Maxim Shevchenko: Karabakh could become Switzerland of the South Caucasus

Maxim Shevchenko: Karabakh could become Switzerland of the South Caucasus

A member of the Russian Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations, Maxim Shevchenko, speaking with a correspondent of Vestnik Kavkaza, said that the practical settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should begin with the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories outside of Nagorno-Karabakh. "In my opinion, there is only one way out, if we really want to resolve it once and for all and turn the South Caucasus into a zone of peaceful relations between peoples and countries," he said.

Vestnik Kavkaza is publishing a series of interviews with Russian and foreign experts, dedicated to the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Our first guest is Maxim Shevchenko.

"Following the troops withdrawal, these territories should be announced demilitarized zones and returned under Azerbaijan's political sovereignty. The deployment of joint forces of any international observers, for example, Russians, in the liberated areas is possible. They will ensure the absence in of Armenian or Azerbaijani troops in the area and let refugees return to their native land. This is the first stage," he noted.

"The second stage is the creation of conditions for return of all refugees and internally displaced persons to places they lived before the beginning of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. "The Minsk communiqué talks about the need to return Azerbaijani refugees to those cities and areas from which they were expelled; but it's not just about their physical return, but also about the restoration of registration and legal rights of Azerbaijanis on the property, which they possessed. At the same time, the political conditions for the return of Armenians to Baku and Sumgait should be ensured too. Of course, not everyone wants to come back, but the two countries should declare that they guarantee both the opportunity for Azerbaijani people to return to the land they were expelled from in Armenia, and for Armenians to return to Azerbaijan. Those who want to return, will return," Maxim Shevchenko said.

The expert acknowledged that the implementation of the second stage won't be easy. "Of course, there will be problems, because the war propaganda on both sides did not contribute to favorable contacts between the nations. But I think that the two ancient and wise peoples can set an example of how to deal with such issues," he expressed confidence.

No matter how difficult the second stage is, the third stage is the most difficult. "It's about determination of Nagorno-Karabakh's status. There are three options: an autonomy within Azerbaijan, just a part of Azerbaijan or an independent, autonomous state. In my opinion, almost no one is considering the option where Karabakh is a part of Armenia. I think it is also difficult to imagine a peace settlement, where Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan. The Karabakh Armenians will not agree to this: why should they live under Baku rule, if they have direct contact with the Armenian lobby in the US?" Maxim Shevchenko believes.

In this regard, the expert expects that the future status will be have to do with Nagorno-Karabakh being some kind of an autonomy. "Of course, we can talk about the status of the territory only after all displaced Azerbaijanis return. But how to determine the status? Nobody will be satisfied with a simple referendum. We need a guaranteed principle of local self-government, for example, the creation of cantons on the territory of Karabakh, like in Swithzerland. I think that Karabakh can become the Switzerland of the South Caucasus where Azerbaijanis and Armenians would live together, where they can speak their native tongues, and their representatives from different regions will work side by side in a common parliament," said a member of the Russian Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations said.

He expects that Nagorno Karabakh may become an intermediary state after the settlement of the conflict, "which will act in the interests of both Baku and Yerevan." "But I don't think this will happen because the great powers are not interested in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis. Endless delays in the peace process allow the great powers to intervene in the situation in the South Caucasus and to exert pressure on Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and other countries," Maxim Shevchenko warned.

"Today the Karabakh conflict can block the South Caucasus by ‘blowing it up’ at any time. A very unpleasant scenario has been already launched: Christians against Muslims. The Armenian side says that there is Daesh on the territory of the Shiite Azerbaijan. Daesh militants consider Shiites to be mortal enemies, but, according to the Armenian version, they are ready to fight for the Shiite Azerbaijan. It is thrown to the media specifically to fix the idea that the Armenians defend Christian values and Azerbaijan represents a terrible Islamic fundamentalism. Meanwhile, we have an ethnic conflict, where a religion is an additional propaganda factor, and a geopolitical conflict over a territory, which is used by large countries in their political 'chess games,’ Shevchenko concluded .