Pursuing Peace at the time of COVID-19
Sweeping through the globe, the COVID-19 Pandemic attacked people’s health and damaged national economies; on a deeper level, as stated by Edward Luttwak, once described as “Machiavelli of Maryland,” the pandemic broke some convenient stereotypes about international institutions and politics.
Whether it is the questions about wisdom of depending on a single supplier, or the strong belief in European institutions, or perhaps, a renewed interest in prudence of commonsense dietary choices, the status quo around the world is changing.
In the greater Caspian area, a regional organisation, the Turkic Council, which brings together nations of Central Asia, Azerbaijan and Turkey and, most recently, Hungary has emerged as an effective cooperative format.
The group was especially successful in providing mutual assistance and significantly increasing the volume of rail cargo along the Silk Road between Asia and Europe, the main artery connecting the Turkic Council nations and an important part of the recently adopted U.S. Central Asia strategy.
Notably, the Turkic Council, under current Chairmanship of Azerbaijan, became the first ever international organisation to hold a Head of State level online summit to address the challenge of COVID-19.
Importantly, Azerbaijan, along with other Partner Nations, is pursuing governance reforms by bringing new technocratic, result-oriented leaders to key positions in the government and promoting greater political pluralism.
In fact, President Trump stated his strong support for Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and independence in the congratulatory letter to President Ilham Aliyev this month.
The pandemic also highlighted the region’s weaknesses and perils, including the protracted Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation’s (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States has been mediating the negotiations for three decades with no visible progress.
During the pandemic, the mediators held a video conference with foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and even adopted a joint statement.
Yet, with the world changing around the South Caucasus, Armenia seems to stick with the unsustainable and dangerous status-quo. Armenia’s Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatzakanyan denounced the so-called Madrid Principles, which were endorsed by the presidents of France, Russia and the United States in 2009 and include main principles of a future peace agreement.
While, Mr. Mnatzakanyan’s denunciation was later reiterated by various Armenian officials, the confusing part is what exactly he’s been actively negotiating for the last two years if not the principles he so suddenly dislikes?
The principles include, among other elements, gradual withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azerbaijan’s internationally recognised territories in accordance with four U.N. Security Council resolutions, return of displaced persons, resumption of economic ties and security guarantees for both Armenian and Azerbaijani communities in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Neither side was excited about these principles and Azerbaijan accepted them as a basis for negotiations with some deep reservations.