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По умолчанию Статья Тома де Ваала о Карабахе в FT

Lay to rest ghosts of war in the Caucasus

By Thomas de Waal

Published: May 4 2009 19:29 | Last updated: May 4 2009 19:29

While the rest of the world struggles with the first crisis of globalisation, the Caucasus is still stuck in a pre-1914 age of clashing Great Powers. As last August’s conflict in Georgia painfully showed, nowhere else in the wider Europe is war such a danger.
Yet this May could be a bright moment. Russia, the US, the European Union and Turkey – the constellation of powers with an interest in this unfortunate region – are in brief alignment. They have an opportunity to begin to defuse what is the least visible and the most dangerous threat to the region and its many energy pipelines: the unresolved Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The moment follows the long-awaited announcement last month by Armenia and Turkey, backed by the major powers, that they have drawn up a plan to restore relations. This could see their border re-opened and a commission formed to study the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

That would be a great achievement, but there is a snag: Nagorno-Karabakh, the unrecognised territory, legally part of Azerbaijan, which is under Armenian control. While the Armenians say the two issues should not be linked, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, mindful of his close ally Azerbaijan, has said that there must be progress on the Karabakh issue before the border re-opens.

Since it began in 1988, this tiny conflict, the first ethno-territorial war in the former Soviet Union, has defeated many mediators, beginning with Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1991 it escalated into a full-scale war, with more than 20,000 deaths and 1m people losing their homes. The Armenians won in 1994, gaining control not just of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh itself but of a large “buffer zone” around it that comprises about 8 per cent of the territory of Azerbaijan. Today, their armies face each other across a ceasefire line of trenches that cuts a scar across the entire South Caucasus. Snipers kill several people a month, but mostly the ceasefire holds.

While the conflict has remained stuck, a major energy transit route has grown up next door to it. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, built by BP to export 1m barrels of oil a day to western markets, runs just 10 miles from the ceasefire line. Fattened by new revenues, Azerbaijan has the fastest growing military budget in the world and now spends more on weapons than Armenia spends on its entire state budget. Some strident Azerbaijanis are calling for the army to prepare for a “re-conquest” of Nagorno-Karabakh, summoning up the ghost of a war that would be a nightmare for the entire region. But talks drag on over a draft peace plan, with the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents due to discuss it again on Thursday in Prague.

Both leaders must make painful compromises. Azerbaijan needs to concede that it has essentially lost the territory, for the foreseeable future, but can recover its lost land around Karabakh. The Armenians need to accept that they must give up the occupied territories and postpone their hopes of independence for Nagorno-Karabakh in return for self-rule and security.

The major powers have been reluctant to push hard on this issue. Popular resistance to change has been too strong, and both countries have powerful foreign friends. In the US, the Pentagon and energy companies have close links to Azerbaijan. Congress’s strong Armenian lobby is holding up the confirmation of Philip Gordon as assistant secretary of state, after he voiced caution over defining the 1915 killings of Armenians as genocide.

An Armenian-Azerbaijani peace settlement will be costly. Reconstruction of the devastated territories will have to be funded internationally. The overriding concern of the Karabakh Armenians is the military threat from Azerbaijan, and they will require a visible and credible peacekeeping force before they sign up to a deal.

But the rewards would be huge, not just for Armenians and Azerbaijanis but for everyone who has a stake in this region, from BP to the EU to Iran. A stable settlement would also strongly boost the case for the planned Nabucco gas pipeline to the west.

Peace will only work on the ground if Armenia and Azerbaijan drop the language of nationalist hostility. Here Turkey and Armenia, whose shared history is far more traumatic, have shown the way. If those two nations can reach out to one another, then reconciliation is well within the grasp of Armenians and Azerbaijanis.

The writer is author of Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

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