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Karabakhis' Renewed Independence Hopes

Local politicians say goal of international recognition should be pursued more strongly in wake of Georgian war.
By Karine Ohanian
The conflict in Georgia and Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states have fundamentally shaken up the unresolved Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorny Karabakh.



Two of the three mediators in the OSCE body charged with resolving the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, the so-called Minsk Group – consisting of the United States, Russia and France – have clashed over Georgia, with Washington deeply opposed to Moscow backing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.



“The mediators in the Karabakh peace process need some mediation themselves,” commented Armen Sargsian, a deputy in the parliament in Nagorny Karabakh.



“When you consider the fact that the two opposing poles are recognizing a right to self-determination – the West in Kosovo and Russia in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – their joint activity on Nagorny Karabakh will be interesting now.”



Armenian-majority Nagorny Karabakh declared independence from Azerbaijan in 1991 and has been de facto separate from Azerbaijan since war ended in 1994. But no one, not even Armenia, has recognised the territory as an independent state.



The Nagorny Karabakh Republic has for years been part of an informal “Commonwealth of Independent States-2”, maintaining links with the three other post-Soviet unrecognised territories of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria. They sent observers to each other’s elections and conducted high-level meetings.



About three years ago, Nagorny Karabakh began to distance itself a little from the others, saying that there were differences between the conflicts.



However, this did not prevent the Karabakhi leadership from congratulating the Abkhaz and South Ossetians on their recognition by Moscow. Karabakh’s president Bako Sahakian told his counterparts Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity, “The people of Karabakh have received this long-awaited news with sincere joy.” He expressed the hope that “international recognition of independence will give a new impulse to the development and prosperity of our brotherly countries”.



Nagorny Karabakh’s foreign ministry also issued a statement welcoming the developments and expressing the hope that “all powers interested in the peace of the region will draw conclusions from events that have occurred in the South Caucasus and will take real steps to resolve the problems that exist only by peaceful means and within the framework of regional stability”.



Politicians were more forthright, saying Karabakhis should now pursue the goal of international recognition more strongly. Parliamentarian Artur Tovmasian said that Nagorny Karabakh had just as good a case for independence as other breakaway territories.

“We are proposing that recognising the independence of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and – why not? – Kosovo be put on the agenda of the parliament of the Nagorny Karabakh Republic,” he said.



Sargsian, a member of the nationalist Dashnaktsutiun party, agreed that Nagorny Karabakh should recognise the independence of “all unrecognised state entities”, saying that this would be a step towards reconciling the interests of Washington and Moscow.

Politician and humanitarian activist Karen Ohanjanian also argued for recognition of unrecognised territories, regardless of their international allegiances, “so that all people on earth can live in one mutually agreed world order”.



An important issue that arose in a public meeting in Stepanakert to discuss events in Georgia was whether Armenia should not now recognise the independence of Nagorny Karabakh, and whether Yerevan could recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia without hurting its relations with Georgia.



The Georgian crisis had already caused a fuel shortage in Karabakh. “I was supposed to go to work in Yerevan and it was hard for me to find fuel at double the price,” said Aren Baghdasarian, a driver. “There was also a problem in Yerevan. People said that a bridge in Georgia had been blown up and petrol was not being imported.”



Baghdasarian said that many of his friends were predicting there might also be shortages of flour and gas.



In Karabakh courtyards and offices, the Georgian conflict has dominated conversations over the last month and also reawakened memories of their own war of the early Nineties.



Ruzanna Khachatrian, a shop assistant, said that she cried when she saw broadcasts from South Ossetia on television. “I remembered how we lived with rats in the cellars when they were bombing us with the same kinds of Grad [rocket-launcher] artillery and planes and how every day innocent old people, women and children were dying,” she said. “I watched television and didn’t know how to help these people and stop this bloodshed. It was terrible!”



Svetlana Danielian, an economist, said, “If Georgia had been successful, the Azerbaijanis could have gone down the same route. Although I understand that our army is stronger, all the same no one, I think, wants to live through yet another war.



“I’m angry that no one either here or in Azerbaijan takes into account the opinion of ordinary people. I’m angry that thousands of lives can be cut short because of the ambitions of two or three powers. But if war does start, we will still have to resist because we have no other place in this world except Karabakh.”



Former presidential candidate Masis Mailian, now an independent expert, said that he hoped the Georgian crisis would “cool hotheads” in Azerbaijan and elsewhere who thought they could retake breakaway territories by force. He said it had also revealed the weakness of international conflict-prevention efforts in the Caucasus.



“Events in South Ossetia have shown up the low effectiveness of international mechanisms to stabilise the situation in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone,” said Mailian. “The UN Security Council has been unable to take any proper decisions.”



Political analyst David Babayan said that he hoped recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia would set a precedent for Nagorny Karabakh but argued that this was not the most important point.



“Recognition for Karabakh is only a matter of time, but fortunately people in Nagorny Karabakh are already ridding themselves of the so-called ‘non-recognition complex’ and they do not link their future exclusively to the recognition of our independence. The reverse is true – they think of recognition as something that follows on from achieving a certain level of statehood.”



Karine Ohanian is a correspondent with Demo newspaper in Nagorny Karabakh.

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