Heiko Langner: “The price of further occupation is the structural economic underdevelopment of Armenia”
Interview by Orkhan Sattarov, head of the European Bureau of Vestnik Kavkaza
Heiko Langner, a German political analyst, specialist on the post-Soviet space and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, has expressed his point of view on the conflict in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.
- Mr. Langner, what do you think about consequences of the Nagorno-Karabakh war for Armenia and Azerbaijan?
- The war, which started in the early 1990s, was a humanitarian, economic, social disaster for both sides of the conflict. About 30,000 people were killed; more than a million people became refugees. In Azerbaijan almost every ninth citizen is a refugee. Before the war in Syria it was the highest quota per person in the world. Living conditions of refugees were very difficult and many of them had only temporary shelters, until quite recently.
In 2005-2006 Azerbaijan began to sell oil and experienced an economic boom. It influenced improvement of refugees’ position. Tent camps were replaced by real villages for refugees, which sometimes were as large as towns. I visited old and new camps for refugees, and I saw that living conditions in the new villages were satisfactory. At the same time, I must point out that people still feel pain from a loss of their motherland and want to come back, but it is impossible because of Armenia’s military occupation. They say: “We don’t want new houses, we want to return to our old motherland.”
- Do you think people will ever return home?
- The international society, the UN, and the OSCE should pay more attention to the fate of internal refugees and press on Armenia, making it refuse from its position and begin to withdraw troops at least from seven occupied regions near Nagorno-Karabakh, as soon as possible. It will give an impetus for economic recovery of the regions, and internal refugees will have an opportunity to return home. And the problem of status quo would be settled.
- What is the real damage from the results of the conflict for Azerbaijan and Armenia?
- Speaking about material damage, Azerbaijan lost about $60 billion; but the country managed to recover from it very quickly due to its intensive economic development. A foundation of economic prosperity of the country was laid by a political talent of its late president Heydar Aliyev who signed oil contracts with Western companies. Oil dollars were invested into development of economy, and it positively influenced employment and living standards of the population. The strategy of economic development, which was chosen by Azerbaijan, is very right; and it will provide complete elimination of poverty in the country, even though its level is very low even today.
The social and economic situation in Armenia is a mirror image of the situation in Azerbaijan. Armenia won the war from a military point of view; however, it put clock back in the country’s development. Armenia is traditionally poor in mineral resources, and it has to rely on processing industry. The collapse of the USSR destroyed many outlet markets for Armenian goods. As the result of trade and economic embargo by Azerbaijan and Turkey, Armenia had serious problems with providing energy for its economy and private households. Azerbaijan doesn’t let in oil and gas supplies to Armenia, and Russia is fully providing Armenia with energy resources. It means longer and more expensive import of energy resources through Georgia, as well as dependence on third countries. Even electricity power self-sufficiency is not stable, as the Metsamorskaya NPP is in bad technical conditions.
At least one third of Armenian population lives in deep poverty. If we add to them population living in relative poverty and under a threat of poverty, it will be clear that more than a half of the Armenian population lives in difficult economic conditions. According to polls, every second citizen of Armenia would prefer to leave the country to earn money, if he or she had such an opportunity. In the past the tendency concerned high class male professionals and people who had higher education. Of course, it influences negatively demographic development of the society. The tense situation in Armenia is worsened by Azerbaijan’s accumulation of military power, as Armenia had to allocate significant financial resources from the civil segment to the military one.
- Is the improvement of Azerbaijani military power a preparation for a military operation on returning occupied territories?
- Despite a big risk of renewal of the war, I think Azerbaijan, which accumulated military power, has no a direct goal to start a liberation war in Karabakh. They want to make Armenia withdraw its troops from the occupied territories by prostrating it in the armament race. The former president of Armenia Ter-Pterosyan stated at the end of his term that Armenia couldn’t stand such a pressure from Azerbaijan, so a compromise should be found. However, he failed to defend his point of view and had to resign.
The price of further occupation is Armenian structural economic underdevelopment, poverty, massive migration and demographic reduction of the population. One day a young generation would probably ask whether it is necessary to hold the status quo. Sometimes the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resembles the German-French bloody struggle which lasted for 150 years. Peaceful settlement of the conflict demands rejection of radical positions and readiness to compromise from both sides. However, I have an impression that the majority of Armenian population prefers to adhere to military victories, even though the mentioned difficult consequences take place. I think an absolutely nonrealistic idea of Great Armenia is a nationalistic dead end.