Interview by Gulay Kilic (JTW)
Journal of Turkish Weekly conducted an exclusive interview with Mr. Alexander Iskandaryan, the Director of Caucasus Institute, on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and Armenia's position.
Q: If we take Sarkissjan era into consideration, is there a remarkable deviation from the former President Robert Kocharyan's policy concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh problem?
A: No, the policy is very similar. Of course there are some adjustments stemming from changes in external factors, such as the Five Day Russia-Georgia War, the course of Armenia-Azerbaijani negotiations, the role of Russia in the process etc. However, the position of Armenian political elites has not undergone any dramatic changes since Robert Kocharyan's presidency. The stance of Armenia with regard to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is that Armenia will agree to any solution which satisfies the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia believes that Nagorno-Karabakh must by no means be excluded from the negotiation process. It also adheres to the principles on which the Minsk group bases the negotiation process. These are three fundamental principles of international law: the self-determination of nations, the territorial integrity of states, and the non-use of force in conflict resolution.
Q: We know that Armenia is mostly under the sway of Russia, both economically and militarily. Is this true or not? Is there a full public support for that in Armenia?
A: The largest trade partner of Armenia is the European Union, specifically Germany. Armenia is a member of a number of European organizations, including the Council of Europe and the OSCE. In fact, the OSCE is not just a European organization. Armenia is involved in the neighbourhood projects of the European Union: the European Neighbourhood Policy, and now also the Eastern Partnership program of which Russia is not a member. Armenia has an IPAP with NATO; our soldiers serve in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Armenia does its best to cooperate with various countries; in Armenian political rhetoric, we call this policy "complementarity'. For example, the policy of our northern neighbour Georgia is different: to them, pro-Western means anti-Russian and pro-Russian means anti-Western. Armenia, meanwhile, tries to have normal relations with all stakeholders, including ones that have problems with one another; Armenia sustains friendly relations with Iran and Georgia, and with Russia and the United States. It is not easy. With Turkey and Azerbaijan we don't have diplomatic relations for obvious reasons. But on the whole, Armenia tries to implement its complementarity policy whenever it can.
Q: And how does the Nagorno-Karabakh issue affect the power change in Armenia?
A: The issue of Nagorno-Karabakh is one of the central issues of Armenian politics. In fact, I believe, it is the central issue of Armenia's foreign policy. It is also a key issue of domestic politics because Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Armenian political identity. People living in Karabakh are not citizens of Armenia but they are ethnic Armenians. They are not even like Turks and Azeris who are both Turkic nations but have many differences, for example, in terms of religion, most Azeris are Shiite Muslim, not Sunni; in terms of language, Azeri is close to Turkish but not the same. Meanwhile the Armenians who live in Nagorno-Karabakh speak the same language as Armenians in Armenia, have the same religion, culture etc. For Armenians, Nagorno-Karabakh is not just a territory; it is an issue of the security and survival of the Armenians living there, so it's extremely important.
Q: The first president of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrossian, who had a strong social support in Armenia, was about to agree with Azerbaijan's president Heydar Aliyev to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and this cost him his presidency. What are the possible changes should we expect in case Ter-Petrossian to return to power and how would his return affect the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
A: I don't believe this is about individuals. In an article Ter-Petrossian contributed to a newspaper in 1998, he discussed potential compromises with Azerbaijan, and indeed lost his presidency a few days later. It was a very clear message to future leaders, and I don't believe any Armenian president will ever do anything of the kind whether they want to or not. This is not about individual leaders; the Karabakh problem is extremely important for the society. I don't think that Ter-Petrossian will come to power again; this is quite improbable in terms of domestic politics. And even theoretically, should he return to power, he will not be able to make any significant changes because the public attitude to Nagorno-Karabakh is not something that one person can reverse. Even in Azerbaijan, which is much less democratic than Armenia, the president is not omnipotent. There are things that the leader cannot decide on his own even in a country in which power is handed down from father to son. Should Ilham Aliyev suddenly decide to renounce Nagorno-Karabakh in favour of the Armenians, or do something of this kind, he will not succeed because the public and the elites will not accept such a decision. I am certain that a change of leaders in Armenia or Azerbaijan will not affect the overall situation. It's too complicated.
Q: And the last question. We would like to get your opinions on the possible near future scenarios concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh, as you mentioned at the conference. Do you see any prospects for a peaceful resolution on the conflict - in a long term, or maybe in a short term?
A: In the short term, I am quite certain that the situation will remain the way it is now. As to the long-term term, I am a political scientist, not a prophet. There is no way I can predict what will happen 30 years from now. One thing I know is that, whether 30 years or 40 years later, in order for something to change we need to change the overall situation and its background. First and foremost, the attitudes of societies in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh will need to change. At present, Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh are aware that there are no Armenians now living in Azerbaijan whereas there used to be twice as many Armenians in Azerbaijan outside Karabakh than in Karabakh itself. During the war, all Armenians were deported from post-Soviet Azerbaijan, and now the president of Azerbaijan is threatening a new war. Against such a background, resolution is impossible and talks are meaningless. Perhaps in the future, a new way will be found to live in the region and to resolve problems. When and how it will happen, I don't know.