The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group Igor Popov, Stefan Visconti and Richard Hogland has paid another visit to the region. As part of the visit, co-chairs met with Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan in Yerevan and Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev in Baku on June 10 and June 19, respectively. They held consultations with the defense and foreign ministers of both countries. In addition, co-chairs visited Nagorno-Karabakh on June 12 and met with the representatives of the de-facto government there. Mediators also visited Zengilan, Gubadli, Lachin, Kalbajar, as well as adjacent regions of Nagorno-Karabakh. When they were in Baku, co-chairs met with the members of the "Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijani community” Public Union. The situation in the frontline, conflict resolution process was discussed at length in all meetings. Co-chairs released a statement at the end of the trip. They are expected to go to Vienna on July 3 to inform the members of the OSCE Misnk Group. Co-chairs also plan to meet with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia to discuss the future prospects. MP Zahid Oruj sat down for an interview with "Kaspi” and answered our questions regarding the outcomes of the co-chairs’ visit to the region, tension in the frontline and other issues.
- Zahid, the co-chairs latest trip to the region ended the day before. Many meetings were held and ideas were discussed and a statement was issued at the end of the visit. Do you think this visit can form a basis for restoring active negotiations surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
- It cannot. Because the statement issued by co-chairs is not an adequate response to the confrontation and the tense situation in the frontline. The OSCE Minsk Group does not have the role of a ‘firefighter’ so that they can release yet another statement. As long as a fundamental solution is not implemented, their statements could not be used in front of tanks and cannons. It’s impossible to achieve peace this way. The confidence in the OSCE MG has plummeted in the recent years. The current violation of ceasefire by Armenia and the shots are against the international mission. If you recall, a month ago Armenia brought air defense system to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, to a very close distance of our positions. Azerbaijani Army destroyed that anti-aircraft missile complex. After this incident the OSCE Minsk Group released a statement which indirectly accused Azerbaijan of escalating the situation in the contact line. This was an instance of anti-Azerbaijani propaganda by Armenians with the help of the international organizations. The accusations against Azerbaijan made it seem like even harsher remarks would be made about us in the future. Co-chairs visited Armenia on June 12, followed by a visit to Nagorno-Karabakh. Diplomats held several meetings with different trajectories that is very rarely observed in the history of this conflict. The meetings in Kalbajar, Lachin, Zengilan and Nagorno-Karabakh is an example of this. It seems like co-chairs were supposed to send reports to the centers of European countries regarding this. So a question arises, why did co-chairs visit Kalbajar? Do co-chairs want to assess the situation or do they want to observe the population. We asked ourselves these questions. The reality is that something that is rarely ever observed in the history of the conflict took place. Co-chairs’ meeting with the Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh, in addition to their meeting with the president and the ministers, was as if calculated to maintain balance. But the situation did not de-escalate in the frontline while they were in Baku. Local confrontations took place. This is also different than it was before. In the sense that in the past the armed forces would adhere to ceasefire during the co-chairs’ visit to the region. But it wasn’t the case this time around.
- As you mentioned, the situation became tense during the latest Baku visit of the co-chairs. Even a military serviceman of Azerbaijan was killed. 6 Armenian soldiers were killed and several wounded. The violation of ceasefire by Armenia during the visit of co-chairs, what does it mean?
- President Ilham Aliyev explained this in his meeting with co-chairs. Accurately analyzing the situation, Ilham Aliyev openly stated what Armenia was trying to achieve. He noted that Armenia was trying to disrupt the Minsk Group’s mission in any way they can. By escalating the situation on the contact line, Armenia wants to shift the focus to the security issues and blame Azerbaijan for violating ceasefire. The president actually put the blame on the international powers with this stance. The current situation means that things can be derailed by the regional powers. We can’t blame international powers for this. Russia is not interested in the escalation of the conflict. They do not want to fight on several fronts. Nagorno-Karabakh is a component of security in the North Caucasus. If we look back to 1990s, Chechnyan events and its escalation can confirm this. The incident that took place then stemmed from the processes going on in Nagorno-Karabakh. The security in the region also depends on Nagorno-Karabakh. If they don’t want to turn Caucasus to the rear of the Middle East and Syria, the stability must be acheived in the region. Under current circumstances, the increasing confrontation between Azerbaijan and Armenia can be viewed as the failure of political negotiations. It’s true that the relations among some of the Minsk Group member states also play a role in the conflict. Such was the case in 2014. The hopes Russia had for Donald Trump was in vain. The new president of the USA cannot step away from his cabinet, country and internal conflicts. So, a Russia-USA cooperation is not happening. On the contrary, their disagreements over Syria and Ukraine is deepening. And this affects other processes as well. The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh can get out of hand due to external and internal factors. This is very real. We should also remember that the incidents on the contact line also impact the position of Armenian political leadership. The state of the government in the enemy country depends significantly on the soldiers in the trenches. In the light of these events, the OSCE Minsk group tries to reduce the tension. But for this to happen, Armenia should withdraw its tanks, cannons and other military equipment from the frontline. And this is not realistic. Anji Kaspershik, special representative of OSCE's incumbent Chairman, is a military intelligence officer. He has dedicated his life to monitoring the borders. His office is being expanded. He, no doubts, informs the chief office of the OSCE, the USA and French embassy about increasing the number of soldiers, military equipment and weapons on the conflict zone. He is well aware that Armenians are resorting to any provocation on the front line after April battles of the last year and Azerbaijan is not sitting idly. To sum it up, we can characterize the current situation as "creeping war”. Clashes happen throughout the year. This will automatically affect the sides of the conflict.
- Russian co-chair Igor Popov announced that he is in favor of continuing the peace talks. If we remember that Armenia used to offer conditions to continue the peace talks, does the latest statement of the Russian co-chair give us a reason to assume Yerevan has stopped putting forth such conditions?
- We can reasonably come to that condition. After April battles, Armenian side put forth several conditions. But many of their dreams failed in time. Armenia demands that Azerbaijan be punished and its war rights be taken away. In addition, Armenians wanted to create various observation and camera mission in the region and Azerbaijan be held accountable for any shot it fires. Armenia refrained from talks for a while as these conditions were not met. In Saint Petersburg and Vienna some pressure was put on Azerbaijan. But the latest tension will bring Armenia to the negotiation table. It’s clear that Azerbaijan military forces have become to participate in the negotiation process. That’s why, co-chairs met with the ministers of defense, as well as the presidents and foreign ministers, as part of their visit to the region. It’s true that, at least two paragraphs of the co-chairs’ statement should be criticized heavily. The first criticism is that co-chairs are addressing Karabakh in their statement. This is very wrong. Because there is no such thing as Karabakh army. Without the order of Armenia and the green light from the Sargisyan’s cabinet, Armenian soldier wouldn’t fire a single show at Azerbaijani positions. On the other hand, the fact that Azerbaijan was mentioned before Armenia in the statement gives certain people an opportunity to claim that Baku was condemned in the statement. It’s as if we violated the ceasefire and Armenia retaliated. This is not the case. Thus, Azerbaijani side has made serious accusations against the OSCE and co-chairs.
-Ali Hasanov, presidential aide on social and political issues, commented on the talks. He noted that every meeting that is held to resolve the conflict peacefully serves to find a common ground and it will be found sooner or later. Aide stated that the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories by the Azerbaijani army was inevitable. Can this be interpreted as Azerbaijan toughening its stance in the negotiation process?
- The diplomatic language of Azerbaijan has rightfully hardened. This is the adequate response to the latest events. On the other hand, many promises were made after the April clashes of 2015. These promises were pushed under the title "Lavrov plan”. This plan was considered the revised version of "Kazan talks”. It talked about stage-by-state solution to the conflict, liberation of several districts etc. But it proved to be a failure. On the other hand, the military status-quo has changed. The Azerbaijani army has become more powerful in every aspect and become stronger in the frontline. The modern Armed Forces of Azerbaijan cannot be compared to that of 1990s. The April battles proved this once again. And this has changed the Armenian opinion and ‘red lines’ have been replaces. I want to repeat once again, the possibility of a war breaking out is very real. Armenians say they will target Baku and cause a great war. Or they ramp up anti-Russian rhetoric. Despite everything, the tension between conflict sides have increased like never before. The intelligence reports allow us to say that it’s possible for clashes to occur with a view to regain control of the situation.