Our Analytics 14 december — 15:06

Azerbaijan and Armenia: United in one house only (View from Moscow)



The outgoing year gave us a new portion of reflection on the nature of the phenomenon of separatism. The referendum in Catalonia on independence from Spain stimulated broad international discussions on how far these situations, manifested in different historical and political conditions, can have a common ground. In other words, can they carry a relatively similar and repeatable character from country to country and from region to region, have close algorithms for the behaviour of elites in situations (motives) that are pushing towards the manifestation of separatism. What is the role of the mother country, what methods can prevent the radicalisation of the process or compensate for the risks of escalation. And finally, what is the role of the 'third party,' that is, another state one way or another involved in the conflict of interests around a separatist process.

There is a lot of questions, there are almost no positive answers. The UN statistics says that at present there are more than 50 main centres of ethnic separatism in the world, covering a population of more than 220 million people and an area of more than 12.7 million square kilometres. More than 20 conflicts that have arisen as a result of ethnic separatism are accompanied by armed clashes. The situation is notorious not only for the South Caucasus.

What did the 'Baku dialogue' in Brussels reveal?

Therefore, naturally, Azerbaijan actively joined the international discussion on the nature of separatism. The forum 'Separatism as a threat to international peace and security,' organised in Brussels on the eve of the Eastern Partnership summit, showed several interesting circumstances.

First, Baku's ability to assemble major expert political events outside of Azerbaijan was manifested. It's one thing when a major forum is held in the Azerbaijani capital. The 'Baku format' in different directions of media-political diplomacy has become a recognised and already significant phenomenon.

It's another matter, when such a platform is transferred to an influential foreign capital, it becomes a factor of increasing the image and recognition of Azerbaijan.

The second interesting point. The active participation of Ali Hasanov, the presidential aide on public and political issues, and a number of other officials showed the ability and readiness of Baku to listen to a broader range of opinions on the nature of separatism, rather than the usual habit of listening to Azerbaijani officials sitting in the chairs of the Baku forums. The transfer to Brussels automatically predetermined the severity of speeches and discussions.

Hearings in Brussels

Comparison of different types of separatism as a topic of broad public discussion is quite a bold step, given the lack of typology and clear definitions of the term 'separatism.' Depending on the position of the observer, he/she acquires either negative connotations associated with the disintegration of a state and an integration project, or the reverse process occurs, giving it the meaning of a 'national liberation movement.'

In turn, international law very clearly demonstrated the entire ambiguity of the appeals to its definitions as such. The so-called right to self-determination, in fact, is an indication of the possibility of a minority to destroy the 'mother' state. But when is it legitimate, and when is it an arbitrariness, lies in the 'real politik' plane and the ability of a state to respond to these challenges.

One shouldn't expect assistance from the international community. States alone face this problem, independently forming a group of allies and support. The history of Baku's work to create an international support in the Karabakh conflict (from seeking support in Ankara to forming an intermediary mission on the OSCE platform) is the story of this one-on-one action, during which the international arena was divided into  indifferent spectators, active participants, allies, support and competition groups.

OSCE Minsk Group

We can talk about the presence of two competing subjects: the state (as a variant of the integration project) and the separatist movement. Their interaction can be radically destructive, or seek to find balances and compromises, which is much less common. Moreover, the arena of their interaction is not limited by the linear sequence. It cannot be said that here, at a single time point, the border passes, when some factors 'freeze' or are overcome, they are simply postponed in time. Separatism for the state is an insurmountable virus, but it can be adapted and managed.

The life cycles of the collapse of an empire (integration projects) and the formation of new national states overlap, so we can also talk about the transformation of separatist currents depending on historical time. The consequences of politics and the socio-economic benefits of the existence of the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, the Soviet Union and most of the colonial European powers will continue to operate in the future. Among these consequences is the struggle between the new national states for establishing their inviolable borders. In this sense, the process of the disintegration of the USSR has not been completed, and it continues in the current time with the participation of new entries: in particular, the issue that the agenda of the conflict of the Eurasian and European projects fully absorbs the problems of Soviet disintegration, expressed in other conditions with different entries.

Another plane of comparison of separatisms: political and radical. Political, in a sense, 'socio-cultural' separatism is when there are parties and blocs, legally, for decades operating in the mother country. They include Catalonia and Tatarstan. Despite some political outbursts of a conjunctural and political nature, this type of interaction tends to compromise, which is evidenced by history of not one decade and even centuries. It is no coincidence that official Baku chose the model of relations between Tatarstan and federal Moscow as the standard of the future positive inter-ethnic and regional political interaction with Nagorno-Karabakh.

Putin and Shaimiev

In addition, when discussing separatism in the space of the former USSR, we should separately talk about the factor of Russia. On the one hand, searches for the guilty quickly send critical arrows at Russia, without taking into account the circumstances and different models of Kremlin's behaviour towards post-Soviet conflicts. On the other hand, in Russia, we ourselves still discuss the many aspects of Russian influence on neighbouring countries. Namely: where does the border between the political manipulation of the Kremlin and the real concern of Moscow regarding the rights of the Russian population in a conditional neighbouring state lie? How to determine the boundary between the interests of the military corporation and the interests of the liberal camp, how is their common constituent formed?

The existence of different opinions was showed, in particular, by the history of the Armenian-Russian relations in the 1990s, when the Moscow generals managed to combine geopolitical interests and corruption schemes of arms supplies to Armenia (the investigation of General Lev Rokhlin), and then, with the coming to power of Putin's liberals, the role of relations with Azerbaijan began to gradually prevail over the military support of Yerevan. Actually, this does not solve the conflict in favour of Baku, but, definitely, changed the disposition over the last two decades. Now, similar, but in the opposite sense, repeats with Ukraine. For Putin, Ukraine, from the most important object of integration, has become a 'severed branch,' while for Putin's inner circle liberals, in particular for Kudrin, relations with Ukraine, in addition to being important in themselves, are the axis of relations with the EU. If this opinion prevails in the Kremlin after 2018, then the Donbas war may end, and the Crimean conflict will find a variant of a compromise solution.

Alexei Kudrin as a mirror of Russian liberalism

Common and different

Now, from different models of separatism, we return to the conversation about 'coincidences and differences' in the Catalan and Karabakh cases. It is clear that the differences are prevalent, but interesting parallels arise when we consider a practical plan for the implementation of integrations: we see similar reefs that these projects meet in the past and present.

At the same time, the list of 'differences' rather than typological similarity is much more extensive: one can only talk about common features and trends.

Common: a certain crisis of integration projects and the complexity of managing large social systems.

In the late Soviet period, the system's fatigue was far more fatal than it is now in Europe. Relatively recently, at the junction of the modern economy and sociology, a fashionable theory of institutional relations arose. One of its authors, Douglas Norton, introduced the notion of commitment, which means some kind of social agreement about an object, for example, about the essence of state participation in society, and how it should function in relation to citizens. Late Soviet ethno-territorial conflicts arose just at the time of a change in such a commitment towards the Soviet Union. The meaning of the existence of a large System fell away by itself, as it degraded. And this, of course, aggravated their already hard flow.

The first rallies of the Armenian separatists, 1988

European and Soviet projects are different both in ideology and in the nature of administrative and political governance.

In Europe, more freedom remains, the Soviet project was quasi-mandatory. The Soviet economy could not adapt to the challenges of reforms, and then the transition to the capitalist rails of social capitalism. Crises for a united Europe are the constant phenomena of a natural transition from one stage to another. Although the severity of certain 'turns,' for example, migration, has yet to be fully tested. In addition, any social phenomenon, including integration, has its own historical limits, the decline of this process for Europe is inevitable. But it can hardly be expected in the form of the collapse of the Soviet Union, given that the European Union is a union of already formed states.

Finally, a different balance of freedom and coercion. For example, the leaders of Catalonia, albeit with some hesitation, but agree to remain within the framework of justice, realising that there are a lot of opportunities for public control and influence on the actions of the law enforcement system. In the Soviet system, at the peak of its form, they would have received impressive prison terms. But, on the other hand, it was in the Soviet period, at the stage of extinction, when it became possible to avoid some punishments. And the possibility of influencing the late Soviet leadership and the liberal movement on the part of Armenian leaders became obvious even before the collapse of the USSR...

The main difference is in the factor of radical nationalism. Irish separatism, Basque separatism also have radical features. The second half of the European 20th century was marked by their 'national terror,' the Islamist 'jihad' was somewhere far away.

For the success of separatism, it is necessary to have an external source: a country (region) whose authorities, or the dominant political force of which, would stimulate the ethno-separatism of neighbours.

In this regard, the situation with Armenia is unique.

Much is written about how it was manifested in Soviet times, but one of the most revealing testimonies is in the memoirs of Filipp Bobkov, head of the 5th department of the KGB of the USSR, later deputy chairman of the KGB of the USSR. We can get acquainted with it on the FSB website (http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/history/author/single.htm!id%[email protected]).

In particular, he writes: 'The Armenian leadership has done everything possible to conceal this bloody crime from the population of the republic (the terrorist attack in the Moscow metro in 1977). According to the instruction of the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Armenia, Demirchyan, no newspaper published in Armenian wrote anything about the terrorist act. Documentary about the trial of Zatikyan and his accomplices, filmed during the Supreme Court sessions, was banned from being shown even to the party activists of Armenia: it was shown only to a narrow circle of senior party officials. The film was never released, although it could bring many benefits and help in the educational work. The republic's leadership motivated the ban with unwillingness to compromise the Armenian people in the eyes of the Russians.

And soon in Izvestia there appeared a speech by Academician Sakharov, who protested against the allegedly illegal arrest of the Armenians. He refused to believe that three terrorists could come to Moscow to commit their atrocity...

Even from the fact of terror, no one wanted to make political conclusions, the fight against terror was, they said, the scope of the KGB. So, KGB existed in order to prevent such actions and not allow them, and if such things happen, let them face the consequences. Nobody wanted to understand the essence of the issue and understand that only explanatory work directed against the Dashnak propaganda could prevent trouble. The leaders both in the centre and in the localities did not want to understand that this was not going to end there. Even several years later, when nationalist tendencies began to increase in the republic, and the Dashnaks increasingly planted their ideology in Armenia, the local leadership did not give them a proper rebuff and, apparently, not by chance...'

European and Soviet integration for Karabakh: two worlds, two Shapiros

Despite Bobkov's testimony, it should be noted that the immediate model of the joint existence of Azerbaijan and Armenia was the Soviet one, implemented within the framework of a single state (the Soviet integration model) by the collective efforts of the party apparatus of the CPSU (methods of ideology and propaganda), the KGB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (enforcement bodies), as well as the purposeful educational and propaganda policy. Together, they managed to create a joint House that has been working for decades. Despite the subsequent collapse of the USSR, one can recognise this experience of integration as successful for one generation.

Thus, we see that with the participation of an external factor, be it compulsory (mandatory or regulated) or a factor of external super-integration pressure, the models of the coexistence of antagonists, such as Armenia and Azerbaijan, are possible in principle.

The problem is in the installation of modern compensatory mechanisms for such a long 'coercion' or, let us say in another way, for a peaceful terraforming of the socio-political field in the conditions of the neighbouring existence of the two conflicting states.

That is, it is an issue from the balance of compulsory and stimulating measures.

Unfortunately, for a number of local practices of public structures funded by European institutions (EU dialogue programs) and a number of possible projects (discussed positional exchanges in the framework of infrastructure transport links offered by Moscow), so far no balance of measures has developed around the Karabakh conflict. It remains on the periphery of the interests and integration opportunities of the Russian Federation and the EU.

Moreover, it is characteristic, if we remove geopolitical issues aside and only talk about measures of civil dialogue, we also will not find them in the list of 'binding' practices. Initiatives such as the Baku Platform for Peace and Harmony should not only be supported by the OSCE Minsk Group, but be regulated as a tool for reconciliation. And their multiplicity should be postulated for the removal of criticism in conjuncture. But this does not happen.

And yet, is there any experience of a positive process of partial removal of the consequences of separatism within the framework of an integration project? On whom can one focus?

Typology is not a very good helper because of the averaging and loss of important 'local' nuances. Still... A definite example, which politicians can use, could be modern Turkish-Greek relations.

Here, as in the case of the Armenian-Turkish problems that served as one of the pushing moments of the development of the Karabakh conflict in the Soviet 1980s, there was the problem of the despotism of the empire (the Ottomans) in relation to the minority people (the Greeks). There is also the problem of the crisis of the 1915 civil war, which is interpreted differently. All this has been complicated many times by the crisis in the division of Cyprus.

Erdogan's historic visit to Greece

Nevertheless, and this is very important to mention, modern Greece and Turkey managed to find ways to arrange their joint presence not only in military NATO, but also in most European programs of modernisation and development. In my opinion, if the EU project received more 'quiet years' in its development, without the pressure of the current crises, Turkey would have become a full-fledged participant in the European integration on a par with Greece.

From my point of view, the path to peaceful coexistence is inevitable, because the main issue -- the state delimitation between Armenia and Azerbaijan -- was settled in 1991. Two neighbouring states will inevitably come to a way of good-neighbourly coexistence side by side or even 'together' within the framework of global integration structures. The problem is that the sponsor of such integration will have to solve the difficult problem of the 'first step' in relation to Armenia: not only to compensate the material and technical problems for a sense of security after the de-occupation of the Azerbaijani territories, but also to convince the mass consciousness of Armenia and the diaspora that this is the best way out .

Immediately it is necessary to make a reservation that this is a long way: for many decades. On this way there will be falls: into military conflicts of varying intensity. There will be internal and external shocks. But there is no other option for rapprochement.

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