Closer to War than Peace?: OSCE MG marks twenty years of unfruitful negotiation process over Nagorno Karabakh

Closer to War than Peace?: OSCE MG marks twenty years of unfruitful negotiation process over Nagorno Karabakh

Photo: OSCE/Frane Maroevic

The Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, French Co-chair Jacques Faure, alongside Robert Bradtke of the United States, Bernard Fassier of France, and Igor Popov of the Russian Federation, during the 18th OSCE Ministerial Council, Vilnius, 6 December 2011.

March 24 marks twenty years since the OSCE Minsk Group was established. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union this international structure was set out to resolve something that the Kremlin had failed to do over the three preceding years – stop the war in Nagorno Karabakh and reach a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

American Co-Chair of OSCE MG Robert Bradtke admitted in this reference, when recently summing up the activities of this organization over the past two decades, that no tangible progress has been made.

Indeed, twenty years later the conflict remains unresolved, even the fact that active hostilities were suspended in May of 1994, is the merit of CIS Inter-parliamentary Assembly, rather that the Minsk Group.

The international community viewed the Karabakh issue the same way the Kremlin leadership had before them.

If in 1988-1991 soviet Moscow was stating the inadmissibility of soviet republics' border repartition, since 1992 the same has been repeatedly stated by the United Nations (UN), this time in reference to the impossibility of changing the borders of the UN member-countries.

There is no principal difference between the two approaches. That’s one major reason why the conflict remains unresolved up until now.

On March 2, 1992 – three weeks before MG was established – Armenia and Azerbaijan joined the UN within the borders of their respective soviet republics. As a result, the new political realities in the region – declaration of Nagorno Karabakh Republic and its referendum of independence – were ignored not only by the soviet, but also the international community.

This was in Baku’s interests as the international recognition of the Azerbaijani Republic within its soviet borders enabled, and still does, the Azeri leadership to present any form of Armenian confrontation as “Armenian separatism”. The same was true during the soviet regime.

The United Nations refused to take direct participation in the settlement process and entrusted the peacemaking negotiation mission on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), by which the Minsk Group was created and has been functioning until today.

Despite the fact that today the concept of Minsk Group is associated with the three co-chairs – Russia, France and the USA, it hasn’t always been like that. Various countries have been its members: Czech Republic, Belarus, Sweden and Italy, Germany and Turkey…

The institute of three permanent co-chairs finally took shape in 1997, but it was a very difficult process.

The same year, MG co-chairs proposed two options of settlement, both of which provided for Nagorno Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. These options were accepted by Baku, but rejected by Stepanakert (Nagorno Karabakh).

Yerevan’s position was dual: firs president Levon Ter-Petrosyan accepted the suggested options, but the Armenian community, including political parties and the majority of the cabinet, were categorically against them; the situation led to the crisis of power and resignation of the first president.

In the following year of 1998, MG suggested a new option – the so-called “Common House”, stipulating horizontal relations to be established between Baku and Stepanakert, meaning that Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh would remain separate countries, but part of the same confederation. This time it was Baku’s turn to say “No”.

In 2007, the mediators suggested the fourth option of settlement, the Madrid Principles.

As opposed to the preceding ones, this document did not specify Nagorno Karabakh’s political status and insisted on the withdrawal of the Defense Army of Nagorno Karabakh from the five regions around former Autonomous Region of Nagorno Karabakh (ARNK), return of refugees and displaced people, rehabilitation of communications, and only after that (during 15-20 years) holding a referendum to determine the political status of Nagorno Karabakh.

This document, or the amended variants of it, is still on the negotiation table.

Official Yerevan recognizes the Madrid Principles, but with certain reservations – the referendum must be held within former ARNK, meaning by native Armenian population, which as of the start of the conflict made 80 percent of the total population in that region. Hence, from Yerevan’s perspective, Nagorno Karabakh’s future status is obvious.

Baku speaks against the reservations and wants unconditional recognition of all the territories as part of Azerbaijan.

As a result, two decades after OSCE MG's establishment, the negotiation process is still far from being resolved. Moreover, today more than before, opinions are voiced on the possible resumption of active hostilities.