Participants of Yerevan conference consider OSCE Minsk Group format to be optimal

Participants of Yerevan conference consider OSCE Minsk Group format to be optimal

The annual international conference in Yerevan, which was organized by the Caucasus Institute with the assistance of the Swiss Embassy in Armenia and the Swiss academic network in the Caucasus on May 30-31, was dedicated to summarizing the results of 2015 in the Caucasus. The participants in the conference focused on the issues of the economy and domestic policy in the South Caucasus, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the situation in the unrecognized states, as well as regional security problems.

The executive director of Caucasian House, Giorgi Kanashvili, described the political situation in Georgia as stable. According to the expert, the split in the ruling coalition, which was left by the Georgian Republican Party at the parliamentary level, was one of the most important moments. According to him, there was no breakthrough in the socio-economic sphere last year. Thus, GDP growth was 3%, the unemployment rate decreased by 1.7%, the devaluation of the national currency, the lari, was of particular concern, the depreciation of which stopped a few months ago. According to Kanashvili, this process was due to political reasons, not economic ones. And namely, the termination of the devaluation process is likely to be associated with the upcoming elections. In general, despite the fact that Georgia, unlike Armenia and Azerbaijan, has actively pursued reforms in recent years, the population does not live better than in neighboring countries. According to the expert, perhaps the level of democracy does not correlate with economic performance.

Russian expert, Associate Professor at the Russian State University for the Humanities, Sergey Markedonov, characterized the political and economic situation in Azerbaijan. According to him, 2015 "marked some anxious moments, which showed some limits to Azerbaijani stability, especially in the economy. For example, there were two devaluations of the manat last year in a country that has managed to avoid a depreciation of the national currency for a long time. The second important point is linked to the economic slowdown, which was pointed out by President Ilham Aliyev. According to the expert, these events are associated with such worldwide trends as the fall in oil and gas prices, as Azerbaijan remains a largely oil and gas exports-oriented country. The decline in world energy prices, of course, played its role in the reduction of budget revenues, affecting the social sphere.

The parliamentary elections were the main event of Azerbaijan's political life. Apart from the Yeni Azerbaijan ruling party, the opposition bloc 'Azadlig-2015' was the most active. Meanwhile, according to Markedonov, a consolidation of the opposition forces did not take place, they took part in the elections as different columns, which ensured their defeat: "They often say that Azerbaijan is an authoritarian country with a strong administrative resource, that's true, but we shouldn't reduce everything to this. We must understand that the Azerbaijani opposition, like other post-Soviet oppositions, is doing everything to lose." According to the expert, the lack of new faces and ideas played an important role in the defeat of the opposition, in addition to the fragmentation.

The director of the Caucasus Institute, Alexander Iskandaryan, who presented the situation in Armenia, named 2015 as a politically interesting and rich year in Armenia. He listed Armenia's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and all the events related to this date as very important. The sale of the Vorotan hydroelectric power cascade to the US company Contour Global Hydro Cascade was of great political importance in the context of Russia's almost absolute dominance in the Armenian energy sector. The referendum on constitutional amendments was one of the key events.

The expert also touched on the foreign policy sphere and in the first place on the April events in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. The worsening of the conflict in April 2016 is not an isolated event. The logic that led to the April war of 2016 has continued on the line of contact and in the political format for 8-9 years." 2015 fits into this logic. In the autumn of last year there was an unprecedented aggravation on the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh and on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Howitzers were used for the first time, and in December, according to the Armenian press, tanks were already used. According to Iskandaryan, this aggravation was quite serious and it affected the subsequent events.

Markedonov noted that either completely naive people, or those who are not familiar with the conflict can talk about the exacerbation of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh this year as a surprise: "There are some professional optimists who like to talk about progress in the settlement, that progress is near and it remains to resolve only two small issues – on refugees and the status of Nagorno-Karabakh." According to the Russian expert, a powerful escalation was recorded in the conflict zone in 2015, and in December of the same year the term war was fixed in Azerbaijani discourse. "A little attempt to return the movement to the negotiating process can be noted here. We should recall the meeting between Presidents Sargsyan and Aliyev in Switzerland, but, as we have seen from the subsequent events, this return movement in the pendulum of the Karabakh conflict has not played a significant role," Markedonov believes.

According to the Armenian expert David Petrosyan, despite the high degree of tension between the major players, the OSCE Minsk Group will remain the main negotiating platform for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Moreover, the events in Ukraine demonstrated that the OSCE, despite the steady skepticism towards it, remains the only regional organization that can resolve this long conflict. The expert believes that a serious and systematic discussion of 'the Updated Madrid Principles' of the Kazan document is possible in the event of a ceasefire, in accordance with the relevant agreements of 1994-1995.

"As for the discourse on the concept of a comprehensive or great peace agreement, it does not make sense as long as 'the Constitution of settlement' – the updated Madrid principles – are not signed," Petrosyan said.

He expressed regret that the culture of peace is mainly lost in the Caucasus. In 2015 the Tbilisi authorities held talks with South Ossetia on the exchange of prisoners, then the format of the negotiations became trilateral, as Abkhazia entered it. The negotiations ended successfully in 2016 and the agreements have been implemented on the Georgian-Abkhaz border. Unfortunately, this significant event was ignored by the Armenian, Russian and Azerbaijani press. At the same time, this initiative has shown that there is room to negotiate in the region without the participation of major players.