By Zaur Shiriyev
04 October 2010
The First Annual Symposium of International Relations Scholars (ASIRS) which held at Baku on 22nd -23rd October was an exceptional opportunity in both its arrangement and the topics discussed. Elmar Mammadyarov, Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Republic, drew attention to several significant issues in his opening speech. He remarked that the ongoing fruitless negotiations over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were the biggest problem of security in the regional prism, and asserted that there is no need to expect results in the ongoing negotiations over the Nagorno Karabakh conflict within a short period due to Armenia’s non-constructive position.
At the Symposium panel entitled, “Regional security challenges: Conflict and post-conflict development,” the different views expressed by international scholars sparked much interest and echoed a parallel question: Do the South Caucasus countries need to adopt a future-oriented long-term plan, and if so, what would a “confederation” imply for regional integration?
Confederation or Confederal Relation?
It is familiar fact that Georgian President Saakashvili has come out with statements dealing with “confederal” relations with Azerbaijan. His statements were misrepresented as “confederation” in some press agencies. Nonetheless anyone taking interest in the region can easily understand that the two countries cannot avoid idea of “confederation” which may mean the annexation of land. There are several reasons for it:
- Azerbaijan and Georgia are unitary states and are both countries that fight ethnic problems. Even the current situation of Georgia may be considered dangerous from the standpoint of its sovereignty.
- Both countries have different courses of foreign policy and future-oriented priorities. The integration into the West is one of the priorities of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, though it does not pretend to accession to the European Union and NATO. Still, Georgia, despite the situation in the “August” war, persists in the NATO membership.
- From the standpoint of the region’s future, Georgia is a transit and geographically strategic country. The “loss” of Georgia for Azerbaijan as well as for the West could increase threats to regional security.
It is possible to increase the number of such “differences” between two countries. At the same time, it should be taken into account that both countries possess relations, which could be considered a model from the viewpoint of regional cooperation. Today, western scholars believe that cooperation between the two countries is of significant importance from the standpoint of the region’s future. After the independence, Georgia has been “a proving ground” over his near history; from the August war to the steps taken by Russia, the uncertainty about the future of the Caucasus has increased. This disclosed an important aspect as well. Georgia, which was poor from the standpoint of military alliance, shouldn’t have relied on the NATO countries that had a “pre-alliance” relationship before the war. Like the historically-military and politically allied relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey, Russia’s similar relationship with Armenia impedes the direct transition of the Azerbaijan-Armenia relations, which are in the conflict situation, to a war. Nevertheless, the future will show that the allied relations will prevent the probability of war. However, as mentioned, in the long-term, this pattern may change, if some hypothetical conflicts arise between big powers in the region that would entrap the South Caucasian states, specifically in the confrontations of “others” or if the existing conflicts between the South Caucasian states are again escalated.
“Road Map” for Nagorno-Karabakh
Executive Director of the London Information Network on Conflicts and State-building (Links) Denis Sammut’s idea of a “road map” conveyed positive elements for future, specifically towards Nagorno Karabakh’s conflict resolution. The opinions made by Sammut, who underlined the existence of previous “declarations” between Armenia and Azerbaijan, were sensible from this viewpoint. Still, it should be noted, that the Armenian authorities, who neither accept nor deny the “Updated Madrid” principles, could destroy the “road map” plan as well.
One thing is quite clear: In the case that one side keeps on its non-constructive position in the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno Karabakh conflict, the settlement of the conflict may be prolonged and this may stimulate the probability of war. Though we accept the “road map” as a good intention of the West, one can only hope for the end of international organizations’ activity throughout the region. Why didn’t the “Pact on Stability in the Caucasus” that was drafted by Turkey after the August war turn into the “road map”? The answer is simple: “this plan” was just formed on paper and those forming it couldn’t asses correctly the realities of the South Caucasus. Two similar facts may explain this view more clearly.
After the non-signing of a peace document on Nagorno Karabakh at the Istanbul Summit of NATO in 1999, and the acts of assassination in the parliament of Armenia, Suleyman Demirel, former president of Turkey, came out with the idea of “Caucasus Pact” in January of 2000. A similar idea was put forward after the August war of 2008. This shows that Turkish decision-makers are satisfied with reactive statements and plans in order to make feel their existence in the South Caucasus. In this respect, there is a need for development in the future of the South Caucasus between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey through the expansion of well-planned regional projects. From this standpoint, one may believe that the contract on “High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council” established between Turkey and Azerbaijan in September may play the key role for “trilateral cooperation”.
As the allied relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan are strengthening, they will positively affect the relationship with Georgia. The Baku-Tbilisi-Gars railway will be the locomotive of trilateral relations, similar to how it was earlier for the Baku-Tibilisi-Ceyhan. Although the far future-oriented claims and ideas are not considered politically and strategically valuable, the future of the South Caucasus region is related to 2018. This date will be the 100th anniversary of independence of the three South Caucasus countries. Azerbaijan’s plan for future is known – to restore its boundaries that existed in 1991 and to become both the political and economic leader of the region. The restoration of sovereignty may be a key priority for Georgia as well. Will the 2018 plans of Armenians, who are diligent to celebrate in 2015 the 100th anniversary of the so-called genocide, be the continuation of the role of “small ally” or a strong partner of region? Clearly, such will depend on Armenian leadership’s long-term strategy.
|Zaur Shiriyev Foreign Policy Analyst, Center for Strategic Studies, Baku, Azerbaijan