Yunusov’s interview with ArmInfo correspondent was ready to publication when the information about detaining Yunusov and his wife Leyla Yunus made us delay it, so that not to give another reason to the official Baku “to prove” its accusation in the so called “cooperation” with Armenia. Now, when the situation has been more or less clarified, the editor’s office has decided to publish the interview.
by David Stepanyan
The name of the known human rights defender, conflictologist, analyst, the head of the Department of Conflictology and Migration Studies at the Baku-based Institute of Peace and Democracy, Arif Yunusov, has been circulating in mass media of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Among other our Baku counterparts, Yunusov is accused in espionage activity in favor of Armenian intelligence services, allegedly, as a result of his participation in the international conferences organized in Armenia. Yunusov’s interview with ArmInfo correspondent was ready to publication when the information about detaining Yunusov and his wife Leyla Yunus made us delay it, so that not to give another reason to the official Baku “to prove” its accusation in the so called “cooperation” with Armenia. Now, when the situation has been more or less clarified, the editor’s office has decided to publish the interview.
Certain circles in Armenia and Russia point at the Crimea like a precedent for Nagornyy Karabakh. What is the most possible motivation of that?
By pointing at Crimea as a precedent for Karabakh, Moscow tries to exert pressure on Yerevan. This is just a message to Yerevan. In other words, it is just an element of a political game, which does not at all demonstrate that Russians are concerned over the fate of Karabakh people. The question is who is making such statements. Officials are responsible for their statements, especially given that their words may be misinterpreted by another party. For instance, some proposals have repeatedly been made in Armenia to recognize the independence of Karabakh and unite it with Armenia. It is noteworthy that the ruling party keeps making efforts to prevent it. It is clear that they do that not because they like or dislike the people of Karabakh, but because they realize that such steps will immediately affect the peace process and that Baku's response will create a new situation that will change the whole format of the peace process.
I think that freer experts and journalists can afford more but the people bearing direct responsibility for the peace process cannot. In Azerbaijan the opposition experts' statements on Crimea are much freer than the careful response of the authorities who realize that the relations with Moscow may inevitably become tense. This is why whenever I hear that a particular conflict is a precedent for another conflict, I know that it first of all demonstrates that the conflict will not be resolved soon. To search for precedents means to lack the aspiration to resolve the conflict by the direct efforts of the conflicting parties, I believe that the parties to any conflict resolve the conflict by themselves if they want. If they have no desire to resolve it, they look for "elder brothers" and precedents. Besides the Crimea, both Kosovo and Eritrea could have been precedents for Karabakh. History has a plenty of examples. When resolving conflicts, one should be a pragmatist rather than a theorist .
Armenia supported the right of the people of the Crimea for self-determination. Is such a stance of our leadership stemming only from the interest of the expected recognition of Nagornyy Karabakh?
Intrinsically, none of the states, including the USA, which speaks of democracy so much, displays an approach meeting some international principles. The right to self-determination is a two-edged sword. Azerbaijan considers itself a victim of separatism and raises this issue in Iran, where Azeris live in the northern provinces. Turkey does the same in Cyprus. Europeans speak so much of democratic values but we perfectly see that they give high priority to the energy values. Europe blames Russia for using gas as a tool of blackmail and at the same time turns a blind eye to the similar actions of Azerbaijan. In the relations with Azerbaijan, Europe puts the democratic principles aside. In this light, I perceive such talks as diplomatic rhetoric. As regards pragmatism, it is restricted to Realpolitik which is far from all these principles.
This is big geopolitical game, in which strong pressure is being exerted on Armenia and other countries. So, Russia badly needs its actions in Ukraine to be supported not only by its strategic allies, especially given Lukashenko's silence and the fact that initially Nazarbayev was totally against recognition of Crimea. Therefore, now Russia gives high priority to the response of Armenia, which kept silence in 2008. As for the West, it needs an absolutely different response from Yerevan. I think that the steps of small Armenia, which is swimming between the waves of pressure, should meet its own national interests. One should understand that the unresolved Karabakh problem dictates deliberation. A statement in Yerevan will inevitably be followed by a response in Baku. And it is still a big question who will benefit from the following developments.
Ankara links its refusal to open the border to Armenia with Azerbaijan’s pressure. Is it really so?
Certainly, Azerbaijan uses all its possibilities to exert pressure on Ankara in order to prevent it from unblocking the Turkish-Armenian border. Nevertheless, if we take a pragmatic view of this issue, it becomes clear that small Azerbaijan is unable to dictate Turkey's foreign political agenda. And of Turkey decides to open Turkish-Armenian border, it will not even take Azerbaijan's stance into account. So, if Turkey takes such a decision tomorrow, it will not even take into account Azerbaijan's stance. Neither does Turkey give much importance to the Armenian Cause, which is so important to Armenia. Most Turks do not even know what happened in 1915. Turkey gives high priority to the relations with the West, with the European Union. Turks are imperial people and in this context they can be compared with Russians. Armenians, Azeris, Georgians are small nations, which are constantly looking for "elder brothers”.
In the meantime, Russians and Turks have an absolutely different psychology. In fact, Russians do not care for Georgia or Armenia. Russians demand respect from the United States and Europe. The same can be said about Turks, who are eager to join the European Union. But when they throw sand in the wheels of Turks and demand normalizing relations with Armenia, Turks understand that after normalizing relations with Armenia they will be forced to improve relations with Kurds and so on and so forth. Therefore, Turkey perceives the Armenian Cause as an element of big geopolitics in relations with Europe, which does not want to admit Turkey to its Christian club - European Union. So, if Turkey understands that it really has the prospects to join the EU, it will immediately open the Turkish-Armenian border even without taking into account the stance of Azerbaijan.
What is the key motivation of the USA demanding from Turkey to unblock the border to Armenia?
The USA remembers about the shut down border from time to time especially before the elections, taking into consideration the role, authority and the votes of the Armenian Diaspora. But in general, not so much Armenians as Russia is important for the USA. That is to say, everything is again returning to the course of the big geo-political game, the part of which is confrontation between the USA and Russia for controlling the South Caucasus, the Azerbaijani political expert.
The improvement of relations between Turkey and Armenia will cast doubt upon Russia's influence in Armenia and the necessity of its military base deployment in Armenia. That is to say. much will change. This is the reason, why I have never believed that Moscow is really striving to settle the Karabakh conflict. If the conflict is settled suddenly and normal relations are established between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the problems between Armenia and Turkey will be automatically removed. In that case a question will arise - who will the Russian base protect Armenia from? Iran?
Meanwhile, though it is paradoxical. but today the pro-Western moods are stronger in Armenia than in Azerbaijan. Who knows, what will happen tomorrow after settlement of the Karabakh conflict. I think that the Karabakh conflict is like a punching ball for Russia, which the latter uses from time to time for imposing pressure either upon Armenia or Azerbaijan. From time to time, Russia promises to help either Baku or Yerevan to settle the Karabakh conflict, according to the principle "if you behave well". Actually, they will never help either Azerbaijan or Armenia. Karabakh should hang thick in the air and Armenia and Azerbaijan remain tied to Karabakh. Just for this reason, Americans are so much hurry to settle the Karabakh conflict and to open the border between Armenia and Turkey. This will make it possible to withdraw Russia from the region. Not the American altruism is the reason of that, but the struggle for the influence in the region.
The Iranian counterparts have been traditionally blaming the USA and Israel for the tense relationas between Iran and Azerbaijan. What is your point of view on the matter?
When my Iranian counterparts traditionally blame the USA and Israel for the tense Iran-Azerbaijan relations, I want to ask them. Why does Iran hinder restoration and enhancing of the Azerbaijan-Israel relations? We have Israel's Embassy in Baku, but despite availability of a big Azerbaijani community in Israel, we do not have Azerbaijan's Embassy in Tel-Aviv. The reason of it is that Iran is absolutely against normalization of relations between our countries. For this reason, Iran is the third party in the relations between Azerbaijan and Israel. Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani society remembers very well Iran's stance in the Karabakh conflict and thinks it is not impartial, although Iran does not think so. Certainly, there is misunderstanding, weak contacts and the role of the third countries in the relations between Baku and Teheran. The point is, in what assembly to revise all this. I think that undoubtedly the problem of Islam is the main thunder for Azerbaijan from the Iranian party as well as the policy of Iran regarding the national minorities of Azerbaijan: the Talish and Tat nations. So, if in its relations with Azerbaijan Russia uses the problem of the Lezgins and naturally the Karabakh conflict, just the same way, Iran uses the national minorities in its own interests. The "Seher-2" TV channel is an anti-Azerbaijani one, which broadcasts anti-Azerbaijani propaganda in Azerbaijani language every day. Naturally, the small Azerbaijan does not like it, as it has its own phobias regarding Iran. Incidentally, for its part, Iran scares an independent Azerbaijan which promotes separatist moods in its northern provinces.