U.S. Helsinki Commission: Political will essential for achieving definitive resolution to Karabakh conflict

The fragile no-peace, no-war situation in the Karabakh conflict poses a serious threat to stability in the South Caucasus region and beyond, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, writes in a new report on Nagorno Karabakh.

“Although the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute is often branded as a “frozen conflict,” it remains prone to rapid escalation, as demonstrated by the tragic “Four Day War” of April 2016. The flare-up in violence along one of the most militarized areas in the post-Soviet space took the international community by surprise and underscored the reality that the tense status quo is not sustainable,” the report reads.

“The renewed hostilities initially appeared to reinvigorate the peace process. Baku and Yerevan agreed to a Minsk Group proposal to establish an OSCE investigative mechanism for incidents along the line of contact, more than double the small number (currently six) of OSCE field observers, and exchange information about missing persons. However, reports suggest the terms of these agreements remain largely unimplemented, apparently due to differing perspectives by the sides on sequencing of the de-escalator steps relative to a larger diplomatic process, and whether implementation of the steps suggests a hardening of the status quo,” the Helsinki Commission says.

The CSCE says “OSCE should continue to pursue confidence-building and risk reduction measures and early warning mechanisms to encourage transparency and predictability, while stemming further outbreaks of violence and aiming to reduce their severity if and when they do break out.”

“Analysts differ in proposing inside-out versus outside-in approaches to resolving the conflict, with the former placing the onus on the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders to drive toward a

settlement and the latter on international actors. Few assess that Armenia and Azerbaijan’s political leaders can break out of the cycle of harsh recriminations in the near term, however. The leaders’ domestic political vulnerabilities make such change even more difficult as the conflict has become a rhetorical tool capable of inflaming popular sentiments as a distraction from other challenges facing their societies,” the report continues.

“Clearly, among external actors, Moscow plays a singular role in any long-term and definitive resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. While U.S. officials publicly report that Moscow generally works cooperatively with its co-chair partners in the Minsk Group, it remains unclear the extent to which Moscow views the uneasy status quo as serving its own geopolitical interests. Turkey’s role will also be extremely important in any settlement, given its close relations with Azerbaijan and potential economic significance to Armenia,” the Helsinki Commission notes.

“Ultimately, the essential element to achieving a definitive resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will be finding the political will— both at the level of the parties to the conflict, as well as those external actors with significant influ­ence and interests in the region—to take steps in that direction, while minimizing the risk of further violence in the interim,” the report concludes.

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