In this article we will be referring to the characteristics of internal armed conflict and provide a theoretical framework to better understand why Nagorno-Karabakh (N-K) resists a compromise solution and why official diplomacy or track I diplomacy has not been able to reach a mutually accepted agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Secondly, we will refer to the basic Madrid Principles that are still on the negotiating table to be used as a framework for negotiations and the rhetoric of ‘preparing populations for peace’ that first appeared in December 2018 as a Minsk Group (MG) recommendation to the parties after the Organization for Security and Peace in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Council meeting in Milan. We will pinpoint the necessity of a multitrack approach to peace relying on interventions by different actors at different levels.
Internal conflict can be defined as conflict that occurs primarily within the borders of a given state. Internal conflict often takes place between the state and an ethnic minority group different from the dominant group. The potent effect of group separation and polarization is significant in the case of ethnic conflicts. Johan Galtung suggests that conflict can be viewed as a triangle, with contradiction (C), attitude (A) and behavior (B) at its vertices. Galtung’s model encompasses both symmetric and asymmetric conflicts. Here the contradiction refers to the underlying conflict situation which includes the actual perceived incompatibility of goals between the disputants. In an asymmetric conflict, as in the case of N-K, the contradiction is framed by the Armenians and Azerbaijanis, their interests and the clash of those interests between them. The clashing interests are at the core of the conflict structure. Similarly, in an asymmetric conflict, the contradiction is framed by both of the disputants, their relationship and the conflict of interest inherent in that relationship. Attitudes include the disputants’ perceptions and misperceptions of each other and of themselves. Attitude formation is undoubtedly the most important factor in conflict. These perceptions can be negative or positive, but in violent conflict as Hugh Miall, Oliver Ramsbotham and Tom Woodhouse explain, disputants ‘tend to develop demeaning stereotypes of each other, and attitudes are often influenced by emotions such as fear, anger, bitterness and hatred.’ Jacob Bercovitch, Victor Kremenyuk and William Zartman explain that attitudes are enduring dispositions, having three important dimensions; the cognitive, the affective and the behavioral. Behavior can include cooperation and coercion and relations indicating conciliation and hostility. This type of behavior is characterized by threats, coercion and destruction and purports to influence the adversary to change, modify or abandon a goal. According to Galtung the three components should be present together in a full conflict. Still, he sees conflict as a dynamic process in which structure, attitudes and behavior are constantly changing and influencing one another. Resolving a conflict apparently involves a set of dynamic changes that include a de-escalation of conflict behavior, a change in attitudes and transforming the relationships of clashing interests that compose the conflict structure.
William Zartman argues that the most striking characteristic of internal conflict is its asymmetry that is inherent in situations of unbalanced power between one party (government) which is strong and the other (separatists) which is weak. Zartman also argues that ‘perceived collective need that is denied is the basic condition for conflict.’ Denied needs can include a range of grievances from relief from political repression to redress for security and economic deprivation. Additionally, Zartman notes that need satisfaction ‘is a function of expectations, which are themselves manipulable.’ However, he reiterates that ‘conceptualizing conflict in general terms of needs is useful, for it points to the basic dimension of grievances, and hence of solutions.’ In this article we use the need theory to explain that negotiation deadlock occurs when either one or both of the disputants find that their basic needs of identity, security and recognition are not met. This has been the major difficulty associated with negotiating Armenian-Azerbaijani peace since 1992. Negotiation as conflict resolution strategy must aim to reach an agreement that satisfies the needs of both parties.
According to Edward Azar, internal conflicts often involve a notion of identity, a concept of security and a feeling of well-being. Azar, in his theory of Protracted Social Conflict (PSC) emphasizes that PSCs are not merely interest-based but also involve many social, political and economic dimensions. He suggests that ‘the most useful unit of analysis in PSC situations is the identity group – racial, religious, ethnic, cultural and others.’ The relationship between identity groups and the state is at the core of the problem, what Azar calls the ‘disarticulation between state and society as a whole.’ Grievances or incompatible goals resulting from need deprivation are usually expressed collectively. Unlike interests, needs are ontological and non-negotiable, so that if conflict unfolds, it is likely to be intense, vicious and irrational, which was the case in the N-K conflict. Azar also identifies deprivation of human needs as the underlying sources of PSC and that failure to redress these grievances by the government ‘cultivates a niche of PSAC.’ In particular, Azar cites security needs, development needs, political access needs and identity needs (cultural and religious expression). Consistent with Azar’s theory, John Burton’s approach also focuses on the meeting of basic human needs like identity and security or ontological and biological drives for survival. As alluded to above, these needs are non-negotiable and cannot be compromised. Suppression and frustration of basic needs is considered as a primary source of conflict. Therefore, the third-party conflict resolution based on human needs theory, usually applied in a problem-solving workshop setting, is an analytical approach used to determine the overall nature of the conflict and to identify the actors, and then to facilitate movement of the disputants beyond stated positions or interests to the common ground of basic human needs. This type of approach apparently encompasses attitudes, interpersonal relationships and economic, political and social structures. Certainly, the aim of the process is to ‘rationally transform conflictual attitudes and situations.’
According to Stephen Ryan, inter-communal conflicts are often characterized by destructive processes that escalate with varying degrees of intensity throughout communities. These processes include heightened ethno-centrism, a decline in moderation, psychological distancing and a sharpening of territorial boundaries. The result is polarized communities where ethnic hatreds, fear and distrust are rife. In situations of ethno-territorial conflicts, infusing territory with symbolic and transcendental qualities makes it intangible and difficult to divide. Territory can have a tremendous impact on identity and way of life. What makes ethno-territorial conflicts difficult to resolve is that the underlying issues have certain characteristics, like their being intangible or over territory that has been infused with symbolic qualities. Such issues in turn lead to zero-sum proposals which hamper negotiations. This article suggests that resolving a territorial issue, like the N-K conflict, is not simply drawing the border between N-K and Azerbaijan, but resolving the symbolic and transcendent value of the territory which is endemic to the rivalry or historic animosity between the two nations. Ostensibly, adopting John A. Vasquez’s and Brandon Valeriano’s views are useful here because they emphasize that ‘unless the rivalry relationship is addressed, the vicious circle of conflict to which rivalries are prone will not be broken and the territorial dispute is unlikely to be settled.’
Within this context, in societies marked with fragmentation and miscommunication, diplomatic approaches to conflict resolution rarely yield lasting results and apparently must be supplemented by other approaches. Thus, it is crucial to look at internal conflicts within political and multidimensional frameworks that take into account social, economic and historical factors. It is also important to acknowledge that in ethnic conflict situations a multilevel approach must be pursued to involve many actors and institutions in the transformation process, and that each phase in the conflict may necessitate a different type of intervention by different actors or combination of actors.
In a fragmented society in which relationship is characterized by separation and alienation, and an enemy image is shaped, local communities become disempowered. When ethno-nationalists dominate in society, the civilian population becomes increasingly passive. In these situations humanitarian assistance by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), like Conciliation Resources, and international agencies become particularly important in the process of peace-building. It is crucial therefore to initiate longer-term approaches, including empowering embedded local actors, institutions and organizations to support the peace process that started in 1992 and invest more resources in peace-building. Indeed, according to Ronald J. Fisher, peace-building combines the classic meaning of social development to reduce inequity with a new interactive element designed to improve the relationship and de-escalate the hostility between the conflict parties, that is interactive conflict resolution (ICR). Changing the regional context, building coalitions in favor of conflict resolution and setting a multiple track of dialogue are also crucial to approach the peace process. Now we move to explore conflict transformation that leads to conflict resolution.
According to John Paul Lederach, conflict transformation should be responsive to real-life challenges, needs and realities. The key dimensions are changes in the personal, structural, relational and cultural aspects of the conflict, brought about over different time periods. Conflict transformation views peace as centered in the quality of relationships and the ways we structure our social, political, economic and cultural relationships. In thinking about structure, Lederach shapes the idea of the pyramid with top leadership and decision-makers at the top; leaders of social organizations, churches, journalists and the like in the middle; and grassroots community leaders at the bottom. A comprehensive peace process, therefore, should address complementary changes at all levels. Constructing a peace process in internal conflicts will require ‘an operative frame of reference that takes into consideration the legitimacy, uniqueness and interdependency of the needs and resources’ of the top level range and grassroots. Such an analytical framework is imperative to meet the needs of peace-building in N-K.
Sustainable peacemaking in divided and war torn societies requires ‘a broad palette of measures aimed on the one hand at eliminating socio-economic inequalities and on the other hand at building up political and social capacities that will enable those involved to cope with ethnic plurality.’ Within this context, dialogue projects can perform a bridge-building function and create new human and political capacities to solve problems. A dialogue process would shift naturally into negotiations on a political settlement. On the necessity of dialogue to transform ethnic conflicts, Harold Saunders writes: ‘no participant in dialogue will give up her or his identity, but each will recognize enough of the other’s valid human claims that he or she will act differently toward the other.’ It is crucial to create ‘the space for each community to express its historic identity and at the same time increase interdependence or relationship, mutual understanding and respect rather than exclusivity and threat.’ Certainly, the Armenians and Azerbaijanis need dialogue projects in which diverse participants introduce all the significant facets of the N-K conflict and think how to create not just a physical space but also a relational space in which participants would feel safe in opening up their deeper feelings and resentments. Therefore, a state-centered and official diplomacy approach is not large enough to include dialogue among citizens outside government as a significant instrument of conflict resolution. According to Saunders, a relational approach is needed because the relational approach is:
A cumulative, multilevel, open-ended process of continuous interaction engaging clusters of citizens in and out of government and the relationships they form to solve public problem in whole bodies politic across permeable borders. Conflict must often be dealt with at different levels of society where needs went unmet and that such a challenge could only be met by innovative instruments.
On September 2, 1991 the Armenians of N-K declared de facto independence from Azerbaijan. The 1992-1994 war that followed pitted Azerbaijan’s armed forces against the Karabakh Armenian forces backed by the armed forces of Armenia. The war ended in May 1994 with a military victory of Karabakh Armenians but the ethno-territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan was not solved. The victorious Karabakh army also took effective control over seven regions adjacent to N-K (Agdam, Fizuli, Gebrail, Zangelan, Kubatli, Kelbajar, Lachin) and established a security belt. Although the May 1994 ceasefire ended the war, peace has been elusive. Since the ceasefire, the conflicting parties have reviewed and rejected several potential peace plans in 1997, 1998 and 2001 proposed to them by the Co-Chairs (US, Russia and France) of the Minsk Group. During the OSCE Ministerial Summit in Madrid in 2007, a new peace plan called the Madrid Principles was presented to Armenia and Azerbaijan. These principles reflected a reasonable compromise based on the Helsinki Final Act principles of non-use of force, territorial integrity of states and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples. They included inter alia:
-Return of the occupied territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.
-An interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance.
-A corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.
-Future determination on the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will.
-The right of all internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their former places or residence.
-International security guarantees that would include a peacekeeping operation.
If Armenia and Azerbaijan appeared to accept the Madrid Principles, they understood them differently. The Armenian bottom line remained recognition of the right to self-determination for N-K, a secure land link between Armenia and N-K, and international security guarantees that prevent resumption of hostilities. Some politicians in Armenia and N-K argued that these Principles did not guarantee security for the region and were formulated without the participation of the Karabakh Leadership in the peace process. Obviously, Armenia would not negotiate an agreement that was unacceptable for the Karabakh Leadership. According to former President Serge Sarkisian, if an agreement was reached on self-determination that would eventually lead to the de jure secession of Karabakh from Azerbaijan, all other contested issues could be tackled. In such a trade-off, the occupied territories around N-K would be used as a bargaining chip to obtain a tangible guarantee for the security of Karabakh Armenians and to ensure that Azerbaijan accepted outright independence as N-K’s final status. According to the need theory, security, like identity and recognition, was a basic human need and an ontological drive for survival. Former Karabakh president Bako Sahakyan said that ‘the control over territories was not an end in itself for us, but was aimed at Karabakh’s security.’
Azerbaijan ruled out any procedure that would legalize N-K’s de facto independence. Baku’s bottom line remained the preservation of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and the return of the Azerbaijani refugees to their homes. Any deal in this context was negotiable. With regard to the Madrid Principles, Baku insisted that in order to achieve a fair settlement three crucial points should be reflected in the framework agreement: ‘The return of the Azerbaijanis of N-K prior to its final status determination; equal and mutual use of the Lachin land corridor that linked Armenia to N-K by both the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis; and most contentiously, that the determination of Karabakh’s final status could only be achieved within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.’ Apparently, the fundamental disagreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan on this last point means that the resolution of the conflict is uneasy. To break out of this deadlock, both parties must find ways to resolve the three main areas of disagreement that have been the fate of the seven adjacent regions which are under the effective control of the Karabakh forces, the mandate and composition of an international peacekeeping or observer mission that could buttress any political agreement and N-K’s ultimate status.
In January 2010, the MG Co-Chairs sought a consensus text and presented updated Madrid Principles that envisaged a phased rather than package solution. The text did not differ fundamentally from the 2007 version. In mid-February, President Ilham Aliev confirmed that Azerbaijan accepted a framework agreement with some unspecified minor exceptions. Yet, in 2010, Aliev announced that Azerbaijan was able ‘at any moment to resolve the Karabakh problem by military means’ if the Karabakh forces would not withdraw from the adjacent territories.’ Armenia was less enthusiastic. Armenia desired to keep its leverage in that it wanted to leave the issue of return of the Azerbaijani internally displaced people to N-K unaddressed before the determination of N-K’s final status. Yerevan wanted stronger security guarantees that the population of N-K would have the right to self-determination, including formalizing secession from Azerbaijan and choosing independence. Thus far, all efforts to tackle the three issues failed. The problem has been that the three main areas of disagreement alluded to above are interdependent. Failure to look at each issue independently has hampered discussion of any of them.
Given the 30-year deadlock in the N-K negotiations the risk of military escalation was far from gone. Indeed, in April 2016, hostilities along the line of contact developed into four days of fighting and resulted in more than 200 deaths. With a rising oil-driven economy and a wide array of hardware, Azerbaijan felt more confident about its diplomatic and military strength. Combined with frustration over possible solutions this translated into the April 2016 confrontation in N-K and later to the deadly 12-16 July 2020 clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan forces at the border area between Tavush and the Tovuz district in western Azerbaijan. What sparked the July escalation remained unclear. Each party accused the other of triggering the violence. Both sides used heavy weapons before it tapered off. The July clashes took a heavy toll on civilians on both sides of the border. While previous clashes had mostly taken place on the line of contact in N-K, the July fighting occurred on the internationally recognized border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
In light of the Velvet Revolution and power transition in Armenia in 2018, a window of opportunity was created to break the negotiation deadlock and seek a potential solution. Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan has sought to extend the ‘velvet brand’ to the negotiations with Azerbaijan by highlighting the need to include the Karabakh leadership in the talks. In January 2019, after a meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Elmar Mammadyarov in Paris, the MG Co-Chairs announced that the foreign ministers had agreed on the necessity of ‘preparing their populations for peace.’ A number of measures were taken to defuse the tension of recent years along the line of contact in N-K as well as along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. These included a sustained reduction in the number of ceasefire violations since 2017 and the establishment of ‘operative channels’ between the armed forces deployed along the line of contact and the ‘executive structures of Armenia and Azerbaijan.’ These measures were considered proactive strategies that could help avoid destructive escalation. Yet, according to the Armenian Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan, ‘after the relative suspension of the July 2020 actions the adversary’s ceasefire violations in the same direction increased nearly twice. We are hopeful that as a result of the appropriate actions of our military the halt will be preserved and will contribute to the negotiations process.’ But, Karabakh’s President Arayik Harutyunyan told the citizens of N-K to ‘be realistic and prepare for war’ because ‘Azerbaijan is not in the mood for negotiations. They shell Armenian positions, threaten to strike at the nuclear power plant, declare that Stepanakert and Artsakh should be Azerbaijani…what can we talk about here?’ Official positions aside, de-escalation and preparing for negotiations could reduce the intensity of the conflict and move it toward negotiations.
Within this context, it is important to note that in May 2019, Conciliation Resources convened a meeting of the Karabakh Contact Group (KCG) to discuss the implications of ‘preparing populations for peace’ for peace-building and contributing to the peace process as track II diplomacy. The KCG is a platform supported by the European Union (EU) to engage in open-ended dialogue and ‘joint analysis on key policy issues.’ According to one Azerbaijani participant, there was an implicit ‘window’ of around two years, within which Baku was hoping to see change. However, Azerbaijani impatience met a ‘gradualist Armenian approach.’ Rather than quick steps towards a mutually acceptable peace agreement, ‘preparing populations for peace’ was understood in Yerevan ‘more in terms of reducing enmity and opening channels.’ Armenia was skeptical of moving forward before the core security guarantees were provided and meaningfully addressed. For Karabakh Armenians, the prospect of ‘preparing populations for peace’ evoked long-standing dissatisfaction with being excluded from the negotiation process. According to one Karabakh Armenian participant, the idea was based on a ‘false, patronizing premise’ that obscures the hierarchies institutionalized by the peace process. The participants in the KCG agreed that the language of ‘preparing populations for peace’ unhelpfully portrayed populations as the ‘passive object of top-down policy making.’ The bottom-up approach was missing in reference to John Paul Lederach’s peace-building approach (the peace pyramid alluded to above). Reciprocal flow of information and influence between the political elites (negotiators) and society at the grassroots level was hardly met. Upwards influence into the track I process was needed despite the fact that civil society actors in Armenia, Azerbaijan and N-K could offer upward influence differently. Certainly there is the need to pursue the peace process at all different levels.
What could be learned from the meeting of the KCG is that when participants from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh talk to each other constructively, they would be able to ‘clear their minds of anger and learn to listen to each other with some empathy, a capacity that might take a long time, patience and work to develop.’ From this perspective, the MG would need to ensure that Baku and Yerevan send and receive signals that strengthen collaborative problem-solving and create room for diplomatic maneuvering, rather than get in rigid bargaining behavior undertaken to prevent a loss of face.
We argued that in asymmetric internal conflicts state-centered or government-centered approaches to conflict resolution would yield limited or no outcome because the choice of conflict management modes and the chances of successful mediation were affected by the importance each disputant attached to the issues (like identity, security and recognition) of the conflict. From the N-K case, it becomes clear that peacemaking in protracted internal conflicts requires that efforts be pursued at different levels simultaneously because official negotiations alone are unlikely to provide for conflict transformation. Recognition of needs and dialogue are preconditions and for these to be met both parties have to be accepted as legitimate. Indeed, official negotiations often disintegrated because of a failure to involve representatives from the Karabakh leadership and from Azerbaijani inhabitants of N-K and address their needs. When asymmetry is reduced, negotiations may become successful.
The MG led negotiations were undermined because both sides used it as a forum for publicity and point-scoring against each other. In addition, when initial agreements were reached at the top level they continually collapsed because the infrastructure for their implementation did not exist. No concessions and reciprocity were made because the negotiators were afraid of losing their hard-line constituencies. Therefore, it is reasonable to argue that ‘the development of an active, multilayered and effective peace constituency could create an environment conducive to counterbalancing negotiating setbacks and keeping the formal process on track.’ It is equally important to identify a broader approach for addressing the issues of the conflict and reach a satisfactory settlement. Such an approach begins with the recognition that the middle range leaders hold particular potential for transformation. The middle-range has the potential to anchor issues within a set of relationships and pursue peace.
Johan Galtung, Peace by Peaceful Means: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization (London and New Delhi: SAGE Publications, 1996), P. 72.
Hugh Miall, Oliver Ramsbotham and Tom Woodhouse, Contemporary Conflict Resolution: The Prevention, Management and Transformation of Deadly Conflicts (Cambridge and Oxford: Polity Press, 2003), P. 14.
Jacob Bercovitch, Victor Kremenyuk and William I. Zartman, ‘Introduction: The Nature of Conflict and Conflict Resolution’, in Jacob Bercovitch, Victor Kremenyuk and William I. Zartman (eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Conflict Resolution (London and New Delhi: SAGE, 2009), P. 8.
William I. Zartman, ‘Sources and Settlements of Ethnic Conflicts’, in Andreas Wimmer, Richard J. Goldstone, Donald L. Horowitz, Ulrike Joras and Conrad Schetter (eds.), Facing Conflicts, Toward a New Realism (Boulder and New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2004), p. 141.
Edward Azar, The Management of Protracted Social Conflict, Theory and Practice (England and Brookfield: Dartmouth Publishing Company, 1990), P.7.
John Burton, International Conflict Resolution, Theory and Practice (Boulder and Sussex: wheatsheaf Books and Lynne Reinner Publications, 1996).
J. B. Hill, ‘An Analysis of Conflict Resolution Techniques: from Problem Solving to Theory’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 26, No. 1: 1982, PP. 109-38.
Stephen Ryan, ‘Transforming Violent Inter-communal Conflict’, in Kumar Rupesinghe (ed.), Conflict Transformation (Palgrave: St Martin’s Press, 1995), P. 230.
John A. Vasquez and Brandon Valeriano, ‘Territory as a Source of Conflict and Road to Peace’, in Jacob Bercovitch, Victor Kremenyuk and William I. Zartman (eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Conflict Resolution (London and New Delhi: SAGE, 2009), P. 197.
Ronald J. Fisher, ‘The Potential for Peacebuilding: Forging a Bridge from Peacekeeping to Peacebuilding’, Peace and Change, No. 18 (1993), PP. 247-66.
John Paul Lederach, The Little Book of Conflict Transformation (Intercourse: Good Books, 2003), P. 20.
John Paul Lederach, Building Peace, Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington DC: USIP Press, 1997), P. 60.
Norbert Ropers, “From Resolution to Transformation: Assessing the Role and Impact of Dialogue Projects’, in Andreas Wimmer, Richard J. Goldstone, Donald L. Horowitz, Ulrike Joras and Conrad Schetter (eds.), Facing Ethnic Conflicts, Toward a New Realism (Boulder and New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2004, 2004), P. 183.
Harold H. Saunders, A Public Peace Process: Sustainable Dialogue to Transform Racial and Ethnic Conflicts (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1999), P. 82.
Harold H. Saunders, Politics is About Relationship: A Blueprint for the Citizens’ Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), PP. 7-8.
International Crisis Group (ICG), ‘Nagorno-Karabakh: Getting a Breakthrough’, Europe Briefing No. 55, 7 October 2009, P. 6.
Tracey German, Regional Cooperation in the South Caucasus: Good Neighbours or Distant Relatives? (London and New York: Ashgate, 2012), P. 69.
‘Preparing Populations for Peace: Implications for Armenian-Azerbaijani Peace-building’, Conciliation Resources, Discussion Paper July 2019.
Conciliation Resources, ‘Preparing Populations for Peace: Implications for Armenian-Azerbaijani Peacebuilding,’ Discussion Paper, July 2019).
Harold H. Saunders, “Dialogue as a Process for Transforming Relationships,’ in Jacob Bercovitch, Victor Kremenyuk and William I. Zartman (eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Conflict Resolution (London and New Delhi: SAGE 2009), P. 379.
Kumar Rupesinghe, ‘Mediation in Internal Conflicts: Lessons from Sri Lanka,’ in Jacob Bercovitch (ed.), Resolving International Conflicts, Theory and Practice of Mediation (Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1996), PP. 163-6.