Hratch Tchilingirian Lectures on Karabakh Conflict at Haigazian University

Armenian Reporter International [Paramus] 29 Dec 2001: 19. 

Hratch Tchilingirian Lectures on the Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict at Haigazian University

Hratch Tchilingirian, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, gave a public lecture about the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in the Haigazian University auditorium. The lecture, organized by the university's Department of American Studies, was held on Tuesday, December 11, 2001. 

Tchilingirian was invited by the Department of Armenian Studies to participate in its lecture series dedicated to the 1700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity as the official religion in Armenia. He is an analyst of the South Caucasus, currently researching former Soviet autonomies, such as Mountainous Karabagh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and other unresolved conflicts in the region. Until recently, he was a Senior Editor of Armenian International Magazine, and, since 1994, his analyses and articles on contemporary Armenian affairs in Armenia, Karabagh and the Diaspora have appeared in publications in the United States, Europe and the Middle East.

The Mountainous Karabagh conflict, which erupted in 1988, is the oldest unresolved territorial conflict within the former Soviet space. In the past few years, however, explained Tchilingirian, it has been increasingly referred to in Western circles as the Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict, especially since the election of Robert Kocharian, the former leader of the Armenians in Karabagh, as the president of the Republic of Armenia in 1998. The Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute over Karabagh is only one of the more than 90 ongoing inter-ethnic and inter-border conflicts in the world.

Karabagh is situated within an imaginary triangle - extending from the Tengiz oilfield in Kazakhstan to the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian/Arab Gulf to the Strait of the Bosphorus - that is of major strategic and energy interest globally. This triangle, however, is also plagued by perennial conflicts like those between the Arabs and Israel; between Turks and Greeks over Cyprus and islands in the Aegean Sea; and between India and Pakistan; as well as those in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Fergana Valley in Central Asia, etc. Moreover, since the collapse of the USSR, the region of the Caucasus, which falls within this triangle and includes both Armenia and Azerbaijan, has witnessed, in turn, a host of other armed conflicts, like those of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Chechnya. More sporadic and of lesser intensity have been the problems in Adjara, between the Ingush and the Ossetians, of the Lezgins on the border between Dagestan (in the Russian Federation) and Azerbaijan, and the Armenian-populated Javakhk/Javakheti region in Georgia.

The Caucasus, stressed Tchilingirian, is very important for the future development and, especially, the transport of energy resources like oil and natural gas from the basin of the Caspian Sea to Western markets. This is highlighted by the international struggle to lay control over the existing network of pipelines or the various conflicting plans to construct alternative pipelines to carry the region's oil and gas in ways that suit divergent political agendas.

The USA and the Western European powers are actively involved in this struggle, said Tchilingirian, while Russia, Turkey and Iran remain the three major regional players. The other littoral countries of the Caspian do also have their own agendas, which sometimes result in bilateral, as well as multilateral, problems.

The lecturer noted that the USA and Europe view this area as a geo-political region in itself, rather than as an arena for a host of individual conflicts. Western peace proposals, diplomatic efforts and political maneuvering, therefore, have always adopted package approaches, hoping that the implementation of a certain overall framework would help resolve multiple problems at the same time. This Western approach has come into conflict with the more particularistic views of the regional players.

At the core of the conflict, said Tchilingirian, is the attempt by Armenians to undo the Soviet government's decision in the early 1920s to make the region of Mountainous Karabagh a nominally autonomous entity under Azerbaijani control. Initially, it was a classic example of the contradictions inherent in the internationally accepted principles of a people's right to self-determination and respect toward the territorial integrity of individual states. With the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Mountainous Karabagh declared its independence. A full-blown war between Armenians and Azerbaijanis followed until the agreement for a cease-fire in 1994. As a result of these military operations, Armenians now hold 14-15 percent of the territory of Azerbaijan, including almost the whole of Mountainous Karabagh. Hundreds of thousands of people have become refugees on both sides.

Negotiations to resolve the conflict are being conducted under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group, which comprises representatives from eleven nations, and is headed by co-chairmen from Russia, the USA and France. There have been unsuccessful attempts to try "track-two" diplomacy and other unofficial channels of communication. Moreover, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have had about 20 meetings in the past three years to try to push the negotiations forward. The most important area of disagreement is that of the post-settlement political status of Karabagh vis-à-vis Azerbaijan. Other thorny issues are the return to Azerbaijan of territories outside Karabagh that are now under Armenian military control, the return of Armenian and Azerbaijani refugees to their homes, and international guarantees for the security of Karabagh.

The Foreign Minister of Armenia has repeatedly mentioned "the Paris principles", which were reportedly agreed upon during negotiations between the two presidents early in 2001. While never defined specifically, these principles are believed to include Karabagh's non-subordination to Azerbaijan (or what is termed a "horizontal relationship" between the two entitles), the establishment of a land corridor linking Karabagh with Armenia, and firm international guarantees for the security of Karabagh. Armenia is insisting that these principles are not negotiable. It is apparent, said Tchilingirian, that Azerbaijan will, in return, receive the other territories now under Armenian control, the return of refugees to their homes and guaranteed safe and unhindered passage with the enclave of Nakhichevan through the region of Meghri in Armenian territory. The lecture's own reading of this land corridor is that it will be nothing more than the restoration of what existed in Soviet times. No leader in Armenia, said Tchilingirian, is in a position to give land from the Republic of Armenia to Azerbaijan and hence to cut Armenia's territorial links with Iran.

Since the month of April, however, Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly denied the existence of such principles, and they have practically put negotiations on hold. The Azerbaijanis have since been talking more and more about resorting to force to reclaim the lost territories. Moreover, since the terrorist attacks in the USA on September 11, Azerbaijani government officials, opposition politicians, religious leaders, academics and the media have launched what looks to be a consistent and organized campaign to "demonize" the Armenians in general, labeling them as terrorists, who threaten peace in the whole world. Tchilingirian argued that this attack seeks to legitimize the policies of the regime in Baku and prepare local public opinion for the resumption of hostilities. This, he continued, is similar to attempts being made in Russia vis-à-vis the Chechens, as well as a host of rather autocratic countries in Central Asia and, to some extent, in Georgia. All of these states are using the post-September 11 situation to crush their internal opponents, believing that Western public opinion is ready for such a discourse.

In the question-and-answer session that followed, Tchilingirian referred to a host of other issues related to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. He expressed his view that should Karabagh become fully part of Azerbaijan in any future settlement, that might not resolve the conflict in the long run, as Karabagh Armenians have found such arrangements unacceptable for over eight decades. Tchilingirian further explained that the "common state" approach put forward by the Minsk Group is simply a compromise between Karabagh's determination to live independently and the reluctance of the Western powers to grant independence to former Soviet autonomies. This approach, he said, has not been defined properly and nobody knows exactly what it is.

Tchilingirian discounted the possibility of resumption of hostilities from the Azerbaijani side; such an attempt, he argued, would be opposed by the Western countries. Moreover, Tchilingirian said that the "demonization" and terrorist profiling of Armenians is not an Azerbaijani invention; Turkey practiced this approach with some success vis-à-vis its Kurdish rebels. In fact, the Turks might have encouraged the Azerbaijanis to follow the same approach vis-à-vis the Armenians.

Haigazian University is a liberal arts institution of higher learning, established in Beirut in 1955.

Copyright Armenian Reporter Dec 29, 2001

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