Dual standards in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
Nagorno-Karabakh is a frozen ethnic conflict between the Republic of Armenia and Azerbaijan that started in the late 1980s, and which has been continuing up until now with the occupation of the Karabakh region and the 7 surrounding districts by the Armenian-backed Karabakh separatists. The conflict has its roots dating back to the early 20th century, yet the full escalation of tensions and bloody events took place in the early 1990s. The conflict is still governed by the separatist regime (breakaway government) of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic with full support of Armenia. The most dynamic phase of the conflict was 1988-1994. During this period, Azerbaijan has undergone a serious ethnic cleansing (around 10% of its population) and massacre along with the annexation of its territories by Armenia. A ceasefire agreement was signed in May 1994 with the mediation of Russia. Sporadic events and skirmishes have happened ever since the signing of the ceasefire agreement, however the conflict has never gone into an active phase. The USA, France and Russia several times came up with a road map to achieve a full settlement of the conflict, however, the problem still remains unresolved, where a fragile ceasefire is regularly violated and the 2 parties are technically at war.
Azerbaijan is a fundamentally modern, secular society that is mostly inclined towards the EU and desires to be associated with the West in the long run. Along with the other partner countries, Azerbaijan is committed and keen on laying strong foundations and building a bilateral strategic cooperation with the EU to boost its economy, bolster its sustainable development and play a role in Europe’s energy supply. The EU-Azerbaijan relations are, in particular, characterized by the realization of huge energy projects which truly satisfy both sides. From the EU perspective, oil and gas diversification makes Europe less dependent on Russia, and from the Azerbaijan side, the energy supply drives its economy and long-term socio-economic growth. Also, the Azerbaijan political community and civil society believe that the country will be able to consolidate the international law and fundamental values – democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms and the norms and standards of Europe. In reality, for Azerbaijan linking itself to the West gradually and getting support elsewhere other than Russia means the strengthening of its politico-economic independence. Furthermore, one of the major goals of the EU-Azerbaijan relations is to help the country build up an equilibrium and greater resilience in meeting the challenges posing risks to its stability. Apparently, Azerbaijan has been cooperating with the EU on Common Security and Defence Policy matters.
However, despite the promising nature of the EU-Azerbaijan relations, there are several factors, that said, impediments that make Azerbaijan take a distance from the West. The biggest impediment is certainly the EU’s double standards on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Azerbaijani government has taken a radical stance with regard to the West’s double standards in the N. Karabakh problem. Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly announced that their country will not cooperate with Armenia unless it liberates the occupied lands. As one Azerbaijani high ranking official said “Baku welcomes the country-specific thrust of the Eastern Partnership but won’t get involved in multilateral arrangements within it alongside Armenia, as long as the latter remains in occupation of Azerbaijan territory”. And despite the existence of the USA, France and Russia-brokered OSCE Minsk group, the negotiations have not yet yielded any substantial results.
The most disappointing nuance is that we haven’t yet noticed the same reaction and response to the N. Karabakh conflict the West demonstrated during the annexation of Crimea, Russia-Georgia war, etc. This well proves the fact that the EU can play a role in the cessation and resolution of conflicts, which we haven’t seen in the example of Azerbaijan. The recent military actions and emergence of the conflict zones created by Russia in Eastern Europe, fragility of ceasefire agreements and security of the EP countries being at stake clearly indicate that the EU should undertake greater involvement in the conflict resolutions for the good of its Eastern Partners. Following the seizure of Crimea, the EU and the US unanimously imposed sanctions on Russia. Even the the Eastern Partnership Riga summit final declaration bitterly denounced and condemned Russia for its violation of Ukrainian territorial integrity and state sovereignty. Though the EU declare its support in favor of Azerbaijan, this is nothing more than rhetoric and that can not any way suffice Azerbaijan in the settlement of the conflict. Some authors even go further calling the EU “double-faced” for pursuing a hypocrite policy and not extending full sincere support to Azerbaijan. Of course, the EU’s holding a different approach on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has somehow thrusted Azerbaijan into a policy of non-alignment in relation to the EU and its Eastern Partnership program.
What is more, Azerbaijan had, indeed, great expectations from the Riga summit (held in 2015 within the Eastern Partnership) hoping the EU countries would adopt a special paragraph on the “Armenian occupation and unconditional withdrawal of troops from the occupied territories”, which corresponds to the demands of the UN resolutions that were adopted in response to the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and the other surrounding districts in 1992-1993. The resolutions still remain unfulfilled, and Armenia has not yet withdrawn its troops from the Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions. Given the 4 UN resolutions, the EU countries however didn’t recognize Armenia as an aggressor at the Riga summit, which has, in turn, brought huge disappointment for Azerbaijan. “Because of this over, for over 24 years we cannot eliminate the consequences of the Nagorno-Karabakh tragedy, we can not bring back the Azerbaijani citizens driven out from their native homes and achieve peace and reconciliation in the South Caucasus,” The Presidential Aide Ali Hasanov said. Hasanov also stressed that the Abkhazian and South Ossetian and Gagauzia and Transnistrian conflicts threatening Georgia’s and Moldova’s territorial integrity respectively emerged as a result of the non-fulfillment of the UN resolutions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Also, the EU-Azerbaijan relations mainly being dominated by the discussion of issues such as democracy, human rights and media freedom alienate Azerbaijan from the West. So thinking pragmatically, EU’s placing an equal focus on security matters and conflict resolution along with universal human rights would lead to better outcomes on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
To sum up, if the Eastern Partnership wants to reach the desired level of relations and cooperation with Azerbaijan, then the EU should get more involved in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to accelerate the regional integration and promote collaboration. Only then the Eastern Partnership could offer a positive prospect for the future.
The article is published thanks to The Council of State Support to Non-Governmental Organizations under the Auspices of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.