Former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, former Ambassador of Armenia to the United States, Professor of the Fletcher School of Tufts University, Ambassador Ruben Shugharyan in an interview with ArmInfo discusses the latest trends in the international situation around the Artsakh issue. He shares his vision of the negotiating agenda of the Armenian parties to the conflict. Represents his own approaches to the most favorable for Yerevan and Stepanakert scenario for the resolution of the Karabakh problem.
Mr. Shugharyan, the era we live now is characterized by rapid global political changes. Very often they contain challenges and threats, but, of course, they also provide opportunities. What opportunities do you see in the existing trends for the outcome of the Karabakh conflict favorable to the Armenian parties?
There are, of course, available options. And in the period that followed the April war in 2016, Armenian diplomacy conducted quite a good work in the United States and at the United Nations. Our ambassadors and other diplomats managed to focus foreign colleagues' attention on the facts of war crimes committed by the Azerbaijani military in April and to achieve major transformations in the public and international opinion on Artsakh issues. The international community acts in accordance with its own algorithm, whereas we habitually and quite rightly complain about its slow response. And, nevertheless, the ongoing change in the international attitude towards Azerbaijan during the post-April period is a fact that the Armenian diplomacy can use this fact in its own interests. In other words, Armenia's foreign policy needs a new filling, given the changed situation after April 2016, not only in the region, but also in the world.
As a starting point, you chose the April War of 2016. Why?
Of course, the transformations took place also prior to April of last year in the context of global challenges and conflicts. And nevertheless, it was in the post-April period that our diplomacy tried to convince the international community of Azerbaijan's sole responsibility for the April victims, as it was, in fact. However, these attempts were of little success until the period when we began to draw parallels between the April activities of Azerbaijan - the demonstration to the own people of the disgusting treatment towards Armenian prisoners of war and the activities of the Islamic state. And only after presenting a"the full list" to the international structures and the facts of unacceptable war crimes initiated by Baku, the world changed the attitude, changing the degree of concern about this problem. It was the "four-day war" that demonstrated to the world the Karabakh reality, the real level of propaganda of violence in Azerbaijan. Even conflicts in the Middle East, a number of post-Soviet countries differ from the Karabakh's ability of these peoples to continue to co-exist side by side. Meanwhile, as all efforts of Baku are aimed precisely at creating conditions that make joint living of Azerbaijanis and Armenians impossible. In this light, I think, the Armenian foreign policy needs to add to all these facts a demonstration of a comparison between the degree of openness of the society, the governance systems in Artsakh and Azerbaijan. In my opinion, this step is capable of bringing additional dividends to the Armenian sides of the conflict.
How do you see the meeting of the Armenian and Azeri Presidents and Foreign Ministers in your vision of Armenia's foreign policy on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, considering that almost every one of them is commemorated by the shots and death of servicemen at the border?
Taking into consideration the absence of the need for a radical change in the Armenian policy regarding the settlement of the Artsakh problem, in my opinion, such meetings are certainly necessary. In other words, the continuation of the negotiation process within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group is a must, since it continues to be a non-alternative institution that allows to have problems kept under certain control. It is the Minsk group of co-chairmen from the countries of the permanent members of the UN Security Council that gives the talks in the direction of resolving the conflict an international level.
What specific adjustments in Armenian foreign policy do you consider today necessary and responsive to changes and trends in the international perception of the problem of Artsakh?
The Armenian policy needs to be amended, but not within radical changes. It is necessary to adopt a new approach, which I personally see in the humanitarian sphere, the sphere of human rights, and not only in comparison of the principles of the right of peoples to self-determination and territorial integrity. Such an international norm - accompanied by recognition and sovereignty, secession for the sake of salvation, for the first time, by the way, was applied in Kosovo. The internationalization of human conscience towards Artsakh needs to be scaled up, especially after the atrocities against Artsakh Armenians in April 2016. It is the issue that Armenia's foreign policy should be focused at.
Do you see threats to the Armenian parties to the conflict in preserving the status quo from 1994. Are those coming exclusively from Azerbaijan or, perhaps, Turkey also?
The nature of the Artsakh conflict has a political context and the lack of its solution, of course, contains the prospect and the threat of undesirable developments. However, not such as in April Azerbaijan created. Until April 2016, the outburst of hatred was expressed on a smaller scale, for example, in the murder of Gurgen Margaryan by his azeri colleague Ramil Safarov . The murder of the sleeping man was heroized by the Azerbaijani authorities and Ilham Aliyev himself. In this way, Baku presented its own people with a mode of action that encourages violence and cave thinking. And similar examples sufficed. However, the last example - the April war - was already expressed at the national level. Of course, Yerevan has spoken about all this repeatedly, however, the desired degree of coordination is still lacking. At the same time, in my opinion, Armenia's foreign policy has already been adjusted and to some extent brought into line with the new reality.
Does the return of Artsakh people to the negotiations table to determine their own destiny appear as a necessity corresponding to the new realities that you are talking about?
There is no solution to this conflict without the participation of Artsakh. In this light, I am convinced thatthe decision to draw Stepanakert beyond the framework of the talks was the main omission of Armenia's foreign policy in the late 1990s. One of the main achievements of Armenian diplomacy was the recognition of Artsakh as a party to the conflict in 1994 at the OSCE summit in Budapest. However, one must be realistic and keep the focus of development of new, own approaches to resolving this problem, since the concentration of attention and available forces and capabilities on the need to bring Stepanakert back to the negotiating table will not lead to tangible and positive results. Stepanakert at the negotiating table is desirable and necessary, however, only at the subsequent stages of negotiations, the stages of clarifying and determining the issues of the status of Artsakh. Of course, in reality, the participation of the Artsakh people in the negotiations had to be achieved immediately after April 2016, however, we missed this moment. Nevertheless, the good prerequisites for the return of Artsakh authorities to the negotiating table remain today.