Heiko Langner: “Diplomatic recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh is impossible”

Heiko Langner: “Diplomatic recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh is impossible”

A few days ago, Vestnik Kavkaza received answers from the German government to a small parliamentary inquiry by the Die Linke faction about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Germany’s role in its settlement ad part of its chairmanship of the OSCE in 2016. The German government notes that de-escalation of the situation on the frontline between the Armenian and Azerbaijani troops is still the priority goal during the German chairmanship of the OSCE. Therefore, the federal government supports the initiative by the OSCE Minsk Group on development of a mechanism to investigate cases of violation of the ceasefire regime. Berlin also will use bilateral contacts with Armenia and Azerbaijan to make them make more intensive efforts towards a settlement of the conflict.

Heiko Langner, a political scientist from Berlin, commented on the answers of the German government to the small parliamentary inquiry about Nagorno-Karabakh for Vestnik Kavkaza.

- One of the answers of the federal government states that Germany is helping Armenia to train its soldiers. But there is no similar cooperation with Azerbaijan. How can it be explained?

- I didn’t know about that. Even if the German side is involved in training of Armenian soldiers specifically within the NATO mission in Afghanistan, of course the knowledge and skills which they get could be used in other hot spots. It is very advisable that Germany doesn’t provide military support to any of the sides of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – neither directly nor indirectly. Moreover, we cannot rule out that some elements of the military training can be used for internal political purposes, i.e. repressions. In the recent past the Armenian state security forces has many times used force against peaceful protesters during election campaigns or social protests. Therefore, real grounds for concern are obvious.

- The German government wants to prompt the sides of the conflict to take certain steps for de-escalation on the frontline. How can this happen? What mechanisms does Germany have to reach this goal as part of its chairmanship of the OSCE this year?

- I wouldn’t understand it literally. First of all, it involves trustful bilateral talks at the intergovernmental level with each side of the conflict. The federal government could use its chairmanship of the OSCE to promote appropriate measures on improvement of trust and security. For example, at the moment there is a discussion on a joint initiative by the countries co-chairing the Minsk Group, i.e. Russia, the US and France, to create a mechanism of investigation of the frontline incidents. The necessity emerged long ago. It could be the first step. It would be even better to organize permanent watch stations of the OSCE directly alongside the frontline to prevent such incidents in the future or investigate them in a quicker manner. Finally, both sides of the conflict should reduce their military staff on the frontline and withdraw their snipers and heavy military weapons from there. Unfortunately, the conflicting sides weren't ready to take the step. The sides only demanded a first step from each other in advance.

- The German government makes it clear that these are soldiers of the Armenian army, who stay in Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied regions of Azerbaijan. Thus, the current chairing country in the OSCE has dispelled illusions about “an army of self-defense.” What can diplomatic consequences be of this?

- In fact, the assessment by the German government was stated in answers to an earlier small parliamentary inquiry. And it is regularly announced in governmental reports on human rights and disarmament. One third of the 23 thousand armed people of the Armenian side in Nagorno-Karabakh consist of professional soldiers of Armenia; other two thirds consist of young recruits from Armenia. This means it is almost a copy of the Army of the Republic of Armenia, rather than the so-called “forces of self-defense” which are recruited in Nagorno-Karabakh. In the end, it is key evidence that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has an international character; and one of its sides is the Republic of Armenia. The negotiating format of the OSCE Minsk Group took this into account long ago. And talks are being facilitated between Armenia and Azerbaijan, while the de facto Armenian regime in Nagorno-Karabakh doesn’t participate in the process.

- What circumstances could make them include the Nagorno-Karabakh regime in the negotiating process?

– In view of the interstate nature of the conflict, Nagorno-Karabakh cannot become a part of the official negotiating format under the auspices of the OSCE. Azerbaijan wouldn't accept it, because it would be a clear precedent for a solution of the diplomatic recognition of the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. The independent state of Nagorno-Karabakh couldn't remain unrecognized at all. It may happen as a result of the successful completion of the peace process in the best-case scenario. But it is definitely not a precondition for the desired progress in the negotiations at this stage. However, at a lower level than the official one, parallel meetings might be organized between Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijanis who were expelled from there. Such meetings between representatives of the two groups of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh and the restoration of social contacts might help to restore confidence. In the end, after the successful resolution of the conflict, Armenians and Azerbaijanis will have to live together in Nagorno-Karabakh, at least as peaceful neighbors. First of all, the Armenian side should make concessions. Moreover it wants the opening of borders due to understandable economic reasons. Azerbaijan will hardly agree to open its border as long as the Azerbaijani internally displaced persons are unable to return to their homeland. Similarly, without the settlement of the issue of IDP's return Azerbaijan won't be encouraged so that Turkey, Azerbaijan's ally, opened borders, which were closed for decades.

– Official Berlin recognizes neither the NKR nor the elections that took place there. This was confirmed once again in the federal government's responses. At the same time, there was information in some mass media not so long ago that a 'deputy' of Nagorno-Karabakh was invited by the party Alternative für Deutschland as an observer of the elections in Baden-Württemberg. How can you comment on it?

– Non-recognition of the de facto regime in Nagorno-Karabakh on the part of the government of the Federal Republic of Germany is a continuation of today's German foreign policy. Diplomatic recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh isn't possible, because there are not the necessary prerequisites. Quality requirements aren't fulfilled for the existence of their own state. The de facto independence of the breakaway region is the result of the war, it wasn't achieved legally with the help of democratic means. Both sides committed crimes in the course of the war. In the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian side almost completely expelled the Azerbaijani population out of there in order to create a homogenous political community of Armenians there. The right to self-determination isn't an identical claim for their own state. It is no accident that they continually refer to the right to self-determination "of peoples" (in the plural).The right for self-determination of peoples cannot be achieved at the expense of infringement of the right for self-determination of another nation. All people have equal rights and each nation is equal! There can't be more or less "valuable" peoples. It would be racism and it wouldn't be compatible with international law. For this reason, no one country has recognized such a state as Nagorno-Karabakh, including Armenia.

The de facto regime in Nagorno-Karabakh maintains political contacts in Western countries, in particular, ideologically right and nationalist parties, including Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). They have a lot in common: both parties stress their ethnic origins and people's identity, and obviously have a problem with cultural and religious diversity, as well as the characteristic of an open society. Both sides see themselves almost as defenders of Christianity from Islam. The right-populist AfD doesn't want to see more Muslims in Germany, and this desire disguises the requirement to stop the flow of refugees. At the moment, the majority of refugees come to Germany from the Muslim Middle East, and they aren't the only representatives of the Christian minority. The de facto regime in Nagorno-Karabakh, rejects the right of return of those Azerbaijani Muslims in the region who were expelled during the war. The Nagorno-Karabakh regime and the AfD are well compatible in the ideological way.

From a legal point of view, the invitation of representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh as election observers is meaningless, like the trips of the AfD members to observe the elections in Nagorno-Karabakh. Only those states, which are represented by their national governments, may recognize other states and elections that are held by them.

- What contribution can foreign scientists make in the progress of a peaceful settlement of the conflict, in your opinion?

- In my opinion, foreign scientists should represent the community-based interests of both parties of the conflict, in particular, the population in both countries. I believe that this is my task. Both groups of people – Armenians and Azerbaijanis – have the same right to self-determination and living in the Nagorno-Karabakh region in freedom and safety. There is no right to self-determination or residence on the basis of ethnicity or religion. Scientific objectivity doesn't mean compulsion to neutrality. This would be a form of self-censorship. The facts that deserve criticism can and should be specified. Only in this way can both sides have an increased willingness to make compromises, including painful ones. The solution of the conflict should be understood as a process at the end of which the two groups should accept a mutual democratic decision on the final political status of Nagorno-Karabakh. But this is in the long run. At the same time, a lot can be achieved under the German chairmanship of the OSCE with the help of confidence-building measures in order to stabilize the ceasefire in the conflict zone, and the to overcome the hostile presentation of the parties a little bit.