20 March, Tuesday

It is important that the South Caucasus does not turn into an area of competition between outside powers - Expert-EXCLUSIVE


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The reporter of Eurasia Diary took an interview with Dennis Sammut, Director of LINKS (Dialogue- Analysis and Research)  
Eurasia Diary: How can you analyze the strategic interests of great powers in the South Caucasus? 
Dennis Sammut: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are today sovereign and independent states. All outside powers - including neighbors like Russia and Turkey, or somewhat a far, such as the United States and the European Union - must start first by respecting this sovereignty and independence, as well as the territorial integrity of these countries. Unfortunately, in the case of Russia, it has flaunted these principles by supporting the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, and subsequently recognizing them as independent states.
Beyond the unresolved conflicts however, it is important that the region does not turn into an area of competition between outside powers. There is a lot of scope for regional co-operation. But, the main obstacle for this is the Karabakh conflict. 
The external powers need to find ways of contributing to peace in the region. In the future it may be possible and necessary to convene an inter-governmental conference on the future of the region, under the auspices of the OSCE. But this cannot happen unless progress is made on a number of issues, including Karabakh. I am also concerned that the region is becoming heavily militarized. This can only lead to bigger problems in the future. External powers should support an arms control treaty in the region.
Eurasia Diary; In your opinion, does the European Union have capacity to solve conflicts and regulate stable situation in South Caucasus? 
Dennis Sammut: The international community, way back in 1992, mandated the OSCE, and specifically a group within it called the Minsk Group, to mediate a solution to the Karabakh problem. The European Union continues to support the efforts of the Minsk group, and especially its three co-Chair countries, Russia, France and the United States, even though progress for a solution has been very slow. After the 2008 Georgia-Russia war, the EU also became co-Chair of the Geneva Process. This is an important diplomatic role where the EU contributes towards the stabilization of the situation between Georgia and the break-away regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
On the other hand the European Union also has a Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Ambassador Herbert Salber, who visits the region regularly. There is an important role that the European Union can play, if and when the sides in the Karabakh conflict (Armenia and Azerbaijan) show that they are ready for it. This is the development of confidence building measures. It is a subject the EU has a lot of expertise in. Once an agreement on Karabakh is in place the EU has also already stated that it will be ready to help, including through post conflict economic and social rehabilitation.
The European Union has already shown, through the EPNK – an initiative that is supported by the EU institutions and member states, and implemented by EU civil society organizations -  that it is committed to supporting peace in Nagorno-Karabakh and the process of Armenian-Azerbaijani reconciliation.
Eurasia Diary: What can you say about the role of neighboring countries in resolution of conflicts between South Caucasian nations? 
Dennis Sammut: The three immediate neighbours of the South Caucasus region – Russia, Turkey and Iran – have long historical and cultural connections with the region. This offers them an important opportunity to contribute to the future of the region. Yet the three countries also carry with them a lot of baggage of history. They must therefore be very prudent when they deal with the region, because rightly or wrongly, their actions can be easily misunderstood.
Eurasia Diary: Armenia-Azerbaijan Platform for Peace has been operating since December, 2016.   Some public activists both from Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to participate in this platform in order to create peaceful dialogue between civil societies of two nations.  The aim of Armenia-Azerbaijan for Peace contributes to the settlement of Armenian-Azerbaijan Nagorno Karabakh conflict and the establishment of long-term armistice between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.  From your opinion, is public diplomacy crucial means for the solution of conflict between two Caucasian nations? 
Dennis Sammut: At the moment the Karabakh conflict is the single most serious threat to peace in the Caucasus region. The search for a peaceful solution must be pursued with a sense of urgency. This is not only a challenge for the governments, but for the whole of society in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the international community must be ready to support this process in different ways. 
I have always supported people to people contacts across the conflict divide, and many meetings and initiatives have taken place over the last two decades, but what has been done is still a drop in the ocean. This work needs to be expanded significantly. The “Baku platform” can be one of frameworks through which this work can be done, but of course there are many others.

Yunis Abdullayev 


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