Heiko Langner: "Better to keep quiet about peace: what is behind the Armenian demands for direct negotiations between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh?"
At the beginning of August 2019, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said during his fleeting visit to the Azerbaijan-apostate region controlled by Armenian separatists that Nagorno-Karabakh was Armenia. A political scientist from Berlin Heiko Langner in the article Vom Frieden besser schweigen: Was hinter der auf den ersten armenischen Forderung steckt, dass Aserbaidschan mit Bergkarabach gleichberechtigte Direktverhandlungen aufnehmen müsse? for Alumniportal Aserbaidschan writes that what had been primarily addressed as the “home front” was virtually a rejection of the peace process.
Both parties agreed long ago on the so-called "Madrid Basic Principles", according to which the political status of Nagorno-Karabakh should only be determined at the end of a successful peace process in a binding referendum involving both sections of the population under international supervision.
As an equivalent response to Pashinyan's statement, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev should have had to explain to his people that the peace negotiations with Armenia had failed and that only the military option remained as a viable option. In this case, a storm of indignation over Azerbaijani “warmongering” would surely have swept through the German media landscape. The fact that Azerbaijan's government did not take this step shows once again which party has a real negotiating interest, and which only fakes it. Armenia's questioning of the peace process was not worth a single line to the German mainstream media. Only the member of the Bundestag and Vice-Chairman of the German-South Caucasian Parliamentary Group, Helin Evrim Sommer (Die Linke), moderately pointed out on Twitter that Armenia had to accept the basic principles of the negotiations because otherwise there would be no solution to the permanent conflict. But what is that all about?
Politics has to begin with the contemplation of reality. In any case, the starting point is clear from the point of view of international law: According to several UN resolutions, the Armenian autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding Armenian-controlled areas are integral parts of the independent Azerbaijan Republic. Consequently, not a single state has diplomatically recognized the self-proclaimed "Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh or Arstakh”, and significantly not even Armenia. On the contrary, by refusing to accept Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia itself confirms the illegality of the unilateral secession.
The second politically unpleasant fact concerns the nature of the conflict. In October 2014, in its response, in its response to a small request from the opposition left-wing group the German government officially confirmed for the first time what the sparrows in Berlin had been whistling from the rooftops for a long time:
“Out of the 23,000 “self-defense forces of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,” 8,000 are members of the regular armed forces of the Republic of Armenia. The majority of the “self-defense forces” are provided by conscripts, who in turn are mostly recruited from Armenia.” In other words, the “self-defense forces” of Nagorno-Karabakh are a figment of the imagination. The occupied territories are controlled by the Army of the Republic of Armenia.
Immediately afterwards, it continues: “The Federal Government regards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as an inter-state conflict between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan.”
This exposes, at the same time, what lies behind the plausible-sounding Armenian demand that Azerbaijan must deal with Nagorno-Karabakh as an equal opportunity for immediate negotiations: the interstate character of the conflict and Armenia's illegal occupation should be disguised and the separatist regime revalued. For propaganda purposes, a lively group of political tourism was organized by deputies from the Bundestag and the parliaments of the federal states to the disputed area. This was met with a public reception by representatives of Armenian separatists, which immediately lead to entry bans in Azerbaijan. According to Azerbaijan's publicly accessible “blacklist”, the parliamentarians concerned are often classic backbenchers. However, it is no coincidence that most of them are members of the right-wing national “Alternative for Germany” and dominate their folk-nationalist wing. The apple does not fall far from the tree: the political ideas of German and Armenian nationalists are very similar.
Of course, in a complex conflict, binary black and white thinking is forbidden on the human level. All humans have the same rights as individuals and as groups because of their common humanity. This also applies without any if’s and but’s to the Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh, who are also victims in the conflict. However, the civilizing achievement of universal and indivisible human rights requires the willingness to compromise in order to compensate for conflicting interests in the event of a dispute. Therefore, since 2007, the OSCE-Minsk Group, whose trilateral chairmanship is shared by Russia, the US and France, had, with the consent of Armenia and Azerbaijan, developed the Madrid Basic Principles as a Roadmap to Peace. It did not happen by chance that the plan is to partially withdraw the Armenian armed forces from the occupied areas around Nagorno-Karabakh and return the land to Azerbaijan. Armenia cannot even make a hypothetical claim to these areas because they were populated before the war by the Azerbaijani people and the Kurdish minority, and all internally displaced persons have a right of return.
The gradual approach also makes sense: firstly, the political relations must be normalized and the trust between the population groups restored, before the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh is determined - and thus the Armenian population and the returned Azerbaijani people of Nagorno-Karabakh could even live peacefully in the region after the status decision. Those who declare these basic principles of negotiation obsolete should better keep quiet about peace.