Ali Abasov lectures in Baku, where he is professor for philosophy. In 2002, along with the Armenian scientist Harutiun Khachatrian, he published the book “Karabakh Conflict. Variants of Settlement: Concepts and Reality”. A conversation about the importance of Nagorno-Karabakh for Azerbaijan, the roots of the conflict and on prospects for peace.
Why is Nagorno-Karabakh important for Azerbaijan?
Nagorno-Karabakh has never been part of an Armenian state. It was an Azerbaijani Khanate and either the entire region, or parts of it had been a province of Iran and had been occupied by the Russian Empire. The Azerbaijani Khanates and Russia signed several treaties, as did Georgia and Russia. The treaty on the „protectorate“ was one of these.
It was the first treaty of this kind with any Armenian state in the Caucasian region at that time. Historical Karabakh is one of the most important centers for culture, art and music of Azerbaijan. Some of the most famous figures of Azerbaijani politics and culture are from this region.
What do you think is the most important reason for this conflict?
History shows that the conflict is closely connected with actions by the central power, which in this case is Russia reigned by the tsar. In times of stability, Russia tried to establish public order and in times of instability Russia tried to avoid the aggravation of the conflict. The goal of all these endeavors was to to maintain the region’s obedient status to the central power of Russia.
Later, non-governmental parties also joined the conflict. They pursued their own interests in the region and were interested in weakening the Russian state. Those, who strongly pushed the conflict and who lead it to escalate were national patriotic and chauvinist representatives of the Intelligentsia.
In your opinion, how could this conflict be settled?
Not a single one of these ethnic conflicts has ever been settled. There are several possibilities for change in the geopolitical situation. These are: A) both parties to the conflict would be situated in a shared geopolitical space like it had been the case in the USSR B) war in the region, for example through aggression by the West against Iran C) the parties to the conflict would become members of the European Union or D) an agreement between the parties to the conflict would be reached.
In how far do the conflict parties need to accommodate each others needs?
First of all, Azerbaijan would have to stop using militaristic rhetoric and furthermore Azerbaijan would have to stop threatening Armenia with war. At the same time, Armenia would have to agree on reconsidering the revision of the consequences of the war (editors note: Abasov is referring to the withdrawal of the occupied territories). These are the basic requirements for effective and confidence-building negotiations between the parties to the conflict.
How would you further criticize the Armenian, respectively the Karabakh-Armenian and the Azerbaijani strategy?
The development from a local controversy to a regional and international conflict should have been avoided. Negotiations with the de facto regime of Nagorno-Karabakh must happen at any level. We cannot allow the militaristic rhetoric and the threats of war to intensify.
In your view, what is the relationship of the Armenian government and the government in Nagorno-Karabakh?
Currently, the government of Armenia is formed by people from Nagorno-Karabakh. Generally speaking, the relationship between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh is rather normal. Armenia sponsors Nagorno-Karabakh in all respects. After a change of government, this one sided relationship is likely to change.
How do you imagine the future of the over 600.000 internal Azerbaijani refugees?
Most likely, Azerbaijani refugees will never be able to return to their home country. This won’t change until a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan will establish an agreement between the two parties.
At the end of the 1980s, Armenian people and Azerbaijani people organized demonstrations to fight for independence. Today, those events are controversial. How do you remember those times?
The younger generation can hardly imagine the citizens’ fear of the Soviet Union’s government. It made individual, social engagement impossible. We all were convinced that demonstrations would lead to repression. This became reality, when Soviet soldiers killed civilians in the streets of Baku in 1990.
After those events we knew that the Soviet Union would collapse and that the republics would gain independence. In a way, the demonstrations were schizophrenic. It seemed obvious that the supporters were representatives of the fight for independence and at the same time members of the KGB.
Today, how do non-conflict parties influence the conflict?
Non-conflict parties mainly pursue their own interests in the region. As these interests are not congruent with each other, and neither with the interests of the parties to the conflict, the non-conflict parties are mostly interested in preserving the status quo.