Nagorno-Karabakhâ€“ A Disregarded Conflict
20 February 2011
Issue : 923
Of all the so-called â€œfrozen conflictsâ€ in the EUâ€™s eastern neighbourhood, Nagorno Karabakh is the most dangerous.Â Being far from frozen it represents the greatest threat to security and stability in the South Caucasus.Â Yet while the EU has become increasingly engaged in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh hardly figures on the radar.Â Rather the EU prefers to sit on the sidelines, supporting the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group (a tripartite body co-chaired by the US, France and Russia) which has been acting as a mediator between Azerbaijan and Armenia since 1992.Â Â However, with peace-talks stalled, increased clashes and saber-rattling on the line of contact, and spiraling defence spending there is growing concern that a new, most likely accidental war, may be around the corner.Â
While nobody expects the EU to solve the conflict it could at least become more engaged in preventing war, given the region is part of its European Neighbourhood Policy.Â Â This was the message of the European Parliamentâ€™s 2010 Resolution on the South Caucasus.
A message which has pretty much been ignored.Â If the EU continues with its complacent, seemingly unconcerned attitude, deluding itself that the status quo is sustainable it may find itself facing another August 2008 scenario: cleaning up after a bloody war.Â Only this time, unlike the Russia-Georgia conflict, it is unlikely to be short with neither side scoring a quick victory. While Azerbaijan may have increased its defence spending to over $3billion this does not guarantee success with Armenia being better placed strategically, holding the higher, more mountainous ground.Â It could result in a very protracted conflict, sucking in other regional actors, destroying crucial infrastructure including key energy transit routes, and costing thousands of lives.Â Â Â
While Karabakh is legally part of Azerbaijan, since the 1988-1994 war it has been under Armenian control, with seven surrounding Azerbaijani regions also occupied. The conflict erupted when Karabakhâ€™s then-Armenian majority population claimed independence which led to full-scale war in the early 1990â€™s resulting in around 25 000 deaths and over 1 million displaced people.Â While Azerbaijan insists Karabakh must remain part of its territory, Armenia states the Karabakhi population has the right to self determination.Â Kosovo independence and more recently events in South Sudan have bolstered their belief that self-determination is becoming more important than territorial integrity. Neither leadership has taken steps to prepare their populations for a compromise deal rather preferring to feed them fairytale scenarios.Â Karabakh has had a major impact on the two societies strengthening mutual negative stereotypes and aggressive rhetoric.Â The conflict also continues to strongly influence political life and hold back democratization.