Artsakh Peace and Recognition: The future is not in the past.

On the 1st January 2012, Ireland takes up the chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and as Georgia’s Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze  points out  “ Ireland’s chairmanship faces a lot of challenges”.  In recognition of the particular difficulties in the South Caucasus, Padraig Murphy, a former Irish Ambassador to Moscow has been appointed as a Special Representative for the region with a brief to cover Artsakh, as well as Georgia.

Ireland’s chairmanship brings with it a wealth of experience from the peace talks that dealt with the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland. Although the detail of the history of Northern Ireland is quite different to that of Artsakh, there are some common principles that can be shared. When the island of Ireland was partitioned in the 1920’s the result was that the United Kingdom retained the “6 counties” in the north, and the remainder became the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland consisted of a majority grouping of Protestants who were loyal to the UK, and a significant minority of Roman Catholics, whose allegiance was to the Republic of Ireland with the objective of a united island of Ireland. The “Troubles” in Northern Ireland took place between 1969 and 1997, between the Protestants (Loyalists)  and Catholics (Republicans), and during that time, it seemed impossible that a solution would ever be found. Lengthy, difficult and very inclusive talks between the UK government, Irish government, and representatives from all sides in Northern Ireland agreed a way forward, and all parties had to free themselves from looking to the past, first, in order to move forwards.

The conflict over Artsakh is firmly entrenched in the past. There is a lot of literature and debate over who was there first, what technical piece of legislation was passed in what particular order, and who has historical rights. The history is confused by politically driven, and seemingly arbitrary, decisions on the allocation of borders and territories in the post-World War 1, early Soviet period. Artsakh was originally made part of Armenia and then transferred to Azerbaijan, and Nakhichevan, which had a significant Armenian population, was allocated to Azerbaijan, with no physical borders to its parent country. Logic and common sense did not seem to have a lot of relevance in this period.

In 1988, the opportunity that Gorbachev’s perestroika gave was significant, and a way forward opened up  for the population of Artsakh to restore what they considered to be the natural position. What ensued from that point was a conflict borne out of a lack of consideration for the rights of the people to determine their political/sovereign status. As with all wars, there are no winners when it comes to the consequences on the ordinary person in the street, and terrible actions are carried out by warring parties. Any analysis of who perpetrated the worst offences and who is more culpable is ultimately not valuable; achieving this psychological point was pivotal for the Northern Ireland peace talks. In Northern Ireland, there had been accusations for years that the people representing the Republican cause were former members of the Irish Republican Army and were therefore responsible for  “terrorist acts”; similar accusations were made about the Loyalists. These people are now part of the power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland.

Some of the key pledges that were put to the electorate of Northern Ireland during the referendum campaign and which were to direct the way forwards for the discussions were:

  • No change to the status of Northern Ireland without the express consent of the people
  • The power to take decisions to be returned from London to Northern Ireland, with accountable North-South co-operation
  • Fairness and equality for all

The principles of these pledges deserve examination in the context of the Artsakh situation; the first one is most important. The question should be asked of the citizens of Artsakh “What do you want for the future?” This should be a major factor influencing the international community’s  approach to the solution.

A way forwards that contemplates the mass re-location of Internally Displaced People back into Artsakh from Azerbaijan is neither practical nor sensible. It is sad to hear that the Azeri IDP’s from Artsakh, living in Azerbaijan, have not been given permanent accommodation on the basis that it would be tacit acceptance that they would not return. This action has shown no respect for the Azeri people who are being used as “political pawns” by their government.

The second point refers to co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland given that both populations occupy the same island, and have to live together. Any future which considers an independent  Artsakh, recognised by the world community, would be reinforced if there were accountable bodies that facilitate cross-border co-operation. The Line of Contact is not a sustainable entity in the context of peaceful co-existence, and the dismantling of this would require careful negotiation through a trusted, independent body.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008; shortly afterwards the UK gave its formal recognition. Since then, 85 members of the United Nations have recognised Kosovo as an independent state. The independence of Kosovo is not supported by all of its population as approximately 5% are Serbians who fiercely oppose this. In the regions of Northern Kosovo, the population is 98% Serbian, which results in on-going conflict between themselves and the Kosovar Albanians. It is interesting that many countries are willing to ignore this discord in arriving at their recognition decision.

The Serbs were generally seen as the aggressors during the Balkan War of the 1990’s, and this was reinforced as NATO led attacks on Serbia in support of Kosovo in 1999. The fact that 85 states supported the recognition of Kosovo was not surprising given the involvement by many nations in its individual cause. The cause of Nagorno-Karabakh is much more confused, and misunderstood, and is a critical component  in a delicately balanced geo-political scenario. No one wants to make the first move and upset this fragile equilibrium.

Whilst ever the resolution of this conflict is centred on legal and historical detail then it will never be concluded, and it will remain “frozen”. The people of Armenia will have little opportunity to build a nation and grow out of poverty whilst Turkey and Azerbaijan maintain closed borders, the people of Artsakh will always be held back whilst it has an unrecognised status, and the IDP’s in Azerbaijan will spend more years as outsiders within their own country. The objective has to be to re-position this whole issue as a humanitarian one, and not a legalistic and historical one. The politicians, and in particular the Irish chair of the OSCE must listen to the people of Artsakh, and  make 2012 a pivotal year in the history of this important region. Artsakh needs a brave person to make the first bold move; an Artsakh Spring, perhaps?

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Categories: Artsakh in the World

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