(Exclusive Interview By Dr Shahid Qureshi, Chief Editor): –
(I have been part of the British Election Observer Mission to Azerbaijan few times, more recently in February 2020. British oil and gas companies are operating in Azerbaijan as well as educational co-operations. Azerbaijan military officers also come to Britain for training courses. In the context of recent tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia I requested senior diplomacy and international relations expert Dr Kavus Abushov, Associate professor, ADA University, Baku, Azerbaijan for an interview)
We asked him following questions:
1. Where current tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia heading and its regional impact?
The current tensions are a result of two things: on the one hand, provocations by Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh de facto authorities against Azerbaijan, and on the other hand, frustration with absolutely no progress in the peace process. Starting from July, there were both military and political provocations from Armenia: these included flying drones towards Azerbaijan. However, the real trigger was the political provocations that caused hurt pride and frustration within the Azerbaijani society and government.
The decision to move the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh from Stepanakert to Shusha, which is an important part of Azerbaijani cultural identity, inauguration ceremony of the incumbent president of the de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh that was held in Shusha; statements by the de facto authorities that NK and Armenia might undertake a preventive war against Azerbaijan; further statements aimed at humiliating Azerbaijan and undermining its right to retrieve anything. Back in June, a new road linking Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia proper had been built, and ceremonially opened, which was condemned by the European Parliament. All these initiatives sent messages to Azerbaijan that very much disturbed the pride of the nation.
I do not think the scale of the war will be as large this time as the war in 1990s, in other words, the war is occurring along the occupied regions outside NK. This is not coincidental, Azerbaijan has the desire for carrying out peace enforcement and recovery of the 7 regions outside NK is vital for moving the peace process from a deadlock. Armenia and Karabakh Armenians, apparently do not seem to be even interested in giving up the regions outside Nagorno-Karabakh, confirming the belief in Azerbaijan, that Armenia is not willing to return anything.
The regional impact is difficult to predict, but the key players here are primarily Russia and secondly Turkey. Russia has a special military-strategic relationship with Armenia, and has historically acted as its guardian. Its support to Armenia during the war in 1990s had played a crucial role. However, in the last decade or so, Azerbaijan has built up good relations with Russia, and managed to neutralize its stance on the conflict to a certain extent. It is therefore likely, that Russia will indulge the military operation up to a certain point. What is important for Russia is that turkey should not be engaged on the Azeri side, because then Russia’s obligations under the CSTO will have to be invoked. Secondly, Russia is not so supportive of Azerbaijan’s demarche into Nagorno-Karabakh itself. Thus, the war might acquire a regional character if the two conditions are violated, because then a the confrontation would turn to a Russian-Turkish one. As of now, neither Turkey, nor Russia is involved in the combat.
2 . What is the difference in current conflict and in 1990s?
There are a number of differences, especially on the Azerbaijani side. A. The emotional-psychological level is extremely high, the mood and overall unity in the Azerbaijani society around the issue is very high. Secondly, the military balance is more in favour of Azerbaijan. Thirdly, as there is Russian guarantee behind Armenia’s security, this time the commitment to Azerbaijan’s security by Turkey is very high.
3. What role China can play in the context of (BRI) belt and road initiative in the region?
China has no role in this conflict.
4. Do you think Russia will act differently this time due to the gas pipeline attacks recently?
I do not think the war would reach a stage when the oil and gas pipelines would be at risk. It might take such a nature if Armenia decides to strike inner into Azerbaijan. Currently, it is striking civilian targets in regions around Nagorno-Karabakh, but the oil and gas pipelines are located closer to the Azerbaijani-Armenian state borders. Thus, if a second front opens up along that border, then oil and gas pipelines will be at risk.
5. What you think about Iran’s role in the region?
Iran is trying to take a neutral stance, offering mediating between the parties.
6. Do you think EU, UN and international community accepting your position on Nagorno – Karabakh?
I think, from a legalistic point of view, the international context is in favour of Azerbaijan. There are various international documents that condemn the occupation of NK and the surrounding regions and recognize Armenia as a conflict party. However, politically the matter may be slightly different. Depending on how the conflict will evolve and its scale, the UN SC might have to undertake the supervision of the conflict again and force the conflict parties to cease the fighting. The EU will also call upon the conflict parties to cease hostilities. Individual countries such as France have taken stances on the Armenian side and demanded from Azerbaijan to cease the fighting, ignoring the fact of occupation and that fighting is not one-sided. President Macron has made a number of one-sided statements on Syrian fighters’ involvement.
7. Your diplomats speak about influence of Armenian diaspora what measures and steps Azerbaijan is taking to counter this influence?
The influence of the Armenian diaspora has been partly offset by the Azerbaijani diaspora in many countries. However, there are also countries like France where Armenian diaspora cannot be offset because of their quality, but also because France has sympathy towards Armenia.
(Dr Kavus Abushov, is Associate professor, ADA University, Baku, Azerbaijan )
Disclaimer: Views expressed are not of The London Post