Frederick Starr: It’s better to look for a solution from the Azerbaijanis and the Armenians themselves
Interview with Stephen Frederick Starr, the founder and Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) and research professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. After a round table presentation discussion of recently published book“Conceptual foundations for reconstruction of post-conflict territories of Azerbaijan” by Nazim Muzaffarli and Eldar Ismailov hosted the Russian State University for Humanities, Professor Starr, the author of the work’s preface, tells VK correspondent about his view of Russia’s role in Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict and about CACI’s joint projects with Azeri scholars.
- Mr, Starr, in your preface to the book “Conceptual foundations for reconstruction of post-conflict territories of Azerbaijan” by Nazim Muzaffarli and Eldar Ismailov you say that Russia can’t be an objective and adequate mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. So, in your opinion, who can?
- I think that in the end it’s a problem that will be resolved between the two parties. We’ve had 19 years! If Mr Тrofimchyuk is correct and only Russia can decide this, then what has happened in all these years? Why have we not moved forward? I would welcome Russia’s successful involvement with this, I would welcome anyone else’s, I would welcome China’s or India’s involvement. Heavens knows, it has nothing to do with one country or another. Any external force, which is successfully able to shape a peaceful outcome, should be welcome. We should all welcome it, and if it’s Russia – great! But nothing has happened for 19 years, and we have to acknowledge reality. Therefore, it seems to me, it’s better to look for a solution from the Azerbaijanis and the Armenians themselves, they are clever people, they are smart people… And as we’ve heard today the Azerbaijanis have prepared to finance reconstruction and this is a tremendous opportunity, I think we should all support it and not try to manipulate the situation from the outside.
- So you believe that Azerbaijan is really able to finance this restoration of its post-conflict territories?
- I’m not able to judge that. You’ve heard the representative of the international bank of Azerbaijan today saying very clearly that the IBA is prepared to do so, and that’s extremely important. And by the way: Russians might pay attention to that because they could participate in the reconstruction, as Mr Sapharov said.
- This reconstruction plan, will it be still valid, say, 10 or 20 years from now?
- I think the problem that underlies this is the huge potential impact of inflation. Every month that the start of work is delayed raises the cost. But the basic structure of their analysis is going to be valid even 10 years from now. I hope, though, that this work will begin sooner.
- Does your Central Asia-Caucasus Institute conduct any other joint projects with your Azerbaijani colleagues?
- There are a lot of them. We have just published the history of Azerbaijan, in English, by Svante Cornell, one of our leading scholars in the West, and so far it exists only in English, but hopefully it will appear in Azeri language as well, soon. We have many other joint initiatives with Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani scholars, we’re very honored to be publishing, we hope this year, a wonderful book by your really splendid historian Jamil Hasanli who is really one of the finest historians in the entire post-Soviet space, he’s a master. And we are publishing a book of his on the foreign policy of the First Azerbaijani Republic. And we have several other initiatives that we are involved with, especially in the area of transport and trade. We are working very closely with our friends from the Azerbaijani Diplomatic Academy, especially with very fine young scholar there, Mr Ziyadov, in the area of transport and trade, which he is writing a book on. I would have we have a very full plate of activities with our friends in Baku. And we’re not just professional colleagues, we’re real friends.
- You’ve started your professional career as an archaeologist. So how did you turn from archaeology, from ancient history, to modern politics?
- Well, that’s an interesting question, which I don’t fully understand myself, but in eastern Turkey I was mapping ancient roads and it got a little bit dangerous because of the Kurdish uprising. And then little by little I shifted to contemporary events. But in the last few years, every day, I’ve been writing a big book on Central Asia from the 9th to the 11th centuries. The main question is why was there such an intellectual vitality there, and the answer is partly to do with transport and roads – the very thing I was studying in the beginning of my career. And I’ve been very much involved recently with this concept of opening a new Silk Road that goes the southern route through Georgia, Azerbaijan and across the Caspian, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and on, and again – it’s roads, transport. So in one sense I’ve never stopped researching my first topic.