Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Technical Contacts between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in Qarabagh Open Way to Broader Poliltical Ones, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 15 – According to Sputnik Armenia, a Russian media outlet directed at Armenia and Armenians, representatives of the Azerbaijani forces in Qarabagh have met with Armenians who had been part of Nagorno-Karabakh regime to discuss technical issues like the search of MIAs and the return of bodies found.

            These contacts have taken place with the mediation of Russian peacekeepers, Moscow commentator Stanislav Tarasov says; and even though the Russian government opposes any discussion of the status of Qarabagh now, such contacts are “a first step” toward the recognition of Stepanakert as the third side of the conflict (regnum.ru/news/polit/3191090.html).

            “This is the first official contact between Baku and Stepanakert in many years, Tarasov continues; “and one must suppose that such contacts will gradually enter the practice of their interrelationship without the participation of Yerevan” given that both Azerbaijan and the Armenians in Qarabagh have some common immediate challenges.

            “Of course,” the Moscow commentator says, “this does not mean, in any case for the time being, that Baku is ready to accept the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities as one of the participants in the negotiation process on the resolution of the Qarabagh conflict.” But it is a means to “the gradual conversion of the process to the acquisition of political trust.”

            Tarasov argues that this reflects “the logic of recent events” and should be welcomed by Moscow because it is leading Baku and Ankara to launch “a more intensive negotiation process not only for the normalization of relations with Armenia but also in the Qarabagh direction,” although how far this will go remains “difficult to predict.”

            It isn’t likely, he says, that “in the foreseeable future, Azerbaijan will be able to restore the status in Nagorno-Karabakh which it had in Soviet times.” The Armenian majority there isn’t going to be satisfied with the cultural autonomy that Baku is currently offering, and it will certainly make bigger demands.

            According to Tarasov, some in Moscow are actively thinking about how to proceed and may be more open to change than many now think. One possible “scenario,” he says, is to make use of the precedent of the 1921 Kars Treaty “in which the political status of Nakhichevan is defined as a mandate one ‘without the right of its transfer to a third side.’”

            That would exclude any movement of Qarabagh toward Armenia or the Russian Federation and thus might be a way forward as far as Azerbaijan is concerned. This notion at present is purely “hypothetical,” but it is certainly something that Azerbaijanis will have to consider, especially given that Russian and not Azerbaijani troops are in Stepanakert.          

            Tarasov concludes his article with the following words: “Baku has begun to approach Stepanakert as Moscow is now doing. But the final resolution of the issues of status are still ahead. This will require political will, difficult talks between Baku and Stepanakert, and not a little time.”

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