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Citation: Mooradian, Moorad. "Mediation Efforts in the Karabakh Conflict." ICAR Newsletter. Fall 1994. Vol. 6, No. 2. Pp. 4-6.
Moorad Mooradian examines the efforts to mediate conflict in Mountainous Karabakh between the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis. In the course of his research he came to the conclusion that third parties were more interested in pursuing their self-interests than in resolving the conflict. Altogether there were four attempts of mediation: by Yeltsin, the president of Russia, and Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan; by Iranian government; by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and by Russia.
At the time of the intervention, the Soviet Union was on the edge of complete disintegration and two presidents were preoccupied with gaining political support in their regions and on the international arena. The Karabakh conflict was a good opportunity for them to show their political capabilities and the Soviet federal government's inability to deal with the conflict constructively. Thus, as soon as their goals were achieved and it became obvious that the federation would not survive, they withdrew from the mediation.
Iran has 20 million Azeris living in the Northern part of the country. Nationalist leader Albufaz Elchibey, who was the president of Azerbaijan at that time, was promoting unification of "Southern Azerbaijan" (northern Iran) with Azerbaijan and establishing close relations with Turkey. Iran became involved in mediation mainly to try to stabilize the situation in the region to prevent those claims from becoming a reality. Also, Iran was interested in improving its relations with the West and mediation could show its good intentions and improve the prevailing view of Iran as being a center for disturbance in other nations. Although the adversaries in the conflict denied the relations between their disagreement and religious differences, Iran's radical religious elements convinced the Iranian government to support Azerbaijan. Later, Iran withdrew from negotiations under the pretense of Armenia's aggression (in May 1992 Karabakh Armenians captured the city of Shushi).
The CSCE was unable to establish trustful relationships with the two parties in conflict. It intervened in the conflict for the first time in 1992. The CSCE was pursuing a strategy of preserving the borders unless this undermined the right of the nation to self-determination. Armenians felt that they needed to struggle for this right; Azerbajanians believed that the Armenians wanted to change the borders of the country by using military power. The parties also felt that CSCE was attempting to establish a status for itself as a major peace-keeping force in the region and impose Western values upon them. Thus neither of the parties trusted the CSCE's willingness and capability to assist them in reaching an agreement that would satisfy their needs.
For security and economic reasons Russia had a big interest in getting involved in the conflict. Russia's interests were reflected in its "near abroad" policy which stated that it had a right to intervene in the conflicts happening in the former Soviet Union republics to ensure stability in the region. Armenia and Azerbaijan considered the Russian peace plan more realistic than the one suggested by the CSCE. Russia also was capable and willing to support its initiative with a peace-keeping operation, which both sides felt was necessary to separate the warring groups. All the parties, including the CSCE, recognized that Russia should be a part of the peace process. But they were concerned with the degree of its involvement, since at times Russia did not maintain neutrality and assisted one or the other party in conflict.
The reason for the Karabakh conflict being stuck at the pre-negotiation stage is due to serious mediation drawbacks. The mediators were more concerned with their own interests than that of the parties. Mediators were coming up with peace plans in contrast to facilitating problem-solving by the parties themselves. Finally, mediation was needed to resolve conflicts between mediators (Russia and CSCE). Their disagreements can be reconciled soon since the USA is taking an interest in resolving the conflict. However this would not reverse the subjective issues of hatred, lack of trust and stereotyping between the primary parties. Long term negotiation is needed to reach an agreement on objective (territorial and political) issues. The author suggests that Oslo-type negotiations or problem-solving workshops can greatly assist political negotiations.
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