Staunton, Nov. 19 – For more than 30 years, the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been focused on the status of Qarabagh – or Nagorno-Karabagh as it is referred to in Russian – rather than on the delimitation of state borders between the two countries or the possible reopening of transportation corridors, Sergey Markedonov says.
But in the past year, the focus of the sides has shifted from the issue of the final status of Qarabagh to those other issues which had been secondary in the past, the Russian specialist on the Caucasus says, a change that represents a major setback for Armenia and the West and a victory for Russia and Azerbaijan (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=61966A87273DA).
Yerevan has always insisted that the conflict is first and foremost over what it says is the need for the independence of that Armenian-majority area or at least the establishment of a special status for Karabagh within Azerbaijan. Western participants in the Minsk Group have long supported the latter if not the former aspiration.
Baku, on the other hand, has always maintained that Qarabagh is part of Azerbaijan and that it should not have any special status in Azerbaijan. And Moscow, in the year since the declarations which ended the 44-day war, has called for focusing on border delimitation and the reopening of the corridors.
Moreover, the Russian government has insisted that any discussion of a final status for Karabagh-Qarabagh is premature, a position that justifies the continued presence of Russian troops in the region, troops that Moscow defines as peacekeepers but that some see as an attempt by the Russians to expand their military position in the Southern Caucasus.
This shift leaves Moscow as “the chief mediator in the process of peaceful resolution” of the conflict, Markedonov says, although he adds that it is more precise to describe its role as “conflict management.” Moscow was able to secure a new ceasefire, but maintaining that, as new fighting shows, is becoming ever more difficult.
Indeed, even if the status of Karabagh-Qarabagh is off the table at least for now, the two sides have intractable disputes about the border between the two countries and different abilities and interests in which corridors are opened and what these corridors are like. As a result, more fighting is likely rather than not.
And such fighting has the potential to become even more explosive. That is because any Azerbaijani advance now would cross into what most accept is Armenian territory rather than be about the recovery of its own lands and thus transform the dispute into a military dispute between two countries of a different kind.