By: Hayk Kotanjian, Professor, D. Sc, Chairman of the Political Science Association of Armenia on behalf of the Board
SUMMARY: The conflict in Karabakh, which resumed in 1988, remains active. The first phase of the war ended in 1994 with a ceasefire agreement. For more than two decades, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has served as the main platform for negotiations. Since the second half of the 1990s and until 2007, various efforts were made to find a lasting solution to the protracted conflict, which was largely referred as “frozen”. However, things started to change since 2008, when Azerbaijan has increasingly escalated the situation on the front line. Even though between 2008 and 2013, the presidents of Russia, US, and France, three co-chair countries of the OSCE Minsk group, had issued 5 statements encouraging the president of Armenia and Azerbaijan to show political will and agree on the basic principles, the conflict remains unresolved. Moreover, since 2014 the number of casualties on both sides have skyrocketed. The last major escalation occurred in April 2016 when Azerbaijan attacked Karabakh by killing hundreds of soldiers and civilians. Azerbaijan has also carried out crimes against humanity as its elite forces killed children and mutilated the bodies of elderly people. The low-intensity conflict in Karabakh has dramatically undermined the fragile security architecture in the South Caucasus. Its prospects remain vague and unclear.
On the eve of the Parliamentary Elections in the Republic of Armenia, discussing the Statement of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs of 17 February, 2017 on the Constitutional Referendum of 20 February, 2017 held in the Republic of Artsakh, the Board of the Political Science Association of Armenia (PSAA) adopted an Appeal to the Secretary General of the OSCE and the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship states.
This piece is a call to three co-chair countries of the OSCE Minsk group to pay more attention to the conflict in Karabakh. It lays out a number of reasons why peace is important for the region and why the efforts of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to build democratic state should not be undermined by Azerbaijan. The recent example when its president Ilham Aliyev has appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, as Azerbaijan’s vice-president, is yet another indication of Aliyev’s family authoritarian tendencies.
Below the full text of the Appeal, presented by the Chairman of the Political Science Association of Armenia, Professor, and D.Sc. Hayk S. Kotanjian.
From Left to Right:
The Promotion of Democracy in the Karabakh Conflict Zone as a Peacebuilding Resource for Conflicting Parties and the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship
The Political Science Association of Armenia has the honor to address Your Excellencies – the Secretary General of the OSCE Mr. Lamberto Zannier, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Mr. Sergey Lavrov, the US Secretary of State Mr. Rex Wayne Tillerson, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of France Mr. Jean-Marc Ayrault on the maintenance of peace in the turbulent zone of the Karabakh armed conflict and the surrounding volatile region of the Greater Middle East.
On 20 February 2017, a National Referendum on the draft of a new Constitution was held in the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh Republic). The turnout has been 76,44 % of the registered voters, of which 87,6 % supported the adoption of the new Constitution. Around 100 international observers from 30 countries monitored the voting process and positively assessed the organization and conduct of the referendum noting their transparency and compliance with international standards (NKR MFA Statement, http://www.nkr.am/en/news/2017-02-21/903/).
The Constitutional Referendum of 20 February 2017 became the successive step in the legitimate institution-building in the Republic of Artsakh, based on the democratic will of the population in the continuation of the results of Referendum of 10 December 1991 on the independence of Artsakh with the establishment of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in accordance with the norms of the international law and the Soviet legislature then active (Закон СССР “О порядке решения вопросов, связанных с выходом союзной республики из СССР” No 1410-1 от 3 апреля 1990 г. [Law on the Resolution of Issues of Secession of a Union Republic from the USSR”, No 1410-1; 3 April, 1990]; “Ведомости Съезда народных депутатов СССР, Верховного Совета СССР”, 1990, No 15 [Gazette of the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 1990, No 15]; Report on the Results of the Referendum on the Independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, http://www.nkr.am/en/referendum/42).
The comparative analysis of the current state-building processes in the neighboring states of the Republic of Artsakh – the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan – shows fundamental distinctions in terms of the development of democracy in these countries. Following the record of another positive result of applying a referendum tool of direct democracy in the state-building of Nagorno-Karabakh one may notice an opposite trend of rollback to totalitarianism in neighboring Azerbaijan. In particular, the former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Kauzlarich qualified the appointment by Ilham Aliyev of his wife Mehriban Aliyeva on 21 February 2017, to the position of the first Vice President as a step towards the establishment of a monarchy in the country (Former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Speaks Out Against Choice of First Lady as VP, Published on 23 February 2017, https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/21308/). At the same time, the ruling regime in Azerbaijan systematically carries out repressive measures against the opposition, trying to suppress any manifestation of dissent in the republic. Many opposition figures are convicted under various articles, are obliged to leave the country; many international organizations have repeatedly drawn attention to the extant human rights situation in Azerbaijan, describing it as unacceptable (Orwellian Big Brother Chairing at the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Europe Et Orient, Dimanche 31 août 2014, http://europeetorient.blogspot.am/2014/08/orwellian-big-brother-chairing-at.html).
The Political Science Association of Armenia analyzed these facts that evidence the deepening systematic totalitarianization of power in Azerbaijan, which is accompanied by the use of the energy resources of this state for narrow clan purposes and as a resource for more militarization of the Republic of Azerbaijan’s budget and as a result of this – as a main factor of returning the Karabakh conflict to the acute phase of war. These trends contrast with the condition in the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh, particularly, with the recent constitutional reform in the Republic of Armenia, as a result of which the state makes a transition to the parliamentary form of government. Thus, in terms of the development of democratic institutions, there is a widening gap between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh, on the one hand, and the Republic of Azerbaijan, on the other, which unequivocally manifested itself in the referenda on constitutional amendments held on 6 December, 2015 ‒ in Armenia, 26 September, 2016 ‒ in Azerbaijan and 20 February, 2017 ‒ in the Republic of Artsakh.
Through the Constitutional Referendum in the Republic of Armenia the Basic Law was adopted, aimed at the further promotion of democracy in the process of transition to the parliamentary model of governance, as evidenced by the assessments made by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights according to the results of the Referendum (OSCE/ODIHR final report on Armenia’s Constitutional Referendum recommends inclusive electoral reform. 5 February 2016, http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/220781).
The contradiction between the constitutional changes and Azerbaijan’s international commitments to protect democracy was claimed in the letter of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights ‒ one of the most prestigious US institutions in the field of human rights protection ‒ addressed to Ilham Aliyev before the Referendum, which particularly states: “By extending presidential terms and expanding presidential authorities, the proposed constitutional changes are susceptible to abuse that would entrench political authority, making it less responsive to the will of the Azerbaijani people. We are especially troubled by the amendments that would restrict fundamental rights vital to open public debate and government accountability” (Azerbaijan’s Constitutional Referendum Creates Crisis of Legitimacy, https://www.csce.gov/international-impact/press-and-media/press-releases/azerbaijan-s-constitutional-referendum-creates?&&&&sort_by=field_date_value&page=3).
Against this background, an extensive process of democratic state-building is consistently implemented in the NKR. Since 1991, competitive presidential and parliamentary elections have been held in the NKR, and since 1998 – local authorities have been formed through elections. According to the assessments of international observers, elections in the NKR are conducted in line with the Electoral Code of the Republic and according to the universally recognized norms of international law, as a step reinforcing democratic institutions and developing the civil society (Statement of the International Independent Observation Mission on Nagorno-Karabakh Parliamentary Elections 2015, http://cecnkr.am/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/1.Statement-NKR-Election-Final.pdf; British Political Scientist: Parliamentary Elections in Nagorno-Karabakh Show that it is More Democratic than Azerbaijan, 13.05.2015, http://www.panorama.am/en/news/2015/05/13/elections-nkr/53787).
The NKR Constitution, adopted through the Referendum in 2006, imparted a more systemic character to the process of state-building (Constitution of the Nagorno Karabagh Republic): http://www.president.nkr.am/en/constitution/fullText/). Today, the NKR population has all the legal and political tools for the organization of domestic life, the formation of political and state structures, as well as development of democratic institutions.
At present, by its political culture and the level of development of democratic institutions, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (renamed the Republic of Artsakh as a result of the recent Constitutional Referendum) outperforms Azerbaijan. The proof of this is the Freedom House Report “Freedom in the World 2017”, where Azerbaijan is included in the list of “not free” states, whereas the NKR and the Republic of Armenia in that of “partly free” states (Freedom House “Freedom in the World 2017”, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2017).
The escalation of the situation along the line of contact on the night of 25 February 2017, once again demonstrated the problematic character of identifying the perpetrators of ceasefire violations, and stressed the urgency of effective and immediate implementation of agreements reached on at the Summits of Vienna and St. Petersburg in 2016 towards the introduction of mechanisms for monitoring ceasefire violations. (Joint Statement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Secretary of State of the United States of America and State Secretary for Europe Affairs of France. http://www.osce.org/mg/240316).
At the same time, unlike other conflicts (Ukraine, Syria), the continuous coherence of US and Russian positions towards the settlement of the Karabakh Conflict enables to consider the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship as an effective platform for opening a constructive dialogue between these states (Carey Cavanaugh, Renewed Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, http://www.cfr.org/regional-security/renewed-conflict-over-nagorno-karabakh/p38843).
In this regard, it would be effective to assume control over the warlike preparations of the sides in the entire zone of the Karabakh Conflict through the orbital means of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair states from the near-Earth space. Such innovative application of hi-tech information and communication technologies in the outer space sensing for deterring a war could also become an experimental platform for the exchange of targeted intelligence information among the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs – the Russian Federation, the U.S., and France, aimed at peace building. This innovation in political-diplomatic containment and military deterrence in the case of success could be used globally to prevent the escalation of Karabakh-like frozen local conflicts towards a war with the catastrophic involvement of actors from volatile surrounding regions like the South Caucasus, the Middle East and Central Asia (МГ ОБСЕ – платформа консенсуса РФ, США и Франции в сдерживании войны. REGNUM, 9 ноября 2016 г.: https://regnum.ru/news/polit/2207408.html; The OSCE Minsk Group as a Platform for Unbroken Consensus of Positions among the RF, USA, and France in Deterring a War: Kharabakh’s Example, Geostrategic Pulse, N 225, 5 December 2016).
According to the above-mentioned, we call upon the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair states to consider the Constitutional referendum of 6 December, 2015 and 20 February, 2017, correspondingly held in the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh, as well as the upcoming Parliamentary Elections in the Republic of Armenia as stages of democratic institution-building in the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh, as well as a factor contributing to the stability and security both in the turbulent zone of the Karabakh armed conflict and the surrounding volatile region of the Greater Middle East.