Monday, November 3, 2008

What's Going On Over There?

It has been nearly two months since "soccer diplomacy" and then... nothing happened. I mean nada, zip, nothing. I had absolutely nothing to write about because it seemed as if nothing was going on. Now was nothing really going on, of course not, I knew behind the scenes there was a flurry of activity but there was nothing public to discuss. The only thing of interest I can remember from the past two months was the forcing out as parliament speaker of Tigran Torosian and Levon Ter-Petrossian suspending his opposition campaign due to what he described as the entering of a sensitive time regarding the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Suddenly with last weekend's meeting in Moscow between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan a public development has finally been made showing the progress of what was going on in secret during the two month lull in developments. During his visit to Armenia not even two weeks ago the Russian president announced he'd like to hold a summit in Moscow between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders, the speed with which it was organized and took place in the usually slow-and-steady world of diplomacy shocked many, making it clear we are likely entering a rapid stage of more public developments.

It was clear from the advent of soccer diplomacy that the world powers had taken a new interest in Armenia and the Cacasus and that it was time to sweep away the various inconveniences of the region including the Turkish blockade of Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It has long been in the US's interest to settle at least the Turkish blockade because that would lessen Armenia's reliance on Russia while Russia has likely wanted to maintain it to maintan that dependence, especially in light of strong Georgian-US ties. A widely held belief is that the Russian-Georgian War changed everything in the region and the world powers are trying to figure out where they will go from here. No one has obviously ever explained their rationale to me so I can't say for sure but Russia most likely wants to strangle Georgia, which has now been discredited to the west as an unreliable transit route for the all-important gas and oil pipelines. With Armenia blockaded though it remains an impossibility to use any place but Georgia, so almost ironically it now becomes vital for Russia to sacrifice the very thing which kept Armenia reliant on it in order to further its goals of making Georgia regionally irrelevant. It seems the goals of the West and Russia now converge after years of opposition and they are prepared to start anew another push for Karabakh peace and regional stability.

That said, the West can't be too happy about Russia taking the lead by inviting the presidents to Moscow for peace talks. It seemed like Russia was losing its grip for good on the South Caucasus until August's conflict and now suddenly it back as a major force and trying to prove itself as the regional powerbroker after years of inactivity by the west on that front. This was bolstered by the signing yesterday of the first declaration on the peaceful resolution of Karabakh by Armenia and Azerbaijan's leaders since the 1994 ceasefire. The more I learn about foreign affairs and hear about all the backdoor dealing it becomes nearly impossible to know what everyone's best interests are and what positions they are actually promoting since if one knew everything it'd be clear to see how complicated everything is, but at least on the exterior I think I have a handle on what is going on there with what I just wrote. The most difficult thing when it comes to conflict resolution though is not just getting the presidents to agree it is the facts on the ground. For example when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, people always treat it as some big puzzle which like a math problem has a correct answer which just makes everything lock into place and work. It is as if people think if only we had that one genius who can finally come along and tell us the right answer everything would be good. A peace agreement is not just one that suits the leaders but one which navigates the various affected groups and finds a way to pacify each not completely but to the degree that none of them rises up in revolt against it. This is a problem we have with Karabakh. Kocharian removed NK as a negotiator many years ago and while the return of NK to the negotiation table has been a long alluded to event, it appears we are no closer to that happening. A peace being decided upon without NK imput cannot likely be imposed upon it unless Armenia plans on abandoning NK if it does not comply with Serzh's decisions. This is pretty unthinkable, especially since Serzh notoriously comes from that very place, but it is clear a settlement agreement without NK is not tenable. Others alledge Armenia's corrupt government officials are merely negotiating the price which they will be paid by Azerbaijan in return for a surrender of it, though I have an almost impossible time fathoming a Nagorno-Karabakh in which Azerbaijan is allowed to march right in and reclaim control after 20 long years. I am not sure if either side knows what a mutually-agreed peace will actually look like right now.

While details on what a peace agreement will mean is basically a mystery, it seems we are dealing with something ambiguously related to the principles of a decade ago which cost LTP his job. Serzh can sign whatever he wants, but there are many disaffected groups within Armenia who might unite to make sure what he wants doesn't come true. There are interesting rumors like that Serzh has spent his time in office distancing himself from Kocharian but now Kocharian is mad about Serzh's handling of Turkey and Karabakh as are the Dashnaks, who have threatened to leave the governing coalition if a peace is agreed to which they don't like. Rumors of late have Kocharian possibly finding his re-entry into public politics as a leader of those groups opposed to compromising on Karabakh, likely finding his way into the Prime Minister's chair as has been rumored he eventually would since day one a la Putin. Meanwhile one can't forget that Kocharian put Serzh in office so while it appears Serzh is currently operating against Kocharian and has been purging his government of Kocharian hold-overs, for all we know Kocharian has been directing the whole thing. As I've said I have no idea what is going on behind the scenes and I am open to the idea that the reality is either one of the scenarios mention or maybe another one all together. Whatever the case though with Russia courting Azeri gas pipelines as it has long been by the west for oil, Armenia finds itself in a tough situation with very little to offer these big countries in return. Time is working against Armenia in many ways and many think waiting some more years to solve this issue will leave Armenia with almost no cards in its deck against a stacked Azerbaijan. A resolution is needed, and sooner than later, but at what cost?

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