From Ceasefire to Peace: The Necessity for a Russia, Iran and Turkey Partnership in the Karabakh Peace Talks — Valdai Club

In his article, Dr. Vali Kaleji, a Tehran-based expert on Central Asia and Caucasian Studies, proposes the logic for including Iran, Russia and Turkey in the process of Karabakh peace talks that is way stronger than their participation in the Astana talks to resolve the Syria crisis. Against the backdrop of three decades of failure in transition from ceasefire to peace in the Karabakh conflict, formation of a 3+2 mechanism (Iran, Turkey, Russia with Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan) should be considered more seriously, he believes.

© Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky

When in September 23, 1991 the Zheleznovodsk Declaration, as the first important mediation effort in the Karabakh conflict, was issued, an Azerbaijani journalist described it as “a light seen in a needle hole”. Now after three decades, the conditions dominating Karabakh conflict and the prospect for peace are still like a light seen through a needle hole.

Occurrence of repeated border clashes in the Karabakh contact points and the four-days wars of April 2016 and July 2020 as well as the fourteen days war from September 27 to October 10, 2020 are clear indications for the said reality. Various bilateral and multilateral negotiation patterns have only lead to ceasefires between the Armenian and Azeri parties and a peace is yet to be achieved. In addition to the disagreements between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the military, political and legal complexities of the Karabakh conflict, non-involvement of Iran and Turkey in the process of Karabakh peace talks is another reason for three decades of failure in transiting from ceasefire to peace in this region. Caucasus has three immediate land neighbors that are Russia, Iran and Turkey. Not only these three countries are geographically neighbors of this region, they also have extensive lingual, cultural and historical ties to the three Republics of South Caucasus. This implies that in no peace plan in the Karabakh dispute the role of these three countries can be ignored.

Armenian and Azeri parties have their own concerns with regard to the implementation of any peace plan. The process of restoration of the Republic of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the seven cities around Karabakh, the way the refugees and war migrants shall return to these regions, the way their security would be provided and in return how Armenia would gain land and air access to Karabakh are among the concerns of Armenia and Azerbaijan which have remained immaterialized during the three passed decades. The parties to the dispute have the feeling and belief that a doable mechanism that would guarantee the agreements is absent. Under such conditions and concerning the three decades of experience, partnership of the three regional powers close to Caucasus that are Russia, Iran and Turkey can give stronger guarantees to the Armenian and Azerbaijani parties.

The logic of presence and participation of Russia, Iran and Turkey in the process of resolution of the Karabakh conflict is much stronger than the logic of their participation in the Astana process to resolve the Syria crisis. Geographical proximity, expanded lingual, cultural and historical ties connect the three countries with the three Republics in south Caucasus.

Therefore, concerning three decades of failure in transiting ceasefire to peace in the Karabakh conflict, formation of a 3+2 mechanism (Iran, Turkey and Russia with Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan) should be given a thought. In this regard three points should be paid attention to:

First, such a mechanism should not be seen idealistically under the shadow of Turkey’s support to the Republic of Azerbaijan and the severing of the relations between Turkey and Armenia. It is sufficient to remember the apparent differences between Turkey and Iran and Russia in the Syria civil war before the Astana process in February 2017. There were deep fractures between Turkey and Iran and Russia so that Turkey sided with the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar as the main opponents of Bashar Al-Assad. However, as Astana process began in February 2017 a mechanism was gradually formed with a minimum function of managing tensions and disagreements. Although the Astana process is yet to reach a durable peace in the Syria crisis and the important issues like the process of power transition, the future of Syria’s political system, preparation of the constitution and return of the refugees have remained unresolved, still this trilateral mechanism between Iran, Syria and Turkey has been able to prevent intensification of tensions and crisis in many parts of Syria including Idlib and the Kurdish-populated areas.

Let’s remember that when in January 23-24, 2017 the representatives of the two major parties to the war that were the Syria’s legal government and the major armed opposition groups sat around a table in Astana, the capital of the Republic of Kazakhstan, they refrained from direct talks and transmitted their views from separate rooms to each other through Russian and Turkish mediators. Also for the first time, Iran and Russia gathered with the armed opposition of Syria. These show that the Astana process was not easily formed either and was faced with serious impediments in its process. But despite all disagreements and rivalries, there was a mechanism and negotiation framework for posing various subjects. Therefore, the experience of cooperation of the three countries in a crisis like Syria that is much severer than the Karabakh dispute with regard to the variety of challenges and threats involved, the presence of various terrorist and salafi groups and entrance of various regional and international parties demonstrate that despite all disagreements including those between Armenia and Turkey, a regional mechanism is conceivable to manage the Karabakh conflict.

It should be noted that despite all their historical differences after the demise of the Soviet Union, Armenia and Turkey, recognized each other and established diplomatic relations which lasted until 1993 when Armenians occupied the city of Shusha. In the years 2008 and 2009 Armenia and Turkey tried to normalize relations when the presidents of the two countries, Serzh Sargsyan and Abdullah Gül, joined each other in a football diplomacy similar to the ping pong diplomacy between the United States and China in 1970 to see the football match between their national teams. Although the protocols for normalization of relations between the two countries were not implemented afterwards due to the opposition by nationalist and secular currents in Turkey and the pressure by the Armenia diaspora, this showed in practice that gathering of Armenian and Turkish leaders around a table is not impossible and is no longer a taboo. As noted before, the leaders and officials of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan have gathered together in different frameworks during the past three decades. Therefore, in case the political will of the region’s leaders persists, the formation of a 3+2 mechanism gathering Iran, Turkey and Russia with Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan is doable and can lead to a practical mechanism guaranteeing the ceasefire regulations and the necessities for the peace process in Karabakh including the stationing of the peacekeeping forces, return of the displaced populations, holding of referendum for the right to self-determination, guaranteeing the lives of the Karabakh Armenians and the right to access to the outer world through land and air routes. Any violation of the deal and breach of the ceasefire by any party could be dealt with according to this multilateral (3+2) mechanism.

Secondly, the fact that 3+2 mechanism (Iran, Turkey, Russia and the Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan) should not be seen in contradiction with other mediating initiatives including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group. This is similar to the Syria crisis in which the Astana peace talks were conducted in parallel to peace talks in Geneva, mediated by the United Nations. Logic and reason dictates that any possible instrument should be utilized to advance the peace process in the Karabakh conflict. In light of the experiences of the past three decades and the composition of the Minsk Group, participation of the neighboring countries of Caucasus that are Iran, Russia and Turkey could be a more serious trigger for the Karabakh peace negotiations. This could lead to materialization of the immaterialized objectives of the Minsk Group.

Thirdly, there is no need that the 3+2 mechanism should seek initiations different from those proposed by the Minsk Group in the past three decades. Many of these plans, particularly the right to land access to Karabakh for Armenia through Lachin Valley in return for the right to land access for the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Republic of Nakhichevan, the plan “5+1+1” proposed during the negotiations between Robert Kocharyan and Ilham Aliyev in 2005, the “Madrid Principles” plan posed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2007 and also the “Kazan Plan” offered by Dmitry Medvedev about settlement plan for Karabakh in 2011 are among plans that have been paid much time and energy and can therefore be considered to resolve the Karabakh conflict. Various aspects of these plans have been studied through negotiations by the leaders of the regional countries. This suggests that with a new approach and political will in the framework of a new composition (3+2) some of the previous outstanding plans can be revived.

It turns out that the said plans have remained immaterialized mainly due to a lack of trust and necessary guarantees by the Armenian and Azeri parties. For example, Armenia is concerned about what Yerevan would practically receive in case it agreed with the return of the seven cities around Karabakh to the sovereignty of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Would its eastern borders with the Republic of Azerbaijan and the western borders with Turkey be reopened? Would Armenia’s access to the free waters and the Mediterranean ports be guaranteed? Would the result of the referendum for the right to self-determination and the security of the lives and properties of the Armenians of Karabakh be guaranteed? Through which mechanism would the peacekeeping forces be stationed to protect security? In return, the Azeri party wants a guarantee for restoration of its sovereignty over the seven cities around Karabakh, the return of displaced people and war refugees to this region, guaranteeing the security, lives and properties of the displaced people and a true execution of the referendum for self-determination in Karabakh. It is apparent that the Minsk group and other negotiation patterns have failed to provide such guarantees to the Armenian and Azeri parties and therefore they have occasionally become frustrated by these mechanisms and opted for war for which the four days wars of April 2016 and July 2020 and the fourteen days war of September 27 to October 10, 2020 are clear examples. The 3+2 mechanism (Iran, Turkey and Russia with Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan) can give more practical and tangible guarantees to the Armenian and Azeri parties through coordination between the leaders of Iran, Russia and Turkey which would give more confidence and trust to the parties to the dispute to transit from ceasefire to peace in the long-lasting dispute of Karabakh.

It turns out that the said plans have remained immaterialized mainly due to a lack of trust and necessary guarantees by the Armenian and Azeri parties. For example, Armenia is concerned about what Yerevan would practically receive in case it agreed with the return of the seven cities around Karabakh to the sovereignty of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Would its eastern borders with the Republic of Azerbaijan and the western borders with Turkey be reopened? Would Armenia’s access to the free waters and the Mediterranean ports be guaranteed? Would the result of the referendum for the right to self-determination and the security of the lives and properties of the Armenians of Karabakh be guaranteed? Through which mechanism would the peacekeeping forces be stationed to protect security? In return, the Azeri party wants a guarantee for restoration of its sovereignty over the seven cities around Karabakh, the return of displaced people and war refugees to this region, guaranteeing the security, lives and properties of the displaced people and a true execution of the referendum for self-determination in Karabakh. It is apparent that the Minsk group and other negotiation patterns have failed to provide such guarantees to the Armenian and Azeri parties and therefore they have occasionally become frustrated by these mechanisms and opted for war for which the four days wars of April 2016 and July 2020 and the fourteen days war of September 27 to October 10, 2020 are clear examples. The 3+2 mechanism (Iran, Turkey and Russia with Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan) can give more practical and tangible guarantees to the Armenian and Azeri parties through coordination between the leaders of Iran, Russia and Turkey which would give more confidence and trust to the parties to the dispute to transit from ceasefire to peace in the long-lasting dispute of Karabakh.

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Source: From Ceasefire to Peace: The Necessity for a Russia, Iran and Turkey Partnership in the Karabakh Peace Talks — Valdai Club