Change in the public perception of the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict


The Nagorno-Karabakh war that lasted for the periods of the World War One and World War Two has left the two nations bleeding and their economies fractured. The conflict resulted in the growing influence of centers of the global power in the region and political challenges in the countries. The human loss was increasing in parallel to the creation of regular armies and in the result of the expansion of the military technology and financial resources. During the last months of the military actions each day of the war devoured dozens of victims on both sides. The cease-fire signed on May 12, 1994 heralded the end of the active, i.e. the military phase of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Hurting stalemate: the cease-fire of the governments

The war would have probably continued, had not the bloody page of history turned under its own weight. For centuries the phenomenon of "hurting stalemate" has been forced on almost equally strong or equally weak warring parties, in order for them to take a break by putting down their arms, at least temporarily. The tangible scarcity of financial, and especially, human resources, the desire to avoid future losses and to insure against the future attacks of the adversary, as well as the pressure from the centers of the global power (especially from Russia) drew the two governments closer to the necessity of signing a cease-fire. It was obvious that the military actions were significantly restricting the opportunities of exploiting the Azerbaijani oil in the international market and of participating in large-scale transitional projects in the region. These restrictions specifically limited the possibilities of taking an advantage from the above-mentioned opportunities by the political leadership of the time. The offensive war, which was still a war of loss, had demoralized the Azerbaijani army and its fighting efficiency was essentially non-existent. The traditional offensive tempers, the offensive "regalia" of the armed forces and the relevant rhetoric were equally excluding the possibility of a defensive. Moreover, the internal political instability, which had shaken the newly established statehood of Azerbaijan already for a number of times, would have most probably devoured the successive government in case it even hinted on a defensive. Meanwhile, the cease-fire was not only providing an exit from the situation at hand, but was also creating a real opportunity to prepare for both diplomatic and military offensives in the future. The evidence to this assumption was actually the Lisbon Summit in two years from the cease-fire, as well as the further rhetoric of the Azerbaijani government and the growing military preparations. From the decade-long distance it is difficult to evaluate how accurately the Armenian political and military leadership of the time had estimated the military and political opportunities and consequences of future military actions. However, it is obvious that the Armenian authorities were interpreting and promoting the cease-fire as a victorious end to the war. The people were totally accepting and welcoming of such an interpretation.

A peace of governments, or a war of peoples?

The transformation of conflicts is the key to the challenges of the time, but not the solution. The cease-fire, having "frozen" the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and having left either a peaceful or military resolution to better times, has provoked new challenges. The most serious challenge at present is perhaps not even the resolution of the conflict, but rather its resolution through peaceful means. Significantly, in the recent years the public demand for a long-term peace in the region is taking more prominence over the peaceful resolution of the present conflict, which in contrast was publicly perceived as a priority at the turn of the century. According to the citizens of Armenia and Artsakh, the resolution of the conflict does not necessarily and directly juxtapose with a long-term peace. The revanche politics of the Azerbaijani authorities and the current armament race; the impermissible blockade of Armenia by the neighboring Turkey and the latter's unilateral pressure on one of the conflicting sides; the belligerent rhetoric of the Azerbaijani media and political and public figures; and finally the dual politics of the international community and their ambiguous standards are perhaps the factors that directly influence the perceptions of the Armenian society. Indeed, in such a case it is not strange that the Armenians and Artsakh citizens are skeptical about the long-term peace in near future, that they are not sure of their future and do not expect a long-term peace even in the result of the peaceful resolution of the conflict. Moreover, even though the societies and the governments continue to take advantage of the numerous opportunities provided by the cease-fire and the peaceful process of resolution, a number of features of the "hurting stalemate" either disappear or transform with time, leaving only a secondary impact on the development of the public opinion. "If a war is going to break in two days, why do I need peace for tomorrow?"It seems that such an apprehension is gaining dominance. The citizens mostly value the long-term security in the process of the conflict resolution.

The laurels in the beak of the hawk?

The changes in public perceptions regarding the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should indeed worry all the stakeholders interested in the peaceful resolution of the conflict: both the governments of the two countries, and the mediators involved in the process. It is simply impermissible to turn a blind eye on this phenomenon. Honestly though, it is actually impossible to ignore this reality in real politics. Indeed, if there were times when the wheel of the conflict process and the destiny of the conflicting nations were in the hands of the governments, nowadays it is the destiny of the governments that largely depends on the people's perceptions of the conflict resolution process. In this regard the process of real democracy is irrevocable. Implications are obvious for the one regarding the resolution process with open eyes. The political leadership in Armenia and Artsakh should bring the public concerns regarding the long-term peace and the necessary conditions to address these apprehensions into the agenda of the resolution process. In case of necessity, this should include also the pre-conditions. For instance, in parallel to the monitoring of the cease-fire regime, it is necessary to carry out regular monitoring of the actions of "distrust aggression" harming the public trust. International players should exclude any exertion of power in the resolution process, including one initiated by Turkey. More attention should be paid to awareness raising regarding the resolution process in the societies of the two countries. For instance, it is necessary of make the negotiations more transparent and consistent, in order to exclude the controversy in the statements the two societies get and to ensure that the latter are directed to the establishment of a long-term peace. At the same time, it is necessary to continuously study the public perceptions regarding the regulation process among both peoples and possibly ensure their congruence.

One thing is quite obvious: the idol of the god of war has nothing to do at the altar of peace

The paper is elaborated based on the opinions passed by the participants of the discussion "Are We at New Stage for NK Issue?", which took place on March 2, 2009. The roundtable discussion was attended by independent analysts, government officials, and representatives of the international organizations.



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