In an interview with ArmInfo, well-known Azerbaijani expert in conflict studies, who now lives in exile, PhD in History Arif Yunusov shares his view of the prospects of the Karabakjh conflict settlement. He reflects on the talk about cession of Karabakh districts to Azerbaijan and deployment of Russian peacekeepers around Karabakh. Yunusov also speaks of the interests of the global and regional players, as well as Yerevan and Baku in the Karabakh settlement process.
Mr. Yunusov, not long ago you had to leave Azerbaijan together with your wife. The same happened to thousands of Azerbaijanis, who fail to share the official views. It appears that there is no place in Azerbaijan for intellectuals. Are the roots of this problem in the authorities or in the Azerbaijani society?
In fact, it is a common problem for the entire post-Soviet space. After the collapse of the USSR, in all the 15 independent states only the change of titles took place. Former leaders of the Communist Party became presidents and heads of ruling parties, and the parliaments of the majority of newly independent states are still the enclosures to the presidential power. In essence, the old Soviet non-democracy system still exists and it stands no dissidence. Together with my wife, he had started the dissident activities yet in Soviet times. For the first time I was arrested in December 1976, for the attempt to create an anti-Soviet youth organization. And when in 2014 I was arrested again, I was shown the case filed against me yet in 1976. They said that I had been monitored since that time as a public enemy. That is why, since Azerbaijan became independent, together with my confederates, I did not struggle against certain politicians, but stood for changing the whole political system, for "desovietization" of the republic. People like us are always white crows, and we all were doomed to emigration. That was just a matter of time. If we lived in Armenia, Belarus, or, for instance, in any republic of Central Asia, we still would be outsiders and, sooner or later, would be forced to leave the country. For all the countries, which are far from democracy, and especially in authoritarian countries, dissident people leave in "domestic emigration" and sooner or later face repression.
Mutual media coverage of the public life and reasons of the Karabakh conflict by the Armenian and Azeri outlets is far from being unbiased and responsible. This consistently increases the aggressiveness and the reluctance to understand each other. However, the need to resolve the Karabakh conflict does exist. Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel?
The Armenian and Azerbaijani media coverage of the Karabakh conflict is biased and very often the media outlets themselves are the source of even stronger instigation and conflict escalation. But this is quite natural, strange though it may seem. If the conflict is unresolved, the media outlets of the conflicting parties are part of the information conflict. As a result, during the conflict the mass media start disseminating false information. But as soon as the conflict is settled, the settlement will change the mass media as well. So, the problem is not the mass media. There are no unresolvable conflicts. Sooner or later, all conflicts are settled and some day the Karabakh conflict will also be resolved. However, the Karabakh conflict will not be settled in the near future, because from the viewpoint of conflict studies the Karabakh conflict has passed only half of its path to settlement. So, I see a light at the end of the Karabakh tunnel, but the tunnel is very long and winding. This is why the light is not so visible sometimes and can cause pessimism. Today we are in one of such sections of the Karabakh tunnel, but tomorrow or in the future we will be in another section of the tunnel. So, all of us should be optimistic and should never abandon hope.
The talk about Karabakh’s cession of 5 districts as the initial point of a compromise resolution of the Karabakh conflict does not subside. How realistic is that scenario and who are the key beneficiaries?
I view this from the position of an expert and I see nothing new here. The issue on returning the districts surrounding Karabakh to Azerbaijan, partly or all at once, in exchange for Azerbaijan’s consent to a referendum on status has been raised for many times yet in the late 1990s. Moreover, this issue came into the focus of attention after 2004, when the so-called "Prague" stage of negotiations began and led to the result of Madrid Principles in 2007, setting forth all this clearly. So, there is nothing new in these discussions. The problem is that this issue will be under discussion for at least 20-25 years. Meanwhile, it is time to realize that the situation has essentially changed since 1994. In 1988-1994 the leading sides of the conflict were Azerbaijan and Armenia, and the external player was Russia, using this conflict solely for its own interests. But after signing the so-called “Century Oil Contract” in 1994, new players appeared in the area - the USA and the European Union, and the Karabakh conflict grew from an ethnic one into a geopolitical confrontation of Russia and the Western countries. As a result, Armenians and Azerbaijanis turned from key players into pieces in a large political game, deciding nothing and solving nothing, because there are global key players. The negotiations will be useless and combat actions will take place on the contact line twice a year - in spring and autumn. I was accused of all the sins at that time. I was told that nobody would stand the long process of negotiations, etc. But today we are still in the middle of the road to the settlement. In this respect, I think the discussions and negotiations will not lead to anything certain, because the heart of the matter is not the territories but the trust, and if the trust is obtained, the issue of the territories will lose its relevance. Armenians and Azerbaijani face the choice between bad and very bad peace. And both sides are still far from realizing that. That is why all these discussions and negotiations will not be called to life and will remain on the paper.
Russia tops the list of threats in the “unofficial” part of Azerbaijan’s national security doctrine. Armenia’s confidence in its strategic ally is also subsiding. Can one expect deployment of Russian peacekeepers as the only guarantor of observance of Moscow’s interests amid implementation of the “territorial” point of Madrid and Kazan documents?
The issue of deployment of Russian peacekeepers around Karabakh was relevant during the active phase of the conflict in 1992-1994, when Russia was the de facto only foreign player and exerted strong pressure on both parties. This issue was especially acute after conclusion of the Bishkek protocol in May 1994. But even at that time neither Azerbaijanis nor Armenians trusted Russia. Moreover, a paradoxical situation arose then - both conflicting parties appealed to Russia but both came out against deployment of Russian troops as peacekeepers along the frontline. Later, western players emerged in the region and this reduced Russia's chances to achieve its goals. Following August 2008 and after the role the Russian troops played at that time, when they simply took one of the sides instead of carrying out the peacekeeping mission and caused provocation, the hopes for monopolistic deployment of Russian troops in Karabakh have been minimized and are simply unrealistic. The talks cover this topic, but in fact it is just a game element in the negotiation process.
It seemed that the April escalation and the latest ambiguous impulses around the Karabakh conflict should have sobered those called political elite in our countries. However, we only observe another stage of the arms race that confirms the success of the “arms” policy of Moscow. Do you think this is the conscious choice of Yerevan and Baku or do they simply lack any other choice?
Given that the talks have reached a deadlock and the situation on the frontline is troublesome, the Karabakh conflict parties obviously stake on escalation. In such a case, they certainly need to acquire arms. That is to say, it is the logic of the current condition of the Karabakh conflict that dictates its role in the process. As regards the arms, it is most favorable for both parties to buy the weapons from Russia. The parties can also purchase arms from other suppliers as well and that Azerbaijan also buys military hardware from Turkey, Israel, Ukraine and other countries. At the same time, the military system and the weapons of the conflicting parties are mainly Soviet. In other words, the acquired types of weapons are first of all Russian weapons and Russia benefits from it.
Who do you think really needs settlement of the Karabakh conflict, besides Armenians and Azerbaijanis?
The US and Europe are interested in the Karabakh conflict settlement, while Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are not. Rhetorically, Yerevan, Baku, Moscow, Washington, Brussels, Tehran and Ankara declare their intention to peacefully resolve the conflict as soon as possible, but in practice it is not so simple as it seems to be. The US and Europe are really interested in the settlement. In case the conflict is resolved, their chances in the region will considerably increase in the region, because both Armenians and Azerbaijanis are already gradually taking a pro-Western stand and it is the conflict that prevents them from making a full turn towards the West. The US and the EU perfectly know and understand this. I think Turkey and Iran are also interested in the settlement for many reasons. Meanwhile, Baku and Yerevan want to resolve the conflict only rhetorically. But in practice the ruling elites are very far from the settlement and they are simply using the conflict in their own interests. Russia's interest in the settlement is even smaller, because even today it has very little space in the region for maneuvering. Russia has lost Georgia and now it has only Azerbaijan and Armenia. What does Russia have for that, except force? Can it attract with money? It needs money itself - amid the western sanctions. They say beggars cannot be choosers. Can the West be a value? It is not serious. So, it can only keep the conflict hanging in the air in order to use this factor as a stick or a carrot. Therefore, Russia is not interested in the settlement today.