Commentary: South Sudan Vote Gives Hope to Karabagh


By Edmond Y. Azadian

There is euphoria in Armenia’s news media. The political pundits there are having a field day speculating and commenting on the impact the South Sudan referendum may have on the Karabagh conflict, which has been confined to a legal straitjacket, juxtaposing the principles of territorial integrity with the self-determination of minorities. Baku, understandably, is mute on the issue.

Indeed, after 50 years of civil strife and two decades of active war, with 2 million casualties, South Sudan finally was allowed to hold a referendum last week, at the conclusion of a deal brokered in 2005 by the US government.

Sudan is one of the oil-rich countries in the heart of Africa. It seems that war and political tensions gravitate towards the oil wells of the world.

Sudan has a population of 40 million. South Sudan has only 4 million population but its territory produces 80 percent of Sudan’s entire oil output, some 490,000 barrels a day, the third biggest in sub- Saharan Africa. That, of course, could become a bone of contention between the South and the North, but the 2005 peace agreement has provisions of oil revenue sharing between both entities.

The optimism in Armenia is derived from the fact that the principle of minority self-determination is gaining prominence over territorial integrity. Unfortunately, that optimism is not fully justified because each and every similar case has political determinants in the background, which outweigh justice, historical right and international law.

President Jimmy Carter was in Sudan monitoring the voting and President Barack Obama had a profusion of praise for parties in the Sudanese conflict. He called the peaceful and orderly referendum an “inspiration” and he added a cautious warning: “We urge all parties to continue to urge calm and restraint as the parties work to complete implementation of the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement. The past week has given the world a renewed faith in the prospect of a peaceful, prosperous future for all the Sudanese people — a future that the American people long to see in Sudan.”

It looks like the people in Karabagh have to wait a very long time for the American people and its president to “long for a peaceful future” in that tortured part of the world.

The results of the vote indicate that a new nation will be born in Africa, seceding from Sudan. The results will be announced on February 14 and independence will be formally declared on July 9. With this referendum in Sudan, another precedent is established where the tenets of territorial integrity are shattered. But all those principles are only fig leaves to camouflage the political interests in the background.

Sudan perennially has been a country of coup d’etats. The government of Jaafar Nimeiri was toppled by Ahmed al-Mirghani, which in turn was toppled by the current dictator, Omar al-Bashir, who introduced the Sharia law in the country and engaged in an active persecution of the Southern Christians and animists. Such actions, of course provided a good opportunity for the West to destabilize Sudan, whose international politics was veering towards being a rogue state. During the current administration, Sudan also became a conduit for China’s economic, political and military penetration into the African heartland, alarming the West.

Before Sudan, Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya was bombed during the Reagan administration and the US-engineered international pressure brought to bear in Libyan politics, which renounced terrorism, paid $2.5 billion for bombing Pan Am flight over Lockerbie and above all, toned down its anti-Israeli rhetoric.

Similarly, a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory was also bombed during the Clinton administration, under the accusation that it was producing chemical weapons.

Of course, President al-Bashir gave just excuses for the West to declare his country a pariah state, namely because of his genocidal politics in Darfur. The international court issued an arrest warrant, with the backing of Washington, to contain Sudan’s homicidal actions. And in line with the US’s Libyan policy, the Khartoum government cut a deal with the US to hold a referendum in the South and honor the results.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many territorial adjustments have been made in different parts of the world and many minorities have exerted their right for self-determination and achieved independence such as East Timor, Eritrea, Somaliland, Slovenia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. All these precedents leave no excuse forbidding Karabagh people to determine their own fate.

In all these cases, the only distinction was that some minorities broke away with the consent or tacit agreement of the majority rulers, and others were forced by major forces.

East Timor has a long history of conflict with the Jakarta regime, after Indonesia gained its independence from Holland. Finally Jakarta agreed to a referendum, which freed East Timor.

Eritrea benefited from Ethiopia’s internal turmoil to declare its independence.

But Kosovo’s independence was the outcome of an international power game between Russia and the West. The US, which had antagonized the Muslim world through its unconditional support of Israel, found an opportunity to provide a free gift to the Muslim world by supporting the independence of a Muslim minority in the heart of Europe, by dismantling the former Yugoslavia by force. Of course, Kosovo’s independence had further political and symbolic ramifications as well; as the European Union was mustering its forces and pooling its Christian values eventually to challenge US’s unipolar world domination, Kosovo would become a monkey wrench in those European aspirations, like Turkey could become one day with Washington’s blessing.

The symbolic significance of Kosovo’s independence was that Serbia’s backbone was broken and a line in the sand was drawn for Russian influence in Europe and particularly in the Balkans. As the West was pushing for Kosovo’s independence and recognition by other nations, Moscow vehemently opposed the move and warned that there could be a settling of scores in the international arena. And that opportunity was afforded to Russia by Georgia’s frivolous President Mikheil Saakashvili when he began saber- battling in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia took up the challenge, destroyed the Georgian army and recognized those enclaves as independent nations.

Some Latin American countries such as Nicaragua and Venezuela, to please Russia and spite the West, recognized the independence of those two entities.

What do all these case analyses bring to the issue of Karabagh? Unfortunately, Karabagh falls in the category of Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where the ruling majority was coerced to relinquish a chunk of its territory to a struggling minority, the principle of territorial integrity notwithstanding.

Where is the major power to force Baku rulers to recognize the results of 1994 war and the referendum of 1991. On the contrary, it is in the interest of the major powers — including our “strategic ally” Russia — to keep the Karabagh conflict frozen to cajole or to threaten Azerbaijan to wrest economic and political concessions. Baku authorities maintain an active trade partnership with Taiwan, while they refuse to recognize Karabagh’s right to self-determination. Similarly Turkey keeps under its occupation Northern Cyprus, beating its breast forminority rights, while actively refusing to grant those same rights to the people of Karabagh.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama were so much in favor of Southern Sudan’s independence they can hardly think of granting the same treatment to Karabagh. Therefore, all these principles and lofty rhetoric on international law are just like shoes to fit the feet of politicians and statesmen.

If Kosovo and South Sudan can enjoy independence, the same political conditions and the same principles of self-determination entitle Karabagh people to have their own independence.

But when you pose the question to the leaders of the major powers, they will concoct and manufacture all kinds of laws and conditions that the Karabagh situation is “different.”

The only guarantee for Karabagh’s security and independence comes from Armenia. And Armenia’s shrinking population hangs a big question mark over the settlement of Karabagh. When dust settles in South Sudan, our pundits in Armenia will realize that their anticipation of a precedent for Karabagh was overrated.