Thursday, 18 March 2010


Published in Field Reports

By Mina Muradova (3/18/2010 issue of the CACI Analyst)

As the peace talks on Nagorno-Karabakh continue, the interest and involvement of regional players increases. In recent months, Iran appears to seek to increase its role in Caucasus along with its competitors, Turkey and Russia.

As the peace talks on Nagorno-Karabakh continue, the interest and involvement of regional players increases. In recent months, Iran appears to seek to increase its role in Caucasus along with its competitors, Turkey and Russia. This also seems connected with the reduced activities of the U.S. in the region.

The 2008 conflict between Georgia and Russia drew the attention of the international community, and especially of the main regional actors, to the "frozen" but unresolved Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The events pushed the great powers, all with their own economical and political interests in the South Caucasus and the oil-rich Caspian region, to accelerate the peace process.

Turkey started actively promoting its Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform to reinforce its influence in the Southern Caucasus. Later on, Turkey even proposed a chairmanship for itself within the OSCE Minsk Group on conflict resolution in Nagorno-Karabakh, a format consisting of co-chairs from the U.S., Russia and France.

In 2009, the Minsk Group co-chairs held six meetings with the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Three meetings were initiated by the Russian President, a strong indication of Russia’s desire to lead the process.

In February 2010, Mammadbagir Bahrami, Iran’s Ambassador to Azerbaijan, publicly accused the OSCE Minsk Group of being unable to solve the conflict and presented the opportunity of a "fair" solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by "using the potential" of Iran.

The Iranian diplomat stated that “The OSCE Minsk Group has been dealing with the conflict for over 18 years but has failed to settle it. Whether it was not able to or did not want to do this, the fact is that the problem still remains unsettled. Perhaps, the co-chair countries are watching over their own interests…”

Bahrami added that Iran believes regional problems should be settled by the countries of the region themselves, and therefore proposed to use Iran’s potential to assist in finding a fair solution to the Karabakh issue. Tehran started actively promoting its assistance after the “consent of Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev”, as reported by the Fineko agency on February 25. Such consent was allegedly expressed during the visit of Azerbaijan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Elmar Mammadyarov to Iran in December 2009.

Indeed, following his meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki stated that negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were in a “stalemate” and that Iran was ready to fill a mediating role in its settlement. In response to this, Mammadyarov expressed his hope that Iran would continue its efforts to restore peace and stability in the region.

Iran has also forwarded concerns over a potential peacekeeping force in the Karabakh conflict zone. The deployment of a peacekeeping force is one of the principles on Karabakh settlement which were proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group. Iran’s Ambassador to Armenia, Seyed Ali Saghaeyan, said at a press conference in Yerevan in February that “Iran certainly has its own considerations and views about the composition of a peacekeeping force that might be deployed in the conflict zone”. The ambassador did not specify whose participation in such a peacekeeping operation would be unacceptable to Iran. However, Iran's Parliament Chairman Ali Larijani pointed out that "the deployment of foreign troops in the region only makes the issue more complicated, which is not favorable to any regional country."

Iran has previously, unsuccessfully, served as a mediator in the Karabakh conflict. Iran started its mediation initiatives in March 1992 when it invited high-ranking delegations from both countries to Tehran for discussing a temporary ceasefire, lifting of the embargo on Armenia, the deployment of observer forces, and the exchange of prisoners of war. This lead to a seven-day ceasefire as a first step in the peace process. However, in spite of this the war continued and intensified. Armenian forces took control of the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region and then Lachin, which opened a corridor between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan deteriorated after the installation of a Turkist government in Baku in the summer of 1992. In result, Iran instead deepened its relations with Armenia. Expanded economical cooperation with Iran relieved Armenia from the economic embargo which it has been under throughout the last decade due to the closure of its borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey.

It seems that the role of regional actors is now undergoing change. Russia is not considered an impartial actor despite its intensifying role in mediation. Azerbaijan's hopes for Turkish support may come undone if the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia continues, though that is presently unlikely. Azerbaijan is concerned that Turkey may drop its demands for the withdrawal of Armenian troops from Karabakh as a precondition for improved Turkish-Armenian relations. Official Baku is therefore looking for all possible means to intensify the Karabakh peace process and involving Iran is one such mean. A spokesperson of Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry stated that "considering Iran’s close cooperation with Armenia, Tehran can provide the mechanism for a fair solution”. He added that Iran borders both Azerbaijan and Armenia. Moreover, a part of the Azerbaijani territories bordering Iran are under Armenian occupation. 
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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.


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