June 1 2010

Phil Gamaghelyan News.Az interviews Armenian-born Phil Gamaghelyan,
managing editor of the Journal of Conflict Transformation.

What is the likelihood of progress in the settlement of the Karabakh
conflict in the near future?

Unfortunately, I do not think it is realistic to expect a resolution
of this conflict in the near future. In the last 20 years the conflict
has metastasized. Even if the governments sign an agreement tomorrow,
implementation will not be easy and might lead to a new crisis and
possibly violence: the problem is that the sides are not making any
preparations for peace. In fact, they are actively preparing for war.

Serious preparation is needed to successfully implement a peace
accord. The difficulties will include the composition of peace-keeping
forces, the reintegration of the two communities, the absence
of infrastructure, the absence of any alternative to the hostile
literature and mindset that have brainwashed entire generations into
hating each other. So we need to make progress in a number of areas
before we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

Having said this, I have some hope that there might be a solution,
as there are, indeed, positive developments in a number of areas. The
geopolitical environment today is more conducive to resolution than
it ever was. All the major players in the region - Russia, the USA,
Turkey, the EU - find a resolution to be in their interests (though
for different reasons). The Track II work has visibly intensified
following the Moscow declaration of 2008, which may lay a foundation
for the future coexistence of the two peoples. The scholarship on the
subject of a Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution has been gradually
increasing, which can provide the necessary knowledge and become the
foundation upon which policy makers can base their decisions and move
toward a sustainable resolution to the conflict.

To summarize, I think there are some positive developments, but
they are not enough to resolve the conflict in the near future. The
resolution of the conflict requires a multi-track approach, and we
need a longer-term and coordinated effort from our politicians and
international actors, but also journalists, social scientists and
educators, to settle this conflict.

The Azerbaijani and Armenian people suffer more than the politicians
from the Karabakh conflict - the two nations lived side by side for
many years. So how would you comment on former Armenian President
Robert Kocharyan's statement that Armenians and Azerbaijanis are not
able to coexist in principle?

I think one of the major reasons we are not registering any serious
progress is the very radical rhetoric from our leaders. The leaderships
on both sides couch the conflict in exclusivist terms, which leads
to the view that neither of the sides can possibly be safe, should it
find itself a minority in the other side's state. This is exactly what
makes this conflict a zero sum game. It is, I believe, impossible to
find a sustainable solution until our societies, the language we use
when talking about one another, become more inclusive.

There are no two peoples that 'are not able to coexist in principle'.

The inability to work through the consequences of mutual violence,
negative propaganda, brainwashing through the media and education
create conditions when two peoples indeed are not able to live side by
side until the relationship between the sides is transformed. French
and Germans, Germans and Jews, Catholics and Protestants in Northern
Ireland, and many others had periods when they could not coexist. Some
of these conflicts ran very deep and had a much longer history than
the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But these conflicts have been resolved
and reconciliation has been achieved (or at least they are on track
for resolution). Armenians and Azerbaijanis most definitely can live
side by side, but certainly not while our political and education
systems and our media are doing everything possible to prevent it.

Might public diplomacy play its role in improving relations between
Azerbaijanis and Armenians?

There cannot be a sustainable resolution without extensive public
diplomacy, as relations between the Azerbaijani and Armenian societies
cannot be improved without public diplomacy. At the same time,
public diplomacy alone cannot resolve the conflict. Resolution of the
conflict will require simultaneous progress on a number of levels,
including on the level of people to people contacts.

What was the influence on the Karabakh settlement of the process of
normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey?

I think the improvement of Turkish-Armenian relations can have a
positive impact on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. A lot has
been said and written about the geopolitical consequences of the
improvement of Turkish-Armenian relations, so I want to look at it
from another angle. I think the closing of the Turkish border with
Armenia created divisions in the Caucasus that are not conducive to
the improvement of relations or resolution of conflicts, and only
reinforce the conflict lines. As I said before, I find the improvement
of relations and breaking down of stereotypes extremely important
for the sustainable resolution of this conflict and for creating
conditions when the two sides can peacefully coexist.

As Tom de Waal noted in his book 'Black Garden', the negative attitudes
between Azerbaijanis and Armenians developed against the background
of two master narratives, the Armenian one focusing on a history
of massacres and discrimination by the Turks, and their perceived
local Azerbaijani proxies, and the Azerbaijani narrative focusing on
discrimination and massacres by Russians and their perceived Armenian
proxies. The improvement of Turkish-Armenian relations, supported by
Russia, will lead to increased regional cooperation between Russia,
Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and can help to alter these master
narratives, challenging and transforming the major stereotypes and
laying the ground for peaceful coexistence in the Caucasus.

Do you think that the USA and Russia are really interested in the
Karabakh conflict and do their best to resolve it?

For a long time, the Karabakh conflict was characterized in the
international relations literature as a 'captive', when the competing
interests of great powers made it impossible to resolve it. I think
right now, a quick resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is in
the interests of both Russia and the US. The war in Georgia contributed
to this dynamic. And this is a quite unusual situation not only in
the Caucasus, but anywhere in the world. So for the first time, we,
the sides of the conflict, are actually in a position to resolve
this conflict without worrying that one or another superpower will
sabotage the process. We had better use this opportunity. It will
not last long. Any shift in the geopolitical arena might reverse
this equation, and we might not have control over our destinies for
an indefinite time again.

Iran recently offered to mediate in the Karabakh settlement. What do
you think about this rather unexpected offer and how can you explain
Armenia's rejection of it?

On your question about the Armenian position, I have made a number
of inquiries; I saw the Russian official position, but was not able
to find any confirmation that Yerevan rejected the proposal. It is,
therefore, hard for me to answer the second half of the question. If,
indeed, there was a rejection, I would assume it would be because the
Minsk Group negotiations are on track and the sides might not see a
need for an alternative.

On Iran, Iran was one of the countries that tried to mediate this
conflict very early in the game, in 1992-93. It has a great interest
in this conflict, and especially the consequence of its outcome. The
composition of a potential peace keeping force, possibly consisting
of a NATO country's forces right on Iran's border, the potential
renewal of violence and potential effect it might have on the large
Azerbaijani minority in Iran, and the potential consolidation of
a pro-western orientation of the entire South Caucasus in case of
a successful resolution of the conflict are all issues of great
concern for Iran. So Iran has an interest in this conflict, and has
been rather passive, not because it chooses to be, but because the
USA-France-Russia mediation does not leave it much choice but to stay
away. So I think it should be expected that Iran would want to play
an active role in the process, if and when it becomes possible.

Phil Gamaghelyan is the managing editor of the Journal of Conflict
Transformation: Caucasus Edition; co-director of the Imagine Center
for Conflict Transformation and a fellow at the International Center
for Conciliation.

From: A. Papazian