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Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Simmers While Peace Process Frozen

(Washington, DC--April 10, 2006) Negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh are frozen, unlike the conflict itself which threatens to erupt into armed conflict again, say two experts on the region. Sabine Freizer and Laurence Broers told a recent RFE/RL audience that the negotiation process over the disputed region should be broadened to include more "actors" particularly members of civil society in both countries, and the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Sabine Freizer, Caucasus Project Director for the International Crisis Group, said the resumption of a full-scale war is possible, because ceasefire violations have increased markedly in the last year along the "line of contact" and "the skirmishes could get out of hand." She described the situation in the Azeri-controlled territory adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh as "dire" -- "The destruction is worse than Bosnia... cities have been dismantled, scavenged... there's been no de-mining." Freizer added that if the conflict heats up again, neighbors in the region could easily be "pulled in."

Freizer attributed the failure in negotiations to a "buying time strategy" on the part of both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Armenian government, Freizer said, believes that "the de-facto reality" of Nagorno-Karabakh as a state and the principle of self-determination, "as in the case of East Timor and Kosova," will lead the international community to acknowledge the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, while the government of Azerbaijan believes that the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity will prevail and notes that there have been "four UN Security Council resolutions supporting" them. Freizer is also concerned that the Azeri government "may possibly take military action" to reunify the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh with Azerbaijan, noting that it has increased its military spending from $135 million in 2003 to $600 million in 2006, and plans to spend $1 billion by 2009.

Laurence Broers of Conciliation Resources, a British non-governmental organization, and a research analyst for Amnesty International said the stalemate in the negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh stems from a "narrow group of stakeholders" who "can't sustain an agreement" because there's little support within the societies they represent, since the negotiations involve "only the presidents, foreign ministers and their aides." Broers also noted that "the marginalized actors -- the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh and the displaced Azeris" are not parties in the peace process.

Broers and Freizer stressed the need for civil society to play an active role in the peace process, but said this was unlikely until both countries' political systems "democratize." Currently, Broers said, the "peace process provides political legitimacy to the regimes," which are "unlikely to allow wider participation." Broers said the international community could be helpful by doing more to "advance political democratization," sponsoring "development plans inclusive of the both the de-jure and de-facto states of the region," and viewing the resolution of the conflict as a "multi-level process with medium and long-term timelines," not just focusing on "windows of opportunity."