ArmInfo.In his interview with ArmInfo, Avaz Hasanov, head of the Public Association for Humanitarian Studies (Baku), comments on the recent progress in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict in the context of a change of power in Armenia. Argues on external factors affecting the conflict. It shares its vision of internal transformations in Azerbaijan.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry described the four-hour Paris talks between the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers as “a useful and constructive exchange of views, among other things, aimed at establishing broader mutual understanding and mutual trust.” Do you think there is a talk about a qualitatively new level of negotiations in the direction of a real normalization of relations? What are the expectations from this process in Baku?
It’s too early to talk about the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, however, the process is going on and is proceeding quite actively, as indicated by the meetings of the foreign ministers. There are no shifts and new proposals in this process, however, according to pro-government experts and some officials in Baku, there are many expectations from the current negotiation process. To understand, what does this "lot" mean, is very difficult people like me. We can only guess. As, far as I understand, Nikol Pashinyan and Ilham Aliyev have so far decided to closely monitor t h cease-fire violations. After the meetings of the Prime Minister of Armenia with the President of Azerbaijan in Dushanbe and Moscow, it became clear that Pashinyan and Aliyev speak of each other, if not with sympathy, then rather carefully and correctly. In my opinion, this is the main point that we observe after their two meetings. In order to talk about some real progress in the negotiations on Karabakh, it is necessary to note what we have at the moment. In addition to the change in the tonality of the leaders' intercourse, I can note some understanding in the corridors of power in Azerbaijan regarding the internal political situation in Armenia. We have repeatedly heard and continue to hear from high officials in Baku that, in order to intensify the negotiation process on Karabakh, Pashinyan must first normalize the internal situation in Armenia. That is, this is treated in Azerbaijan with understanding.
Has the shift of power in Armenia become a kind of catalyst for the negotiation process as a whole?
At first, Pashinyan’s statements regarding his desire to represent just and only Armenia in the negotiation process were met in Azerbaijan with some confusion and, accordingly, some criticism. However, the attitude to the Armenian Prime Minister, to his approaches primarily to the pro-government media and propagandists changed after his first meeting with our President. Accordingly, it can be assumed that Pashinyan became more understandable to Aliyev after the meeting, after which, accordingly, the publications in our media became more neutral. With this meeting, Aliyev had to demonstrate the continuation of the negotiation process. and Pashinyan the own integration into the club of CIS leaders.
Another question to you as to a human rights activist. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, out of 63 people who died in 2018 in the Armed Forces of Armenia and the Artsakh Defense Army, 63 servicemen were killed by the enemy. All the others died as a result of non-statutory relations, road accidents and other accidents. Thus, in comparison with 2017, in 2018, the death toll from the bullet of the enemy decreased by more than three times. And what about the situation with this in Azerbaijan?
Until 2016, the corresponding statistics were kept by us, however, today the real data do not have, in any case, even the non-governmental organizations involved in it do not publish. I can only say that the 2018th for Azerbaijan was a year of calm on the contact line caused by the internal political changes in Armenia. In Baku, the situation was closely monitored, preferring not to escalate the situation on the border. And this wait was not accompanied even by a special aggression.
After that, not only Armenia but also Azerbaijan began talking about compromises. I do not think that this was the result of a sudden insight; rather, here we are dealing with the awareness of the authorities of their own benefit. And most likely this realization was the result of a hopeless situation. Talking about the early resolution of the Karabakh issue after 25-30 years of actual stagnation becomes harder and harder. Hence the tendency of both sides to talk about compromises.
Similarly, Nikol Pashinyan is aware of the unreality of establishing relations with Azerbaijan in the context of the ongoing retention of all territories without exception. As a result, both Azerbaijan and Armenia began to take the negotiation process more seriously. And the trend from militarism to a conciliatory tone in the negotiations has been observed since the autumn of last year with the beginning of serious discussions on the essence of the negotiation process. The only alternative is war and confirmation of the long-term Russian presence in the region.
In other words, do you see a precondition for the formation of a trend from militarism to a conciliatory tone in the negotiations by the desire of the parties to level the Russian factor?
Russia is a frightening factor for both Azerbaijan and Armenia. Without Russia with a similar image, the heads of our states would have long discussed the specific details of the settlement at the negotiating table. Under the conditions of the presence and pressure of Russia, this is quite difficult to do. Any compromises, any strengthening of the positions of both Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia is not necessary and not profitable, since it is the status quo that keeps our dependence on the influence of Moscow. However, Moscow may well provoke the parties to the conflict to exacerbate it and go into the military phase when it needs to “punish” one of them for being too obstinate. An example is April 2016, August 2014. This is done in a variety of ways, but one mechanism is Karabakh. That is why Baku is always more concerned about the line of contact than, in fact, the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
You have noted the interest of Russia, and what are the interests of the other two co-chair countries: the United States and France?
The United States seeks to maintain influence in the Caucasus, the zone of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict also through participation in the moderation of the Karabakh conflict. Of course, the United States does not have direct influence on Armenia and Azerbaijan. As they love to say in Azerbaijan, the key to Karabakh is in Moscow. In my opinion, this is a big illusion of our politicians and officials. Russia, of course, plays a very important role in the settlement and has much more on the parties than the EU and the US influence. In this light, the Americans are very interested in maintaining the existing format of the countries co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group. In the end, this is the only format today where the US and Russia continue to cooperate. And the only format that gives Americans the opportunity to participate in Caucasian affairs. Accordingly, the US and the EU are interested in the situation around Karabakh, but unlike the Russian one, it is not direct, but exclusively mediated. The best evidence is the number and main content of publications in the Western and Russian media regarding the situation around Karabakh. If in the first case these are exclusively analytics and recommendations, then in the second one is rampant propaganda and informational plums, supported by periodic visits to Baku by “Rogozins” and the “Dulins” (Russian MP-s – translator’s note) . And all this is being done with the aim of keeping our audience under the influence of Russian moods. In turn, the EU, unfortunately, has not yet been able to fully strengthen itself in the region through the French co-chairmanship. In my opinion, if the European Union were represented in the OSCE MG as a structure, and not through France, the mechanisms of its influence on the settlement process would be much more extensive. Therefore, no matter how much we say, no one will be able to change the format of the Minsk Group in the foreseeable future. The co-chair countries simply do not need it, at least as long as the truce is at least somehow, but respected.
Does the preservation of the status quo around Karabakh proceed from the interests of the United States?
I don't think so. The eradication of the Karabakh conflict and, accordingly, Russian influence would immediately open the way to the region for foreign investment, primarily American. The United States is really interested in creating a safe, energy, intellectual, uncontrolled Russian corridor through the South Caucasus. It is about the unhindered use of the energy potential of Azerbaijan and intellectual Armenia. Without the presence and orientation of Russia, the Americans would be happy to make friends with this potential more closely.
In his last speech, Ilham Aliyev announced major socio-economic and political-structural changes in the country. Where did it come from and how, in your opinion, can the awareness of the need for such reforms be caused?
The need to get rid of the old team. This became noticeable as a result of the replacement of some ministers after the extraordinary presidential elections in Azerbaijan. And if this year even extraordinary parliamentary elections are held in Azerbaijan, which is quite likely, then we can expect a radical renewal of the composition of the parliament, since the composition of the current meeting is already the third convocation. Based on Aliyev’s statements about the outdated nature of the country’s governance system, it can be assumed that he has a real interest in real personnel reform, and not the usual rotation-rearrangement of personnel. Aliyev is interested in coming to the management of the mechanisms created by him for new, educated cadres far from the Soviet thinking. With the advent of new ministers, we are already seeing signs of deliverance from the Soviet legacy. It may sound ridiculous, but the staff of these ministries, for example, cannot get rid of the long-standing habit of bowing to ministers. For ministers with Western education and thinking, this is simply unacceptable and causes a direct backlash. Employees are also dissatisfied, because now they simply do not know how to behave in order to please their superiors.