James Coyle: ”The solution of the Karabakh problem will bring huge benefits to Armenia"
Yesterday, the State Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan for Affairs of Refugees and IDPs organized a trip for the heads of diplomatic missions and international organizations to Terter, where a multi-storey residential complex for 1170 families built for internally displaced persons from the occupied Azerbaijani territories was presented to the them, along with a monument ‘Maraga-150’ erected in 1978 in honor of the resettlement of Armenians to Karabakh from Iran. On the sidelines of this event Vestnik Kavkaza spoke with the Director of the Center for Global Education of the Chapman University, James Coyle, about the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement.
- Professor, how do you assess the work carried out by the leadership of Azerbaijan to ensure the living conditions for internally displaced persons from the occupied territories?
- Yesterday I visited Lahic, and on the way there I saw a lot of such settlements, built especially for IDPs, all of them were inhabited by people. The work carried out by Azerbaijan makes an impression both of scale and quality. Perhaps, I myself would like to live in a house that is being built for immigrants.
- In your opinion, what are the prospects and obstacles for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict existing today?
- It is unlikely that the conflict can be resolved in the near future, although recently we have seen signs of improvement, including the meetings of the presidents in St. Petersburg and Vienna. The fact is that history repeats itself in some sense. Lately, I read an article in a newspaper, where the former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was quoted as saying during his first term as a president, ‘Agdam was never Armenian’ he said, and I recalled that 3-4 weeks ago, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said that, it was possible to reach the agreement on the basis of the full or partial de-occupation of the five occupied regions of Azerbaijan. President Ilham Aliyev then said that despite the fact that Azerbaijan does not consider the issue of the independence of Karabakh, a compromise can be found after the return of five districts.
Here we can come to a conclusion, that we are gradually moving towards the resolution of the conflict, but, reflecting on this, I remembered 1997. Those days, the parties seriously considered a step-by-step plan to achieve peace, and President Levon Ter-Petrosyan then said that he agreed to the return of the five districts - but everything ended, when six months later Robert Kocharian replaced him as president. Now the parties are also saying the right things, but for now I doubt that this will lead to the concrete peaceful actions. A good illustration of my thought can be the recent seizure of the police station by extremists in Yerevan took place the last summer - Armenia used it as an excuse to stop the peace talks once again.
- What, in that case, can serve as an incentive for the transition from the diplomatic meetings to the implementation of the concrete steps?
- The political will on the part of the governments is needed here. Armenia should want to deoccupy the five regions, Azerbaijan should want to accept this as the first step of the practical part of the peace process. Until the political will is not manifested, progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement should not be expected.
- How do you assess the work of the OSCE Minsk Group and the initiative to nominate Turkey as another co-chairman?
- The Minsk Group is now in a deadlock, it has not put forward any new ideas somewhere since 2000, when the meeting between Robert Kocharian and Heydar Aliyev took place in Key West, where they were working on the action plan seriously. 17 years passed, but the parties have not fulfilled the conditions of that plan under the auspices of the Minsk Group. I think, the current composition of the Minsk Group co-chairs can include the EU, Germany and Turkey among them, due to the lack of ideas. Turkey will be a very interesting choice, because it could work with the both sides of the conflict. Turkey historically has friendly relations with Azerbaijan, and with Armenia, it negotiated on establishing contacts at the beginning of the first presidential term of Barack Obama. Unfortunately, nothing was implemented, but the talks were conducted, it is a fact, which means that Ankara could be an intermediary between Baku and Yerevan.
- How much is your country, the United States, interested in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
- The US is interested in peace and stability in the South Caucasus, but let's be frank: the South Caucasus is not a priority issue for America. Despite the fact that we would like the conflict to be resolved, I think that now the American administration is much more concerned by such problem regions as Syria and Iraq.
- What is your opinion on the idea of introducing OSCE peacekeepers in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone?
- It seems to me, it is very important who will represent the peacekeeping troops. For all these years, the proposals for the introduction of peacekeepers have sounded repeatedly, but always one of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group wanted to have more of its military in the peacekeeping forces. I agree with the position of Azerbaijan, that none of the co-chairs should provide their military personnel as peacekeepers. If you look at Ukraine, the country wants the introduction of the OSCE troops only in order to guard the OSCE observers who do not have access to many areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Peacekeepers can work effectively only if both sides want it.
- Do you agree that the resolution of the conflict is beneficial for Armenia?
- This will be a huge benefit for Yerevan, due to the fact that Armenia has lost so much because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. For example, it would be more logical to build an oil pipeline from Baku via the Armenian territories rather than Tbilisi, but because of the conflict it was built via Georgia. The same applies to the recently opened Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which could be laid through Armenia. Now the construction of a new railway from Russia to India is under way, Armenia would like it to pass through its territory, but this will not happen, that is, Yerevan loses every day because of the conflict. If the conflict is resolved, Armenia will receive the greatest economic benefits from this, since the country will be opened again to the international community.