Nalbandian: Racism and racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance grossly violate human dignity and give rise to tensions within and between societies. That is why the fight against them became one of the main priorities of our chairmanship.
ArmInfo’s interview with Azerbaijani MP, political scientist Rasim Musabekov
by David Stepanyan
The past 20 years of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks have proved the futility of the maximialism displayed by the conflicting parties. How can this problem be solved, in your opinion? What the conflicting parties should begin with to avoid a new confrontation?
The maximalist or incompatible position of the parties to the conflict is chiefly linked with the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. So, if they want to reach progress in settlement, they should put stress at the issues significant for both parties. I mean liberation of the occupied territories with a guarantee that battle actions will not be resumed; ensuring of equal security through demilitalization; using of divisive forces and international observers, as well as, returning of the forcefully displaced people and opening of communications, and finally, establishment of diplomatic and trade and economic relations. In this context the parties should start discussing transitional status for Nagorno-Karabakh. This may give not only guarantees to Nagorno-Karabakh but also involve it in the negotiating process and interaction with Baku and foreign structures. Even without fixing in the Constitution, the obligations of the parties on transitional status of Nagorno-Karabakh, fixed in the peace agreement, are significant, as they will be of the international nature. All the above mentioned is fixed in the Madrid principles. So, progress may be reached in the talks if the parties to the conflict have will and the intermediary countries in the person of the OSCE Minsk Group have a consolidated position. From endless discussion of settlement principles they have to pass to direct revising of the text of the peace treaty, as not general principles will be fulfilled but a specific agreement that will be reached. As a direct participant in the talks as Azerbaijani president's adviser at the beginning of the 90-s, I understand how difficult is to make the first steps towards peace, and what responsibility is put on the presidents which have dared to take the burden of hard compromises met with a mixed reception. However, we should do our best to make use of the opened for peace window of opportunities.
During the Heydar Aliyev’s times people’s diplomacy played a big role in the negotiating process. Armenian and Azeri journalists kept exchanging visits. In the last years this practice has become very rare, with some sources in Baku even reporting plans to adopt a law criminalizing contacts with Armenians. What is the reason for such reluctance to build contacts?
Though less active than before, people's diplomacy between Armenians and Azeris still exists. A number of Armenian political experts, like Zhirayr Liparityan and Stepan Grigoryan, have attended international conferences in Baku over the last years. Azerbaijani analyst Arif Yunusov and political reviewer Rauf Mirkadyrov often guest at similar events in Armenia. Regular meetings are held in Georgia and Europe in the framework of the so- called Independent Civil Minsk Process. The Azeri authorities have repeatedly suggested organizing a dialogue between the Armenian and Azeri communities of Nagorno-Karabakh but the Armenian authorities ignore this initiative. People's diplomacy is important but it cannot substitute for official talks. I have taken part in both formats, so, I know what I am saying. People's diplomacy throws bridges, prepares parties for steps to meet each other and can pave the way for positive results. But its role is auxiliary. Should Armenia and Azerbaijan register progress in their talks and come closer to mutually acceptable settlement, people's diplomacy will become more active and more acceptable to both peoples and authorities.
After two years’ pause the Armenian and Azeri presidents have met again? Are you optimistic about this?
It is a positive fact that after a long pause the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents have met again - for it is clear that only top leaders can make fateful decisions on such issues. All the previous meetings were first promising but then proved to be vain. There were times when the parties were just one small step away from settlement but took a step back rather than a step forward. But negative experience is also good. There must be progress one day, so, why not now? Hence, I remain a cautious optimist and an advocate of a further dialogue. For sensible people in both Armenia and Azerbaijan it is obvious that ten years of negotiations are better than one year of war.
Could you please name the key problem caused by the unsettled Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
There are lots of problems caused by the conflict: instability, the risk of a new war, closed borders, use of vast material and financial resources for armament and the region's inability to become an integrated economy. But the biggest problem is the problem of refugees and internal displaced people. Those people are the key victims of the conflict and their problems must be given the highest priority.
In one of your last interviews you said that Russia is doing nothing to settle the conflict, while the United States is becoming more active in the matter. Why?
For twenty years of the peaceful intermediary activity, this or that co-chair country of the Minsk Group used to take the key part of a moderator of the meeting of the presidents and for moving forward the process of peaceful settlement of the conflict. Before the Istanbul summit and in Key West the USA initiated settlement through the territorial swap. The former President of France, Jacques Chirac, held several meetings of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents, during which the so called Paris principles were drawn out. Dmitri Medvedev was moderating the Karabakh settlement process for a long period of time. However, all these efforts failed. In these conditions, he thinks that Vladimir Putin has take a pause and is waiting for "ripening" of the parties to the Karabakh conflict for new initiatives. He does not rule out that if the negotiations give an opportunity for making an agreement, the Russian leader may offer his services as a moderator and guarantor so that to gain extra geo-political dividends for Russia.
Do you expect Iran to become more active in the South Caucasus after its Geneva agreements with the P5+1?
I don't see Iran as a mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks. Iran borders on the conflict zone, so, it must be informed of the talks. But I don't see that country as a mediator in the process. The talks have a format, Minsk Group. Iran is not an OSCE member, so, it cannot be part of it. As regards the possibility of independent mediation, the Azeri MP remembered the events of May 1992, when the Tehran agreement signed by the then presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Yagub Mamedov was followed by the seizure of Shushi. As far as I know, officially Armenia does not see Iran as an independent mediator either though in words both parties welcome the signals coming from Tehran.