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Friday December 2 2022

Azerbaijani leader’s wisdom, strong army & national unity major components of Karabakh win [INTERVIEW]

9 November 2022 09:59 (UTC+04:00)
Azerbaijani leader’s wisdom, strong army & national unity major components of Karabakh win [INTERVIEW]

By Ayya Lmahamad

  • Azerbaijan's victory in second Karabakh war marks the most significant diplomatic and military achievement
  • Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan rejected the entire negotiating framework, that have been developed during the course of three decades
  • Azerbaijan’s stunning victory in Shusha and halting war wise strategic choice
  • Azerbaijan’s goodwill and strategic wisdom under President Aliyev’s leadership as Commander-in-Chief crucial in building strong army
  • Aliyev has shown a strong strategic vision that has placed Azerbaijan in the most advantageous position
  • Aliyev pursued vigorous diplomacy to try to well-implement November 10 ceasefire statement and January 11, 2021, trilateral statement
  • Armenia has a chance to integrate itself now into the regional economy & into economies beyond the South Caucasus
  • President Aliyev's strong international interviews, before and during the war particularly compelling to explain Azerbaijan's position on international law

On the second anniversary of the 2020 Karabakh war, former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matthew Bryza in an exclusive interview with English-language Azernews news agency shared his views about President Ilham Aliyev's role in the Victory, highlighted crucial elements that made it possible for Azerbaijan to liberate its own lands, underscored the president’s political and media performance in the course of the 44-day war.

Azerbaijan's victory in the second Karabakh war probably marks the most significant diplomatic and military achievement in Azerbaijan's history.

Effectively, Azerbaijan enforced international law on its own, using military force. But only after the leader of Armenia, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, rejected the entire negotiating framework, that have been developed over the course of three decades, and which the then President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev accepted in principle back in January 2009, and that were so-called Madrid principles; that would allow for the settlement of the Karabakh conflict on the basis of recognition and restoration of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, and that would be in the form of the return of the occupied lands to Azerbaijan's control.

A second core principle would have been the self-determination of people, which meant, in theory, at some point the (ethnic) Armenian residents of Karabakh would be able to decide the legal status of the region that is different than unambiguously being part of Azerbaijan, which would have happened to a vote of the population.

And then the third principle would have been the non-use of the force and non-threat of force. Therefore, by extension the security of everyone, of Azerbaijanis, who returned to their previous homes in the previously occupied territories and of Armenians, who would remain there by mutual agreement, so Azerbaijan ended up going to war with Armenia only after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan rejected that formula.

Throughout the war, Pashinyan had a chance to secure a settlement of the conflict on the basis of the principles I just discussed. And during these 44 days, there were at least three occasions, where he was offered that and he rejected it.

And so, in the end, Azerbaijan after its stunning victory in Shusha, regaining an incredibly important city, at that point, Azerbaijan was able to stop the war. I think President Aliyev made a very wise strategic choice, knowing the military phase of the war was finished, and then there was no need for any more soldiers from both sides and civilians to die by continuing military operations all the way down to Khankendi and clearing out all the Armenians from Karabakh.

So, that was a wise and humane decision by President Aliyev, it was also smart strategically because it concerned Azerbaijan's military forces and other resources and it also established Azerbaijan as a country that fought according to the rules of war and also by treating the Armenian population humanely after the conflict.

We recall Azerbaijan facilitated the shipment and movement of humanitarian goods into the Armenian population and also allowed the former residents of the occupied Kalbajar, the Armenian residents, to have 10 more days to evacuate, 10 more days than were stipulated in the November 10 ceasefire agreement.

All of these things shown, I think, goodwill and strategic wisdom on a part of Azerbaijan, and of course, under the leadership of President Aliyev, who is the Commander-in-Chief, and was responsible for the entire war, both preparation for it over the course of a decade and a half, when he invested much of Azerbaijan's oil and natural gas revenue in modernizing, reforming and strengthening Azerbaijan's military.

But also President Aliyev prepared for the war over a decade and a half by negotiating in good faith to elaborate those principles I talked about at the beginning, those basic principles.

And during the war, as I said, his leadership resulted in the wise decision to stop in Shusha, and afterward, he has pursued vigorous diplomacy to try to well implement the November 10 ceasefire statement and January 11, 2021, trilateral statement among President Aliyev, Prime Minister Pashinyan and President Putin to develop regional projects, economic projects, you know, infrastructure projects together, especially transportation projects.

So, all of these have shown a strong strategic vision that has placed Azerbaijan in the most advantageous position, it has ever been in its history, in terms of its strategic situation, the reintegration of the lost territories, and the restoration of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, but also strong position now to stimulate regional economic growth through new and all transportation corridors, and that will lead to the foundation of the lasting peace because Armenia has a chance to integrate itself now into the regional economy and into economies beyond the South Caucasus.

The key factor in the conflict's stunning victory by Azerbaijan was that Russia did not intervene on Armenians' behalf and that was for a couple of reasons. One, in my experience, is as the Minsk co-chair Russia always acted in good faith as much as the USA and Russia disagreed about Georgia, we agreed strongly about the way forward toward the Karabakh settlement, and so cooperation mine with my Russian co-chair counterpart Yuriy Merzlyakov was always really positive. We really behaved as a single team along with our French counterpart Ambassador Bernard Fassier.

But now only the ambassador Yuriy Merzlyakov was collaborative, we worked directly with minister Lavrov, and his boss too was quite cooperative in brainstorming with leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia on ways to advance the peace process and work toward a negotiated settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. And I think that President Putin was unaware of when Prime Minister Pashinyan when Pashinyan rejected the diplomatic framework that Russia had helped to negotiate along with the US and France.

I think that Pashinyan was in general behaving provocatively toward Azerbaijan and trying to poll Russia and CSTO into the conflict. But CSTO, of course, had no mandate to get involved in the military-political conflict on the territory of Azerbaijan, its mandate only calls for intervention if one of the member states is attacked, from an international actor on the territory of the attacked state, and that's not what happened, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict obviously took place on the Azerbaijani territory. So these are the reasons why Russia did not get involved.

President Aliyev gave strong international interviews, before and during the war. I remember a particularly compelling interview he gave to Al Jazeera when he explained Azerbaijan's position on international law, which I agree with, by the way, Armenia was in breach of international law by occupying Azerbaijani territory and then refusing to negotiate in good faith when Prime Minister Pashinyan rejected the Madrid principles.

President Aliyev also made strong arguments when he consistently said that Armenians are welcome to remain in Karabakh and that Azerbaijan has no intention to force them all out of Karabakh. He simply insists that international law be restored by virtue of restoring, and resurrecting Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, which of course meant returning control of occupied territories to Azerbaijan.

I am not sure that the international community was listening very carefully though, in European and US news outlets, I detected a strong bias toward blaming Azerbaijan and Turkiye, by the way, for starting a war and using military force, which meant they were not paying a close enough attention to President Aliyev's legalistic arguments. Nonetheless, his argumentation was compelling from an expert's perspective and that would be me someone who worked with global experts when I was a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. I think I generally agree with his arguments.

I think Prime Minister Pashinyan is sincerely in favor of implementing everything agreed and outlined in the November 10, 2020, trilateral statement, as well as in the January 11, 2021, trilateral statement about joint infrastructure projects. But he has been prevented from doing so by his own political opponents. Largely, led by the so-called Karabakh clan, who want to return to power and therefore, have to humiliate Pashinyan in any way they can. Also, they are affiliates and they are the allies with the Armenian diaspora, like the Armenian national community of America.

They together with the so-called Karabakh clan also want to oust Pashinyan because they want the conflict with Azerbaijan to continue. They do not want peace; they want to continue the war because they want to restore what they called the idea of the greater Armenia, which was a medieval country, a state that stretched from parts of present-day Armenia, all the way to Cilicia on the Mediterranean coast of Türkiye.

And so peace with Türkiye does not serve their interests, they prefer to have conflict. However, Pashinyan is growing stronger, as we saw with his political movement’s victory in June 2021 parliamentary elections. He has also consistently made clear his commitment to negotiating in good faith with President Aliyev with multiple meetings with the EU playing a crucial role now.

Now, when the OSCE Minsk Group is essentially defunct because France chose one side during the second Karabakh war, chose the Armenian side, the US was not focused during the war and the conflict, and Russia has invaded its neighbor, illegally annexed so much of Ukraine, that it cannot credibly play a role of mediator notwithstanding President Putin’s recent convening of discussions in Sochi between President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinyan.

So, I think Pashinyan is growing stronger, I think we are going to see him work with President Aliyev on a peace treaty as well as on an agreement to define the international boundary between Azerbaijan and Armenia though Pashinyan’s opponents are against this.

And then the next step I think with be the joint economic projects, including transportation infrastructure, like the Zangazur corridor, I mean many other transportation links that will reintegrate Armenia into the regional economy, which means of course restoring its transportation and other economic ties with Azerbaijan and Türkiye.

It will take a while, I think for the last step to happen, but I think the parties are moving now in this direction. Though again there are plenty of people in Armenian, who would like to destroy this reconciliation process.

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