Artsakh / Nagorno-Karabakh :Peacebuilding is about People not Politicians.
Over the next few years we will be remembering the centenary of the First World War. At the time it was considered to be the “war to all end all wars” but in fact it was the war that started many wars. Millions of people suffered, and died, throughout the last one hundred years as a result of treaties and other political decisions taken in the name of achieving peace. However these were short-term political expediencies which subsequently led to popular uprisings or armed conflicts because they did not fundamentally address the wishes of the people; it supported the politicians who had power and wanted to maintain it. Mass movements of people, the drawing of complicated borders, and unsatisfactory political structures have blighted the past. It is difficult to recall an example of where such a solution has given rise to a sustained peace.
The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is a good example of the consequences of an arbitrary political decision; one taken by Stalin in 1923. With a majority Armenian population, common sense would have allocated this region to the Armenian SSR and not the Azerbaijan SSR. The unfurling of this arrangement ultimately led to the war in the 1990’s, and the terrible human tragedy that was experienced by hundreds of thousands of people on both sides in that period. The ceasefire that was brokered in 1994 achieved a worthy short-term goal but failed to deliver any prospect of long term success.
As each year goes past there is a constant supply of politicians, diplomats, European funded Peace Building and Conflict Resolution organisations, journalists, youth groups and more, who are “involved”. It is never quite clear what they are exactly doing, how effective it is, and whether it is more of an “interest” project which will never have any consequence on the real outcome.
The massive hurdle in the resolution of this conflict is the obsession with the past. This consists of two broad issues
- Who has historical rights to Nagorno-Karabakh, and
- Recreating the 1988 demographics, principally for the Azeri population.
The 2 sides will never agree on issue 1. The Karabakhian lands have been populated by both Armenians and non-Armenians for centuries. The Armenian SSR and the Azerbaijan SSR were highly mixed communities during the Soviet period as indeed most countries currently are, so “rights” should be based on the majority view, today. Basing a policy on an historical perspective has no sound reasoning or common sense and will only lead to conflict.
The radical change in populations during the 1988-94 period affected both sides and it is reasonable to assume that they were all forced displacements. In the absence of the war the Armenians would have continued to enjoy living in Baku, Sumgait, Kirovabad, Shahumyan etc within Azerbaijan, and likewise for Azerbaijanis living in Yerevan, and other locations within Armenia.
In the last 20 years the displaced Armenians have established new lives in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia, or elsewhere in the world and, for most, if not all, returning to Azerbaijan would never be considered as a possibility. It is unlikely that the Azeris displaced from Armenia would ever consider returning to their original homes. However, for most of those who were living in Shushi, and the 7 surrounding regions to the previous Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, they have been kept in a state of limbo by the Azerbaijani state as a form of political/humanitarian “pawn”. The delay in providing these people with permanent housing on the premise that they may return one day shows a wanton indifference to the lives of these people.
It is impossible to re-create the 1988 demographics even if that was everyone’s will. Returning hundreds of thousands of people back to Nagorno-Karabakh into areas that are land-mined, have no housing, or adequate services is a major infrastructural undertaking. This is before consideration is given to the impact on the people who would move and those currently resident in the receiving area. It could be another 20 years for this to be fully completed.
Philosophically, the best way forward, is the simplest way forward.
The past cannot be changed. We have to start from the present. Any solution must be demonstrably in the best interests of all of the people, and must not provoke conflict.
The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic exists as a fully-functioning state populated by 100% Armenians. It is undermined by being unrecognized and therefore cannot trade internationally, borrow money on the financial markets, open an airport etc. This is not sustainable and is a threat to the livelihood of the residents.
First action. The international community must recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. This will facilitate economic growth, confidence, inward investment and the extension of de-mining into the 7 surrounding regions. All of this is critical for the second action. There are no negative consequences to the people of Azerbaijan by taking this decision, it can be achieved immediately, it will not give rise to conflict between the people. The politicians represent the only risk.
Whilst this may seem to be unlikely it is actually the only action that will ensure progress. It is what the people of NKR want and we live in a world that respects self-determination. It will commit the international community to the legitimacy of the future, and provide the best assurance of peace.
It is a fundamental human right that people who have been forcibly displaced during a war have the option to return to their homeland.
Second action – establish a cross-border UN commission that can identify and assess those people who have a legitimate, independent, wish to return to their original homes. The timing of any return will be subject to numbers, funds for infrastructure investment, de-mining, and consideration for the current resident population.
Trust is currently non-existent. Without trust nothing will happen – the last 20 years have proven that, regardless of the valiant efforts of those who have tried. Lasting peace is still a distant aspiration. These actions, which must be initiated by the international community, will be the first significant steps to sustainable peace.