Elections have been disruptive to peace process – European analyst on current developments in Karabakh peace

15:45 • 01.03.18



Azerbaijan's decision to hold a snap presidential election in April is that country's sovereign choice which should not be in anyway linked to possible escalations over Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), according to Dennis Sammut, Executive Director of LINKS (Dialogue, Analysis and Research).

In an interview with Tert.am, the expert noted that the completion of the constitutional transition in Armenia, coinciding with the polls in Azerbaijan, opens  up a real opportunity for focusing on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.


Mr Sammut. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said recently that Yerevan, as well as the territories of Lake Sevan and the province of Syunik in southern Armenia, were historically Azerbaijani regions. These territories make up roughly half of the Republic of Armenia. The international mediators in later criticized the Azerbaijani leader, urging the parties to the Karabakh conflict to avoid “inflammatory statements”. What is your attitude to such kind of statements by the Azerbaijani’s side?


Of course, I also think the parties should avoid inflammatory statements. Very often, we notice that statements that they are made for domestic consumption and take a different significance in a regional or international context. Important nuances are also often lost in translation. However on the substance of this particular statement, I am always concerned when people in the Caucasus talk about “their historic lands”. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia exist within their internationally recognized borders, and the principle of territorial integrity is enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act.   


The Armenian and Azerbaijanis foreign ministers agreed in principle, at their last meeting in Vienna, to the Co-Chairs' revised concept for expanding the Office Andrzej Kasprzyk, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office with a view toward finalizing it as soon as possible. But Azerbaijani officials have so far made no public statements on the issue. Baku has been reluctant to take this and other confidence-building measures sought by the mediators, saying that they would cement the status quo. What do you think can push the Azerbaijan to the implementation of the arrangements? What accounts for this kind of behavior by thee Azerbaijani authorities?


My understanding of this, from what has been stated in public, is that an agreement has been reached on increasing the team of Ambassador Kasprzyk by a handful of people, and there are some technical issues that are being finalized. The impact of this will be marginal, but it is an important confidence-building measure. Confidence building measures are, together with meaningful negotiations, important and essential parts of a peace process. The two must evolve in tandem, and one is not a substitute for the other. The sides should embrace the two with enthusiasm if they are serious in wanting to resolve the conflict.


Aliyev is running for presidency in April and is widely expected to win a fourth term. What impact do you think can the upcoming elections have on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. Given that it is a snap elections, many experts in Armenia and abroad predicted that yjr Azerbaijani leader is preparing for a war? Do you consider such forecasts realistic? What, in your opinion could have caused Aliyev to reschedule the election date?


Snap elections are very common in many countries, so it's up to Azerbaijan to decide when it wants to hold its elections. I see no connection between the holding of the elections and the start of a new war. However elections in the past have often been disruptive for the peace process, since talks were often suspended during the election run-up. Getting the elections out of the way can help make sure that the sides return to meaningful negotiations by the end of April.


I guess that you are also aware that we too, are expecting political changes in Armenia. The constitutional amendments proposing a transition to a parliamentary government will give sweeping powers to the prime minister who will be elected by parliament later this spring. Also, we are going to have a new president. Do you expect the internal political situation in Armenia to influence our policy towards  the Nagorno Karabakh conflict?

I am not expecting any major changes in the position of the Armenian government on policy on Nagorno-Karabakh. However, as with the presidential elections in Azerbaijan, the fact that the process of constitutional transition in Armenia is completed in April opens the way for more focus on the Karabakh negotiations.

 

April 2016 was a month of war in the Karabakh context. I hope it is going to be possible to turn April 2018 into a month of opportunity for peace. It is time.

 

Hripsime Hovhannisyan





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