By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
BERLIN Oct. 15, 2020 – Since the renewed outbreak of war in Nagorno-Karabakh, efforts have been underway on an international level to stop the fighting, and lay the basis for a political solution. The central institution involved has been the Minsk Group, which came together in 1994 at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Budapest summit. Its permanent members are Belarus, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Co-chairmen are the Russian Federation, the United States and France.
In Germany, Armenian organizations mobilized and leading members of the Bundestag (Parliament) issued statements condemning the violence and calling for an immediate ceasefire.
On October 12, the Society for Threatened Peoples sponsored a virtual seminar that brought together experts to review the history of the conflict and explore proposals towards a durable solution. The topic of the meeting was “War again in the South Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan and NATO Member Turkey.”
Kamal Sido, a Syrian-Kurdish historian living in Germany and working with the STP, moderated the event, which drew the participation of dozens of people from across Europe. Prof. Tessa Hofmann, a leading genocide researcher and human rights activist, opened the discussion with a thorough overview of the history of the complicated conflict, from the late Middle Ages, through the period of Russian domination, up to the first World War and beyond. She reviewed the outbreaks of violence, from the Shushi massacres of 1920 to the massacres in 1988-1990. She reported on how, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Karabakh, Azeri interior ministry troops forced the resettlement of between 5,000 and 32,000 people in 23 villages. There followed the undeclared war of December 1991 to May 1994, and the establishment of the 1994 ceasefire line. Since then, there have been repeated, unsuccessful efforts by Azerbaijan to reconquer territory, in 2016 and now.
The main reason for the continuing conflict, Hofmann said, lies in the fact that Karabakh has been left out of the international peace negotiations, a point she would return to later. A contributing factor to the periodic renewal of conflict is the ready supply of weapons to both sides; Russia arms both Azerbaijan and Armenia, while Israel and Turkey are delivering modern weaponry to Baku.
Participants in the webinar wanted to know facts about the situation, who supplies weapons and why; what role religion plays; how Iran figures in the regional geopolitical equation. But first and foremost, it was the role of Turkey that dominated the discussion.
Hofmann explained Turkey’s self-conception as a protector state of Azerbaijan, and cited the formula, “one nation, two states” that Ankara uses to describe the relationship between the two nations. Turkey’s self-conceived role does not end there, but extends to protector of Muslims throughout the region. Here she cited ongoing strife around relations with Greece, Israel, Libya and Syria, and confirmed reports of Turkish deployment of up to 9000 ethnic mercenaries recruited from among Syrian rebels, to Baku. In this light, Turkey exerts a greater influence on Azerbaijan than Russia does. Hofmann also pointed to the subjective factor of “hate potential,” noting how Turkey views Armenia as “the greatest threat to peace and calm in the region;” and, if 63 percent of Armenians see Azerbaijan as the greatest enemy, a whopping 94 percent of Azerbaijanis consider Armenia their greatest enemy.
From the problem, to the search for solutions: If the Russians have indeed succeeded in brokering a ceasefire, albeit fragile, and setting the stage for a new round of negotiations, how big is Moscow’s influence? Russia does not consider itself Armenia’s protector, in the way Turkey does vis-a-vis Azerbaijan, but has always been closer to Yerevan in crucial situations. This explains why Russian-speaking Armenians, even those who feel close to America, tend to trust Russia more. Ruling out the possibility that Russia would ever intervene militarily on Armenia’s side — unless Armenian territory were attacked — Hofmann addressed the possibility of a political solution.
If for 30 years, nay, for 100 years, there has been no solution, she said, this does not have to do with the negotiations per se, but with the very nature of the problem. “It is a matter of squaring the circle,” she said.
She outlined several steps to be taken, beginning with effective international monitoring of the Line of Contact. Nagorno Karabakh must enter the Minsk Group. Here the question is, whether or not Turkey can still belong if it continues to push for war. Confidence-building measures should be pursued on both sides, including contact through journalists, for example. Weapons deliveries must be limited; the deployment of mercenaries must be stopped. Facilities must be provided for homeless, internally displaced persons. The international community must be brought into the process and Karabakh’s right to self-determination must be respected.
Turning to the role of Germany, she demanded that it put sanctions in place against Turkey. Turkey exerts de facto blackmail pressure on Berlin, by virtue of the deal signed between the two regarding the millions of refugees on Turkish soil. Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to open the borders, and let thousands of refugees freely enter the European Union, if he is put under pressure through sanctions. When asked what she expected German Chancellor Angela Merkel would do in this context, Hofmann answered, Merkel has good relations with Turkey. The refugees’ deal with Turkey is more important for Germany than sanctions to punish Turkish arms deliveries to Azerbaijan. This is the problem; Hofmann called for the blockade against sanctions to end.
Broadening the scope of the discussion, one participant asked how Germany views its historical responsibility to Armenia and Armenians, considering Imperial Germany’s wartime alliance with Ottoman Turkey and the genocide. Hofmann answered that the German government — which did recognize the genocide in Parliament in 2016 – should draw the consequences for history. Though it is difficult to define where and to what extent Germany was guilty, it is undeniable that the German authorities were informed and did not to stop the genocide. As a result, Germany has a moral responsibility, also in consideration of the large Turkish community living here, a community that includes Armenians and Kurds from Turkey. In this context she also lamented the fate of the Armenian community in Turkey, “which is fighting for its life,” she said.
“What can be done?” was the last question by Kamal Sido, as the 90 minutes were up. “Don’t give up!” was her immediate reply. “Stay involved.”