Commentary: What Is the Alternative?


By Edmond Y. Azadian

On November 22, presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Munich for the sixth time trying to resolve the untractable issue of Nagorno Karabagh. The results were mixed once again. The meeting, which was held under the auspices of the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) co-chairs, generated neither a breakthrough nor much enthusiasm.

Once again OSCE co-chairs praised the determination of the two presidents yet they conceded that several unresolved issues remained to be taken up in early November in Athens, Greece by the foreign ministers of the two countries.

What is significant about these meetings is the mindset of the participating interlocutors.

Before departing for Munich, the Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev, once again, raised the specter of war, reiterating his belligerent statements: that Baku has to resort to the military option should these meetings fail to produce results. He also brandished his military hardware by announcing that Azerbaijan has converted its petro dollars into armaments.

The OSCE co-chairs admonished the Azeri president’s rhetoric, which may damage the ongoing delicate negotiations. The French and Russian OSCE co-chairs bluntly announced that military option is not a solution. They also acknowledged that military threats were for domestic consumption.

This is not the first time that the Azeri president has threatened war with Armenia.

Even if the belligerent statements are intended for the domestic audience, it should not be discounted, but rather be taken seriously.

Besides reprimands from the OSCE co-chairs, the Turkish news media have also been critical of Aliyev’s war rhetoric. War will not be Armenia’s choice. And nor was it in the 1990s when the Baku government thrust the war upon the Armenians. At that time, Azerbaijan was badly defeated, creating a huge internal refugee problem.

But those refugees are still living under the tents, despite the flow of petro-dollars, to solicit sympathy from the international community and to justify another war.

Should Armenia face another act of aggression, what would be the remaining alternatives?

It is wise that the Armenian side has not escalated the war rhetoric. Instead, the Yerevan administration is soft peddling, which has been appreciated by the OSCE co-chairs. Only the presidential office issued a statement that should Azerbaijan engage in any military adventure, Armenia may recognize Karabagh’s independence and sign a mutual defense pact.

Any war is winnable under certain conditions: a) technological edge in military hardware; b) commitment and resolve to defeat the enemy or c) international endorsement. No war can be initiated unless a major power approves it.

The first Karabagh war was won because of Armenia’s resolve and preparedness. It was a chaotic situation where technological advantage did not play a critical role, if we discount the participation of the former military brass from the Soviet army.

During that war, Russia not only provided the armaments, but also the political and military support.

Should a war break out, we are not sure what level of sophistication the Azeri army enjoys to use its new military hardware.

This time around, Russia’s intentions remain unclear. Moscow has its interests in Azerbaijan’s energy resources. Also, it is not in Russia’s interest to push Baku into the lap of Western powers.

What would Armenia offer to offset those interests?

Armenia’s resolve has also been weakened by the constant and permanent outflow of its population and internal political division.

We would not like to know the level of preparedness because that may betray secrets about the plans of the Armenian side.

We would be certain of Russia’s support had a conflict flared up in Javakhk, seeking independence or autonomy, because it is in Moscow’s interest to further destabilize Georgia and to chip away some more territory from Georgia.

Rather than criticizing the Armenian government and insulting its leaders, it is time to demonstrate some solidarity, raise the alarm for the international community and begin a recruitment of volunteers, giving a signal to Aliyev that the entire diaspora is behind Armenia and Karabagh.

It was no surprise, perhaps, that support came from the most improbable quarter, Levon Ter-Petrosian’s HAK opposition group. Indeed, the first president criticized the ARF position, and came to President Sargisian’s rescue, albeit, a little late.

It is also rewarding to learn that the Armenia Fund phonathan in Europe has scored unprecedented results, despite all the campaign to discredit the government. We hope the telethon results will be equally successful.

If we wish to preserve the peace, we need to be ready for war.