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Interview by Azad Alyiev
   
 
 
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Interview by Azad Alyiev

 
Monday, 15 March 2010 23:28
 
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Epos converses with Azad Alyiev

by Emanuela Claudia Del Re (EPOS)
EPOS Conversations

 

The border between Turkey and Armenia and has not opened, and what further?

The relations between Turkey and Armenia undergo continuous adjustment, which is good news considering the complexity of the issue between the two countries. This means in fact that there is a  margin for negotiation and resolution. It must not be forgotten that recently historic events have taken place, as the two countries signed a roadmap –the so called Protocols- for normalizing relations in October 2009 in Geneva with active U.S. involvement. The event caused the reaction to the Protocols of the Azeri president Aliyev that opposed the documents as there was no reference to the Nagorno-Karabach conflict , and therefore the Protocols lost their significance, with the US asking Azerbaijan to take a new position. Nevertheless this shows that although the opening of the border is still debated there are clear signs of an opening towards reconciliation as the process is ongoing and the mentality has changed towards dialogue. Turkey is now busy with other issues such as the recent problem with Israel, and it might seem that this would overshadow the question relating to Armenia in Turkey’s agenda, but negotiations continue. A very important example of this are two moves that the Turkish government recently made, that are the promise to provide education to the children of undocumented Armenian workers –still under discussion - and the permit given to the Armenians to celebrate a religious service in the Akhtamar Church in the eastern province of Van. Opening to Armenia would offer to Turkey the opportunity to create a Istanbul-Yerevan axis with numerous convenient strategic implications, also for the region. Whether the border is physically opened or not, what is most important is the fact that cross-border partnerships between non-governmental organizations, local governments and business initiatives keep on developing and strengthening. Turkey and Armenia should – and probably will at some point - understand the importance of their geopolitical and geostrategic position and recognize their mutual interests and interconnections.

Some analysts consider that the USA hand over positions in region of Southern caucasus. It can result in what results on Southern caucasus? If priorities of new administration in region have changed, how the USA are going to protect the power interests in the Caspian pool?

Hillary Clinton will visit Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia at the beginning of July. This shows the interest of the USA in the stability of the region. Nagorno-Karabach  is a hot issue - firing is still taking place between Armenians and Azeri - and the conflict will not easily be resolved soon. As regards Georgia, the US has recently affirmed, replying to accusations of Obama having reinforced the relationship with Russia at the expenses of Georgia,  that it is strongly committed in keeping the integrity of the territory of the country. Stability is the key word to understand US interest in the region, and is at the basis of US aid and involvement in conflict resolution. On one hand, more ties with the region would help the US to keep Iranian influence under control, engaging in improving relationships with the Muslim world through its relations with Azerbaijan, and supporting democratic aspirations in Armenia and Georgia.

The question of energy resources (gas and oil) is also relevant, as the Caspian basin is seen as an alternative to Europe’s dependence, especially the dependence on the Middle East and Russia, although the actual dimension of Caspian resources is debatable and it is difficult to state whether they really constitute an alternative. The good relationship between the US and south Caucasus is also related to security issues, and dates back even to 9/11, when Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan offered cooperation and military support for peacekeeping operations in Iraq, showing a definite geopolitical orientation. On the other hand, some stress out that US interests in the region might be threatened by the alleged Al Qaeda terrorists based there, and that the US should be cautious in aiding and supporting countries where there are ongoing conflicts and human rights violations. In the end, what counts in the global scenario is that the region is precious for Russia as well as for Turkey, the US and the EU, another big player on the stage.

This means that the region is the object of competition, especially as regards energy and geopolitical equilibriums. There can be a civilized cooperation between all actors in the future, but the first steps must be taken now, that means that the US –and the EU- must be firmly present in all the processes to make sure their role is permanent, active, prominent. I do not think that the priorities in Obama’s administration have changed. It should be not thought that if an agreement is reached on an issue this diminishes the importance of another. These policies are a question of opportunities and seizing the time. All issues have been reconfirmed as crucial to the US administration, as the recent short crisis between Azerbaijan and the US  over the missed reference to the Nagorno-Karabach conflict in the Protocols between Armenia and Turkey has shown. South Caucasus should start expanding its vision as a region, a concept in which lies the resolution of conflicts and the affirmation of the area in  the global scenario, in my view.

Involving in this region of the new player in the name of China is how much probable?

There is no  question regarding whether to involve China in the region, because China is already strongly involved. The question is how to guarantee the equilibrium between all external actors in the region. Armenia has improved its ties with China, which the country considers as a priority partner. In other countries such as Azerbaijan the importance of China as commercial partner is increasing, although still not as significant as other countries. What makes China important in the region is its will to create connection axes, which will strongly influence transport and movement, with a number of political and economic – as well as social - implications. Personally I am always in favour of creating more connections and more movement –I have carried out long researches on pan-European corridors in this perspective. The problem is not movement and expansion of networks. The problem is to allow movement of people and goods making sure that rules and normative are respected, which is a difficult task, and keeping the competition between foreign actors free and fair, in all fields, from trade to security and other. I refer for instance to the potential influence of China in political issues, supporting one at the expenses of another, which could have ruinous side effects.

Whether can result passivity of the USA in region of Southern caucasus in activity of the European Union which is interested in project implementation? Набукко??

As I mentioned before, I do not think that one could define US involvement in the region as passive, although the countries of the region might aspire to more support. After all US policy towards the region, as well as other regions such as the Balkans, has always been measured, aspiring to the maximum result with the minimum effort, always putting its interests first. The EU is strongly involved in the region. Think about the volume of trade: just analyzing my country, Italy, it emerges that it is the first trading partner of Azerbaijan, is one of the major members and contributors of the BTC pipeline consortium and a lot more.  This means that Italy, as well as other EU members, is interested in stability in the region, and promotes a number of diplomatic initiatives –track one and track two- to ensure that its effort would not be vain. This is the reason at the basis of the Eastern Partnership, a specific Eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which benefits from the support of 600 mln Euro until 2013. Successive enlargements of the EU will bring these countries closer to the EU and lead to increased political ties. The EU has an interest in helping these partner countries to address the socio-economic challenges they face and support their aspirations for closer ties, not least in the light of unresolved regional conflicts. Hopefully in 2010 the negotiations for the EU association agreement of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia will start, in this way decreeing the orientation towards the EU of these countries. Nevertheless, these countries are still one of the elements at the centre of the definition of power balances at global level. Russia is against the realization of the Trans-Caspian gas-pipeline (and so is Iran) and the Nabucco project. This is an example of what the geopolitical issues will be like in the future, because it exemplifies the interests which are driven by energy resources: Europe wants to diversify its resources, lessening its dependence on Russia. Russia wants to continue being the radiant centre of energy for Europe. Europe then will have to invest more on energy security, that implies alliances with the countries of the region, with the result that they could proceed with the realization of the projects, including the controversial Nabucco. I might seem to make it simple and too concise, but the core of the problem is this.

Considering rapprochement of Ankara and Moscow on very many, including to political problems, whether it is possible to assert for today, what the position of the Kremlin on the Karabakh problem varies in favour of Azerbaijan? There is a standard concept, the statement that the key to the permission of the Karabakh problem lies in Moscow. Agree with such statement?

The reason why there is a perception of a major role of Russia in the Nagorno-Karabach issue is that Russia supported Armenia after the fall of the Soviet Union, because Armenia was had always been its most important reference in strategic terms in the south Caucasian region.  Nevertheless things have changed, or, better, have found a new balance. The strategic importance of Turkey for Russia has emerged in the recent rapprochement between the two countries. Given that Turkey has taken strong positions towards the issue in Nagorno-Karabach, such as the fact that in the issue of re-opening the border imposed the resolution of the conflict a precondition, de facto impossible for Armenia to accept. Some say that this was exactly what Turkey wanted, to please Azerbaijan, an oil and gas producer. The whole story had an obvious international repercussion, going as far as Russia. For all these reasons Russia is very cautious in its relations with Turkey, as well with Azerbaijan and Armenia, so much that its position has become more balanced than in the past.

As it is known, there is already a second ten years since Armenia occupied 20 % of territory of Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijan party repeatedly declared that the resource of peace talks is not infinite also a military way of the decision of a problem still is not removed from the agenda. What will be a position of the USA in case Azerbaijan will decide to return a military way occupied territories? - As your way there will be a balance of forces on Southern caucasus?

This scenario is not so feasible, given the problems that the US is facing in Afghanistan with the withdrawal of the troops starting as early as next year. The scenario could change in case the region became another battlefield for great powers. There are rumors about the fact that Russia would send troops with a “peacekeeping” label in the near future to Nagorno-Karabach, following an agreement with the Azeri Minister of Defence. Rumors also say that Turkey would react to a Russian intervention by sending its own troops to Nakhichevan, claiming its right to do so according to a Treaty signed in 1921 that allowed military intervention by Turkey in the region in case of serious threat. The game of alliances is between Russia and Armenia on one side and Azerbaijan and Turkey on the other. What would the US do? The importance of Azerbaijan as connection between east and west is crucial in terms of energy flows, and Armenia in this sense plays a minor role.

The US, according to some, might try a blitz in Azerbaijan, also to keep the Iran situation under control where there the Azeri constitute the largest minority. The decision making process in the US is not as easy and Obama would have to convince the Congress and the public opinion about a new military intervention, while the Americans lament that those who die in Afghanistan are not even mentioned on the front page of newspapers, not anymore. As regards Azerbaijan intervening militarily in the conflict, I think it is a threat that Ramiz Mehdiyev used to show the urge to come to a solution, given the many side implications and the unclear position of some of the great powers. Azerbaijan is calling for more transparency by Russia, and by the US, which are thought to have always supported Armenia, which might in its turn acted differently if it were not influenced by the US. The multilevel dimension of the conflict is felt as interfering with the natural development of the negotiations between the parts directly involved.

In your opinion, for today there are preconditions to what the conflict can move in a positive direction in 2010?

Only  a few days ago the US, France and Russia pledged to support Armenia and Azerbaijan in their attempt to agree on basic principles for the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh region. Obama, by French President Sarkozy and Russian President Medvedev, said that they appreciate the good will shown by the two countries, especially as regards the overall framework of a potential agreement.  Now it is for the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to continue on this road, the three powers have stated in an official document that was issued during the G8 meeting in Toronto. I am confident that the two countries see the importance of settling the issue because they are both oriented towards the European Union, and this means meeting some standards. Both of them will have to adjust to the so called Helsinki principles, which include facing the problem of the return of the occupied territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh guaranteeing security and self-governance,  and a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. Another important step to be taken within this framework would be also that the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh will be determined by a legally-binding vote and the right of all internally-displaced persons and refugees to return, and international security guarantees, including a peacekeeping operation.

The issue of return is crucial as well as the presence of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabach. The intervention of Turkey asking to resolve the conflict as a precondition for re-opening the border, has made Armenia suspend the ratification of the accord. The EU special representative for South Caucasus Peter Semneby is visiting Baku these days. In late May, Catherine Ashton,  the head of the European Union's foreign policy had proposed to withdraw the EU Special Representatives from South Caucasus because of the “frozen conflict”. The visit of Semneby shows instead that just before presidential elections in Azerbaijan the EU wants to show its interest, will and authority. The most important aspect for negotiations to continue is that they take place at different levels: institutional, local grass root and other, with international mediators who have sound interests. In this way the rules of the game are clear and a positive outcome is guaranteed to all, to reach a long lasting win-win situation.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy

Last modified on Monday, 18 August 2014 15:36
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