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What is the future for Karabakh?
Azerbaijani and Armenian forces have said they are "largely observing" a truce that has brought a stop to four days of clashes over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region. Experts talk to RFI about how negotiators can achieve lasting peace for the region.
Azerbaijan's defence ministry has reported isolated firing from the Armenian side, but said its forces were "strictly abiding by the ceasefire agreement" reached by the army chiefs of the two former Soviet states in Moscow on Tuesday.
Before Tuesday's ceasefire, four days of fresh clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces resulted in the deaths of more than 60 people. The region of Nagorny Karabakh has been unsettled since the early 20th century.
“I think part of the problem was from serious mistakes made by Stalin when the borders were traced in what became the Soviet Union," said George Voloshin, a French consultant, originally from Kazakhstan, who advises western firms interested in doing business in the post Soviet world.
“The Russians have a very strong relationship with Armenia and Armenia is part of the collective security treaty organization, of which Russia is the leader," he told RFI. "It’s a military block where Azerbaijan of course does not belong because of its hostile relationship with Armenia."
In 1994 a ceasefire brokered by Russia came into effect, despite violations by both sides and a breakdown in talks aimed at finalising the agreement. On Tuesday, Putin called on both sides to ensure a complete cessation of military hostilities and respect the latest ceasefire.
“Russia can play a pivotal role in the sense that it can play a key negotiator," Voloshin said. “I think the only feasible way to resolve the conflict is for Nagorny Karabakh to actually recognise the sovereignty of Azerbaijan, but to be granted very large autonomy in order to preserve its cultural identity and its economic relations with the neighbourhood.”
The view of a solution in which Nagorny Karabakh remains within Azerbaijan is not shared by Vartan Kaprielian, the director of the Armenian radio station in Paris.
“Nagorny Karabakh, since the fourth century had Armenian churches... since the fifth century, when the Armenian alphabet was created, had Armenian schools," Vartan Kaprielian told RFI. "Stalin gave the territory to Azerbaijan in 1923, which does not mean that this land belongs to Azerbaijan."
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Karabakh inhabitants voted overwhelmingly for independence, but Azerbaijan rejected the vote. Two offensives by Armenian forces in 1992-93 seized Azerbaijani territory beyond the enclave's frontier.
“Nagorny Karabakh exisiting as an autonomous region within Azerbaijan would be the worst solution to this conflict," maintains Kaprielian. "A few years ago, the Azerbaijani army massacred not human beings, but gravestones which were Armenian for thousands of years. They don’t want to see Armenians on this land. If Azerbaijan continues attacking the Armenians in Nagorny Karabakh, Armenia will finally recognize the independence of Karabakh, and I am sure many countries will follow.”
Six years of violence between 1991-1996 claimed more than 30,000 lives and displaced millions of people. Azerbaijan lost around 20 per cent of its territory.
According to Murad Gassanly, an energy security specialist in the South Caucasus who represents the Azerbaijani community, the strengthening of Nagorny Karabakh's autonomy is not viewed favourably by Azerbaijan. He stressed the importance of Armenia withdrawing from land it has seized from Azerbaijan:
“There are four UN Security Council resolutions demanding Armenian withdrawal from the occupied territories," Murad Gassanly told RFI. "I believe the peace process must begin with the full implementation of those Security Council resolutions, something that Armenia has refused to do for the past 20 years."
In 1994, a ceasefire brokered by Russia came into effect despite violations by both sides and a breakdown in talks aimed at finalising the agreement.
“Without the right of Azerbaijanis to return to Nagorny Karabakh, and to all the territories that have been occupied, it is very difficult to see how there can be progress," Gassanly told RFI.
Tensions flared up again in 2008. A new accord was raeached following talks between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan near Moscow.
“Nagorny Karabakh as a sovereign state by the international community would be completely unacceptable to Azerbaijan," says Gassanly. " Similarly, I think it would be acceptable for Armenians if we simply said, ‘Let’s return to the staus quo’.
“A special political status towards Nagorny Karabakh is essential for any deal, but in the first instance, Armenians need to withdraw from the regions all around Nagorny Karabakh."
“You don’t exercise your right to self-determination by ethnically cleansing your territory of minority populations, which constitutes 25 per cent of the Karabakh population, and 40,000 Azerbaijanis who were expelled.”
Serious clashes erupted once more in August 2014 when an Armenian helicopter was shot down. On 2 April this year, a fresh surge in fighting resulted in an Azerbaijani helicopter being shot down.
At least 64 people have been killed in the most recent battles. The OSCE Minsk Group, led by France, Russia and the United States, is currently involved in brokering peace.