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Why does Nagorno-Karabakh matter?

The rule of ‘location, location, location’ is not only a business law, but also perfectly applies to politics. Geographical location indeed matters! It can constringe or give space to national interests and does the same with peoples’ minds. No matter how objective one tries to be, every ‘objective’ analyst can still be “allocated”.

Beyond the EU has been trying to band ‘location, location, location’ rule through engagement of contributors from outside the Union, but operating within the EU. Yet, considering both the EU and non-EU perspectives is a challenging endeavour. It is especially true when one’s work is to bring these two perspectives into one line. The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) is exactly such an organization. In its work on Azerbaijani socio-political, economic and cultural integration with Europe, TEAS can be seen as a bridge between Europe and Azerbaijan.

Beyond the EU thus contacted TEAS Brussels to offer our readers new insights and outlooks on Azerbaijan’s European future. The Head of TEAS Brussels, Dr. Roman Huna, provided us with interesting views from a ‘midfielder’s’ position.

Beyond the EU:  “Karabakh”, meaning black garden in Azeri language, is indeed a dark spot on the South Caucasian map. Despite being recognised as a part of the Azerbaijani sovereign territory by the international community, Nagorno-Karabakh remains to be a disputed land between Azerbaijan and Armenia. After four UN Security Council’s resolutions and more than twenty years of OSCE Minsk Group negotiations, there is no solution on the horizon. How far can the European integration of the stably unstable Azerbaijan progress within the status quo?

Dr. Roman Huna: In theory, the EU has a clear position on the Frozen Conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh in its backyard: a peaceful and sustainable settlement must be encouraged as soon as possible within the framework of the international law. This settlement must be endorsed by the OSCE Minsk Group, who is so far the only legitimate body with a mandate to negotiate in the conflict that impacts the whole socio-economic dimension in the South Caucasus region. The last thing the international community and the EU want is to see an outbreak of violence, since this situation would destabilize a strategic region of high importance (on different levels, but especially in the field of energy diversification in the EU).

This being said, one cannot ignore that the EU too often relies on the effectivness of the OSCE Minsk Group. The EU tends to hide itself behind this body in order to avoid critics about its own silence on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Indeed, so far the EU has failed to underline clearly and firmly the necessity of taking the international law as basis for any discussion on the resolution of the conflict. In the meantime, the Union failed to condemn Armenia on the illegal occupation of nearly 20 per cent of the territory of Azerbaijan that is a violation of several UN resolutions. If the EU really wants to stand up and play a role as an important geopolitical player, it should (i) speak with one voice, (ii) underline the international judicial framework as the only sound basis for discussions (iii) stipulate that an immediate withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding district is crucial, since the territory of a sovereign state is clearly occupied. It should fully fulfil its role as an international mediator and not hide itself behind politics and agendas of some Member States.

Nagorno-Karabakh is located in the Western part of Azerbaijan, near Armenian border. Source: www.euronews.com

Beyond the EU:  How would you characterize different EU institutions in terms of their positions with regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

Dr. Roman Huna: I am very thankful for this question as many people, and not only outside the EU, still do not understand the difference between main EU institutions.

EEAS – European External Action Service, headed by Cathy Ashton, definitely the most important EU institution that needs to promote a clear view on the conflict. However, one can see the EAAS is a young part of the European Commission, that still struggles with internal structure problems and not yet having the legitimacy to speak with one voice on behalf of all the 28 Member States. In parallel, we have seen over the past years that the EEAS’ position on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is that the key is in the hands of the OSCE Minsk Group. Lady Ashton stated this regularly in various Press Releases and debates in the European Parliament.

European Parliament – The debates on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the European Parliament have without any exception shown a strong division between pro-Armenian and pro-Azerbaijani MEPs. Until October 2013, the European Parliament’s position on Nagorno-Karabakh was not united. But this has already changed on 23 October 2013, with the adoption of the European Parliament resolution “on the European Neighbourhood Policy: towards a strengthening of the partnership. Position of the European Parliament on the 2012 reports” (2013/2621(RSP). Its paragraph 16 clearly stipulates: The European Parliament “recalls its position that the occupation by one country of the Eastern Partnership of the territory of another violates the fundamental principles and objectives of the Eastern Partnership and that the conclusion of the EU Association Agreements with Armenia and Azerbaijan should be linked to progress towards the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 of 1993 and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Basic Principles, enshrined in the L’Aquila joint statement of 10 July 2009″.

Council of the EU – This institution is not mandated to take position. It is an executive body with decision right. The Action Plans are discussed on the level of the European Commission (EEAS).

Beyond the EU: How do you see the EU’s member states’ role regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

Dr. Roman Huna: The Member States’ positions are submitted to the EU level. However, it could be useful to launch the debate on Nagorno-Karabakh in the respective national parliaments in order to raise awareness on the urgency of finding a sustainable solution for the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Any political initiative on the national level could be a catalyst for raising the urgency on the EU level.

In addition, some Member States show more interest in the conflict than others. For instance, in the Eastern states, there exists more interest in the issue than in The Netherlands or Portugal. This is evidently due to the common history that these countries share with the South Caucasus. At the same time, Northern states like Sweden and Finland have also showed a particular attention to Nagorno-Karabakh, with various resolutions being adopted in their national assemblies. The situation is also different in the new EU countries. In any case, I believe that the Union will play a more active role in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Beyond the EU: Why do you think the EU has not taken specific actions concerning a possible settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

Dr. Roman Huna: The EU is in theory a supranational power, it so far failed to speak with one voice on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. National interests still influence the supranational legitimacy, despite the fact that there is now one European President, and that the EEAS has been established as a common diplomatic service for the EU.

In the mean time, there is the OSCE Minsk Group, with France as a co-chair. This proves how a national member state is still more important than the EU as a common entity. If the EU were one united power, than it would take a seat in the only international body mandated for mediation in this conflict, and not one member state on its own.

Some places in the region are abandoned after Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Source: en.wikipedia.org

Beyond the EU:  What effect do the positions of Armenia and Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have on the EU’s involvement?

Dr. Roman Huna: The official positions of Azerbaijan and Armenia are known in the EU. We can refer to various debates in the European Parliament to demonstrate that the positions are very well known. In the meantime, the conflict stirs a lot of deliberation because it has become a symbolic and emotional issue. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia are seeking for a quick and sustainable solution, but are not very much into compromise on their respective points of view. Indeed, the positions of Azerbaijan and Armenia on how to settle the conflict are very different.

The EU is well aware that the diplomatic struggle between Armenia and Azerbaijan is very emotional for both countries. Therefore, it realizes that any official position that would go in the direction of one or the other’s favour, could be seen as a victory for one and a blame for the other. On the other hand, the European Commission and its EEAS should already take into account the new ‘wind of change’ coming from Europeans, which has been clearly expressed on 23 October 2013 by the European Parliament resolution 2013/2621(RSP) and its paragraph 16 (please see above).

Beyond the EU: So, what are the expectations of Azerbaijan and what can the EU do to meet their needs? How do you evaluate the results of the Vilnius Summit for Azerbaijan?

Dr. Roman Huna: Azerbaijan is strong economically and has consistent and constructive foreign policy. Azerbaijan’s choice is Europe, and this is reflected in many fields. We cannot forget that Azerbaijan already plays a very important role in the European energy security. This has been very much highlighted by all European stakeholders. I would also like to mention the importance of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) for Europe as it will deliver gas from Azerbaijan to the EU.

Azerbaijan has never made artificial promises to Europe; the state continues following right path to the European integration. That does not necessarily mean that Azerbaijan wants to be an EU member – this, of course, depends on Azerbaijan and its people. The EU cannot and will not decide this on behalf of any country – it is up to every state to choose its future. Azerbaijan is very much interested in using Europe’s best practice, and the process of democratisation is continuing as well. After all, Azerbaijan is a very strong Europe’s and NATO partner.

I believe that Azerbaijan is absolutely satisfied with the results of the Vilnius Summit. Firstly, because there was a signature of one important document which represents another step towards rapprochement between the EU and Azerbaijan – the visa facilitation agreement. Secondly, because the EU is looking forward to signing the readmission and mobility partnership agreements with Azerbaijan soon.

I also think that, after the Vilnius Summit, the European Commission should come with some innovative approaches and frameworks for the Eastern Partnership countries. The EU should be able to adapt more quickly to the new reality in the South Caucasus region. I am convinced that it is not appropriate anymore to put the three countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) in the same basket. They already have different evolution paths and, consequently, different expectations from Europe. This should also be reflected at EURONEST platform in the European Parliament.