes with the aim of preparing the ground for a change of the political borders.

Thirdly, these military clashes are also used to put pressure on Russia, so that it would supply the Armenian side with more modern weapons and an expanded "protective umbrella" over Armenia. In the context of this expansionist goal, Yerevan is interested in the continuation of hostilities and violations of the ceasefire regime, which Azerbaijan, by the way, offered to Armenia only a day after the beginning of the escalation. But instead, Armenia increases the probability of starting a new war. With a new expansionist goal, perhaps?

In its nationalist policy, Armenia is looking for new, modern weapons. At the same time, there are internal forces that would like to get such weapons from the West, from the NATO member countries. Armenia is swinging like a pendulum between the two blocs, and tries to take advantage of the tensions between Russia and the West for its own benefit.

At the same time, Russia itself needs and is looking for a stable peace in the Caucasus. The Russian Federation is also interested in political and economic relations with Azerbaijan and preservation of the potential for their further development. Russia needs it, in particular, in order not to weaken its ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran and the entire Muslim world. Perhaps by carrying out military actions Armenia is trying to prevent these political intentions of Moscow and undermine the reliability of Azerbaijan in the eyes of the Russian Federation.

Accordingly, Azerbaijan should remain an independent and reliable partner of Russia, and develop relations with it in the interests of the diversification and stability of its own economy. Even more important is that Azerbaijan, with its clearly defined and traditionally cultivated tolerance for all religions, is turning into a kind of connecting node in the whole complex of inter-state relations and independent foundations for regional stability.

- What, in your opinion, can Azerbaijan do in connection with the continuing violations of the truce?

- Considering the regional and geopolitical background I described, it seems appropriate for the policy of the Azerbaijan Republic, just as it has been up to now, to be peaceful and aimed at the triumph of international law.

But the practical reactions should probably be reconsidered. Should Azerbaijan be limited to retaliatory fire in the style of a positional shootout in its response to each provocation? It is quite possible when, in the framework of defense, the front-line areas and heights are liberated without a further return to the old front line. Of course, this strategy should be fundamentally announced in advance. And here I fully trust the diplomatic skills of the Azerbaijani government, which are necessary for it. Thus, the "price" of warfare for the Armenian side will grow – after all, the civilian population practically does not suffer on the Armenian side of the front, because the Azerbaijani population living there was killed or exiled. But from the Azerbaijani side, the civilian population living in the border areas is in a vulnerable position. And the Armenian forces exploit this.

It is obvious that the price that the Armenian side will have to pay for its provocations must be increased. For any humanistically thinking person who doesn't think that human rights are empty words, it is clear that the death of even one person is unacceptable – and in the conflict zone these deaths occur constantly as a result of sniping and other military incidents.

The price of the provocations will rise for Armenia, as it must strengthen all of its front-line units and keep them in a constant state of alert. Even today, fewer and fewer young Armenians are ready to die for Nagorno-Karabakh. For many, this current Armenia is "fake", unworthy of their old culture.

At the same time, Armenia's belief that Russia will directly take on the obligation to "protect" the occupied Azerbaijani territories and intervene in the conflict did not come true. At the time, even Gorbachev quickly realized that his then-position in favor of Armenia was his biggest political mistake.

- Will the transition from position clashes to "preventative" military operations with the occupation of strategic heights, as happened at the beginning of April, be like playing with fire?

- No. I do not welcome a violent military solution. But with the self-evident recognition of the borders of the Republic of Armenia, as well as the rights of Armenians to live on this territory (in other words, exclusion of any exiles) from Azerbaijan, a clear political statement of Azerbaijan's plans on the liberation of parts of its occupied territories in case of violation of the truce by the Armenian side, the risk of collision with Russia will not grow, and with Armenia, on the contrary, it will be even lower.

And you must take into account that, even though the occupied districts around Nagorno-Karabakh and Nagorno-Karabakh itself are an internationally recognized part of the Azerbaijani territory, Baku can't effectively use its rights. This is because of the fact that the Armenian side has no desire for reconciliation or compromise, as well as the readiness to liberate the occupied territories (which is caused by the deficiency of the sanctions mechanisms of international law, and the lack of a world power that would demand the appropriate UN mandate in favor of Azerbaijan).

And international law does not say anything about the time limits – thus, a whole generation has changed since the beginning of the occupation. With the "freezing" of the conflict and the duration of this so-called "frozen conflict", the occupation and separation of the entire region from Azerbaijan tends to turn into a fact. Over time, the "frozen" state of conflict, perhaps, leads to a kind of "habitual law" and the demand to respect the territorial integrity is no longer considered.

In the framework of the occupation of Azerbaijani territories without having any legal basis (there was and there is no similar regional right of any ethnic group for self-determination, it is only about nationalist aims), genocide against the Azerbaijanis has been carried out.

The West obviously did not want and does not want to see this – perhaps to buy time, or for religious reasons, etc. Armenians are considered victims collectively, rather than differentially as aggressors. And in this regard, the facts lose their meaning, balanced open discussion fades, followed by one-sided value judgments about the tension at the front, and double standards are applied. Each clash strengthens a collective perception of Armenians as "victims" – and from this point of view, such incidents are politically justified for the Armenian side. Western, particularly European countries, must open their eyes, and consider the South Caucasus not only in the framework of the new geopolitical conflicts with Russia.

- Where, in your opinion, lies the key to resolving the conflict and ending occupation?

- I believe that Armenia has the key, it is in the hands of the occupiers. But Armenia has lost a lot of time for "voluntary" return of the Azerbaijani territories in exchange for concessions from Azerbaijan. Right now it seems possible that Armenia will bet everything on one card, and will try to implement the full integration of the entire region as part of its territory. Here you should look at Armenia's behavior regarding Crimea. It is, first of all, about the establishment of facts, and not about compliance with international law.

At the same time, on the one hand Armenia enjoys the expected geopolitical changes in the South Caucasus, characterized by increasingly strengthening ties with Georgia, NATO and the West (from US military advisors, to a visa-free regime with the EU, and so on). On the other hand, considering the presence of two opposite vectors in the Armenian elite, Armenia can play on a scenario of changing its patron country, since Western influence is strengthening in Armenia. Finally, Armenia is becoming more and more socially and politically unstable, and, more likely, it is largely controlled by "Western Armenians" (the so-called "diaspora"). Temptations from the US and the EU (primarily Germany and France), as well as NATO, are quite large compared with Russia's capabilities at the moment, both economically and financially (and perhaps geographically?).

- Azerbaijan underlines the willingness to live in good neighborly relations with Armenia after the restoration of its territorial integrity and the return of the occupied territories, joint economic projects are envisaged in this case. What else can Azerbaijan do?

- Azerbaijan should maintain its political stability and the unity of society under the conditions of a fair social contract. And the recent amnesty of prisoners is also the right way, as well as a more extensive and tough military response to the violation of the truce by Armenia.

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