Why “The Land for Promise” Formula Will Never be Accepted by Armenia & Nagorno Karabakh
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Why “The Land for Promise” Formula Will Never be Accepted by Armenia & Nagorno Karabakh

By Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan
Chairman, Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies, Yerevan, Armenia

Why “The Land for Promise” Formula Will Never be Accepted by Armenia & Nagorno Karabakh

Despite the worldwide standstill brought by the COVID–19 pandemic, conflict resolutions remain among the key priorities of the international community. This is true for the Nagorno Karabakh conflict too. Without going deep into history it’s worthy to recall the key milestones of the conflict. The Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region declared its intention to leave Soviet Azerbaijan and join Soviet Armenia in February 1988. In the final days of the Soviet Union, Nagorno Karabakh organized a referendum and declared its independence. Almost immediately Azerbaijan launched a military attack against Nagorno Karabakh seeking to crash the newly established republic. The hostilities came to an end in May 1994 and since then the negotiations have been launched under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group with Russia, the US, and France as Co-chairs. The mediators have put forward several proposals including the so-called “Madrid Document” which was submitted in late 2007. Since then several modifications of that plan have been discussed, including the Kazan document of June 2011 and the “Lavrov Plan” of 2014 and 2016. In their March and December, 2019 statements OSCE Minsk group Co-chairs again reiterated that any solution should be based on those ideas. 

However, the Madrid document and its modified versions are essentially based on the inherently flawed “Land for Promise” formula. They effectively suggest that the Nagorno Karabakh Republic should concede large territories to Azerbaijan only to receive a promise by Azerbaijan and the international community to hold a legally binding expression of the will to fix the legal status of Nagorno Karabakh in indefinite future. This is neither fair nor symmetric deal. Politicians, international relations pundits, and even ordinary citizens understand what does a promise mean in geopolitics, and especially in the current world indulged in great power competition. If both conventional wisdom and complex strategic research indicate anything it is the fact that no state will give land and endanger its security only to receive the promise in return. 

Meanwhile, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov seemed to push forward this idea during April 21, 2020 roundtable discussion with the participants of the Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund in the videoconference format. He stated that since April 2019 negotiations have been underway based on another modification of the Madrid document. According to Lavrov, this new version envisages the land concessions by the Nagorno Karabakh Republic and opening up communications as the first stage of the settlement while other phases will be implemented in an indefinite future. Apparently, Azerbaijan is ready to accept such a solution and has recently amplified its pressure on Armenia and Karabakh. On May 2, 2020, the Azerbaijani Defense minister has stated that the possibility of renewed hostilities has increased dramatically, and this statement may be described as a vaguely veiled threat towards Armenia. 

However, it should be emphasized that pressure over Armenia and the Nagorno Karabakh Republic will never force the majority of society to accept this “unfair and asymmetric deal”. The Co-chair countries and Azerbaijan should understand that even if any leader signs such an agreement it will have zero effect on the ground. There is a stark difference between grand ceremonies of agreements’ signature in some luxurious European hotels and the de facto withdrawal of troops. Armenia and the Nagorno Karabakh Republic's defense and intelligence community will never allow endangering the security of the state and population and if it will be left with the only alternative of war, it will prefer the war. In this scenario, the devastating hostilities most probably will not be confined along the Azerbaijan - Nagorno Karabakh Republic borders and will spread over the territories of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Given the Armenia – Russia, and Azerbaijan - Turkey alliances it may create a dangerous possibility of Turkey – Russia (NATO - Russia) military clash. Taking into account the growing US-China tensions and uncertainty over the future transformations of the world order, neither US/EU nor Russia should be interested in such an outcome.

Experts may argue if there are any viable alternatives to this scenario. Many in Armenia and the Nagorno Karabakh Republic including representatives of the political parties and other groups argue that the Karabakh conflict has been already solved and the only task for the Armenian side is to keep the current status quo indefinitely. They believe that after an additional 25 years of negotiations the new generations of Azerbaijanis will simply forget the pre - 1994 status quo and the current situation will be a new normal for them. 

However, we should take into account the fact that Azerbaijan is not ready to accept the current status quo for another 25 years and threaten to change it through the war in case if negotiations fail. Thus, we face a situation when both keeping the status quo and any attempts to force a peace deal based on the flawed “Madrid principles and land for promise” formula may result in the resumption of hostilities.

The only way to avoid devastating war with regional spillover effects is to abandon the unrealistic “land for promise” formula and elaborate a fair and symmetric deal. The Minsk Group Co-chairs should accept the fact that the cornerstone of any such solution should be the immediate determination of the final legal status of the Nagorno Karabakh in parallel with the settlement of other thorny issues such as land swaps and return of IDPs and refugees. Anything else will result in either resumption of hostilities or the prolongation of the status quo.

About the Author:

Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan
Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan is Founder and Chairman, Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies and also, Executive Director, Political Science Association of Armenia since 2011. He was Vice President for Research – Head of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense Research University in Armenia in August 2016 – February 2019. He joined Institute for National Strategic Studies (predecessor of NDRU) in March 2009 as a Research Fellow and was appointed as INSS Deputy Director for research in November 2010. Before this, he was the Foreign Policy Adviser of the Speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia. Dr. Poghosyan has also served as a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences and was an adjunct professor at Yerevan State University and in the European Regional Educational Academy.

His primary research areas are the geopolitics of the South Caucasus and the Middle East, US – Russian relations and their implications for the region. He is the author of more than 70 Academic papers and OP-EDs in different leading Armenian and international journals. In 2013, Dr. Poghosyan was appointed as a "Distinguished Research Fellow" at the US National Defense University - College of International Security Affairs and also, he is a graduate from the US State Department's Study of the US Institutes for Scholars 2012 Program on US National Security policymaking. He holds a Ph.D. in History and is a graduate from the 2006 Tavitian Program on International Relations at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.            

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this insight piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the IndraStra Global.