Hello. Our guest is Grigory Anisonyan, the chief editor of the international Armenian newspaper Noah's Ark. Hello, Mr. Anisonyan.
Q: There is an impression that all sides of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are as close as never before to a compromise and that some kind of agreement is possible. Do you think this is indeed the case?
A: You know, I do not think that Armenia and Azerbaijan are currently ready for a compromise. Both sides have rather radical positions. And this is understandable. One can understand the Armenian side. They lived on their own land for centuries, and Karabakh became a part of Azerbaijan during the Soviet period as a result of Stalin’s "national, fraternal" decision.
However, the people continued to live all those years on their land, and when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh expressed their desire to live independently. But, as you know, certain developments followed, pressure was exercised, and Soviet troops were sent to crush the independence movement in the late 1980's. As a result, people living on their own land were forced to take up arms to defend their homes.
> Nagorno-Karabakh Map
Eventually, a war broke out between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. Of course, Armenia supported the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and so got involved in the conflict. In 1994, a peace agreement was signed in Bishkek. In fact, if this agreement had not been signed in 1994, I believe that all of Karabakh would have been liberated, not only the mountainous part of Karabakh but also the lowlands that are populated by Armenians as well.
But Armenians would have been forced to leave the lowlands, as these areas remained part of Azerbaijan. As a result, a buffer zone of sorts emerged, consisting of seven regions and providing a viability guarantee to Nagorno-Karabakh. Today, Azerbaijan demands the return of these lands, the seven regions which surround Nagorno-Karabakh, without making any concessions in return. That is, they will not accept the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh or recognize that it belongs to the native people of this land.
Q: Don’t you think that some countries in the West (we are not going to name them here) are to a certain degree guilty of dragging out the resolution of this conflict? Isn’t it in their interest to maintain some level of instability in the region and to put pressure on these countries, primarily on Azerbaijan and Armenia?
A: Of course, there is some truth to this. Each of these Western European countries and the U.S. can benefit from this conflict. Depending on the development of their economic and political relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia, they put pressure on either side. But on the other hand, the West has recently embraced a different position and wants to see the conflict resolved. The continuation of the conflict is no longer in the interest of the big Western corporations that are involved in the construction of gas and oil pipelines from Baku to Turkey.
Q: Do you think people on both sides are ready for reconciliation? As an editor-in-chief and as a human being, what do you do to promote the swift resolution of the conflict? I mentioned earlier that this is an international Armenian newspaper, does this mean that it is a mouthpiece for Armenian propaganda?
A: Of course, this is true to a certain degree. We are an Armenian publication, and it would be strange if we did not support the Armenian position. But my colleagues and I understand that for the newspaper to be interesting, it needs to be truthful, as truthful as possible. And that is what we aspire to. Our newspaper has been published for 13 years, and we have a page permanently dedicated to Azerbaijan, the fifth page, and the fourth page covers Georgia. In general, our newspaper covers the entire southern region (the South Caucasus and the neighboring states of Turkey and Iran).
Q: Do Azerbaijanis read your newspaper?
A: They do read and even study it carefully.
Q: They probably use it as a source for an alternative opinion.
A: Yes, we invite leading Armenian and sometimes Azerbaijani experts to contribute. Russian political analysts are often published in our newspaper. Therefore, reading our content should be quite interesting.
Q: On this subject I have the following question: Just as it is impossible to discuss the conflict without Russian political analysts, it is also impossible to settle it without Russia and Russian policymakers. And what role has Russia been playing over the past years in trying to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict? Has that role changed in recent years, if at all?
A: Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of post-Soviet states, Russia certainly supported Armenia which was its main strategic partner and ally in the South Caucasus. This was the case until recently. Today, Russia has a more balanced position. Perhaps this stems from Russia's national interests; most likely the Turkish factor (the active rapprochement between Russia and Turkey that has been taking place recently) has also played a role here. All of this affects the course of the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Turkey agreed to open borders with Armenia, but made the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, an issue that does not directly apply to Armenian-Turkish relations, a precondition for going through with the agreement. This was unacceptable to Armenia. So it turns out that it was a set-up on Turkey’s side. In general, Turkish diplomats have been known to be rather shrewd.
And it is well known that depending too much on relations with Turkey is dangerous. This applies not only to Armenia, but also to Russia. Russia’s role in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has become more balanced, and currently Moscow does not have any privileges in the resolution process. I cannot say that Russia is directly backing either the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic or Azerbaijan. In other words, Russia has become more neutral. Still, I believe that Russia has always played, continues to play, and should play a primary role in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Q: What do you think should happen? Under what conditions would the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Armenia agree to have this territory returned to Azerbaijan? Is this even possible?
A: This is not possible, unless, of course, there were no Armenians left in Nagorno-Karabakh. If, however, the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized, the issue of returning the seven regions will be resolved. Yet, this would not include the Lachin corridor, which links Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh.
Q: Azerbaijan’s position is the exact opposite. I do not see a compromise here.
A: You know, there is also a human factor. People live on their land and they want to live independently. So, you would have to completely exterminate them, which is not so easy. And the Karabakh people have such a mentality that they would successfully resist this. Therefore, Azerbaijan should sit down with them to negotiate, and specifically with them and not with Armenia. And Armenia will just act as the guarantor of the independence and stability of Nagorno-Karabakh. Just as Turkey today is the guarantor of security for Azerbaijan.