Inappropriate performance of the Minsk Group
The first weak point of the Minsk Group was exposed in 1994 when a truce was declared between the Republic of Azerbaijan and Armenia because in spite of the termination of extensive clashes, the remarkable point in the ceasefire agreement was the situation of the disputed territories which remained unresolved. Especially noteworthy was that Armenians, during the conflict, took control of 14 thousands 167 square kilometers of the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan including the cities of Kalbajar, Qubadli, Jibreel, Fuzuli, Zangalan, Agdam, Lachin and Shusha in addition to Karabakh. Notwithstanding, in the 1994 ceasefire deal, the fate of the Karabakh as well as the liberalization of these territories which belong to Azerbaijan, has remained ambiguous. This caused deeper differences and issues beyond the Karabakh region to arise during the past years between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
During the next years of 1994, the Minsk Group put forward initiatives and plans for the settlement of the issue of Karabakh but to no avail. For example, the chairs of the Minsk Group tabled a new proposal during a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in November 2007 in Madrid to establish sustainable peace in Karabakh. The proposal, entitled the Madrid Principles was presented to the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Madrid Principles included the return of control of territories occupied by Armenia to Azerbaijan, establishment of a buffer zone in Karabakh and guarantee of the security and self-governance for Karabakh. The Madrid Principles brought hopes for the final settlement of the issue. Notwithstanding, none of the parties to the conflict was prepared to back down from their tenacious positions as Baku insisted on liberalizing the territories of Azerbaijan and the return on refugees and internally displaced people while Armenia pursued the idea of Karabakh independence.
In spite of the continued emphasis by the representatives of the member states of the presiding board of the Minsk Group during the past years on the necessity of maintaining the provisions of the 1994 ceasefire agreement and the 1995 Agreement on Strengthening the Ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia, ceasefire has been violated many times by the parties to the dispute. This demonstrates that the Minsk Group has not performed an effective role in the settlement of the Karabakh issue but has failed to keep and maintain the ceasefire regime.
In the meantime, there exists a serious difference of opinion between the Republic of Azerbaijan and Armenia on the effective role of the Minsk Group. As against the Armenia government which considers the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe as a proper structure for the termination of the Karabakh dispute, the government of Azerbaijan has heavily criticized the members of the group for being partial. From the viewpoint of the government of Azerbaijan, there are some reasons behind the members of the Minsk Group failing to play an impartial and fair role in this Karabakh dispute. They include: religions links of the Minsk Group member states such as the US, France and other Western countries with Armenia as a Christian country; the interests Russia as an influential member of the Minsk Group in Armenia in particular Russian military bases in that country; and the strong and powerful Armenian lobbyists and diaspora activists in Western countries especially in the United States, Russia and France.
The government of Azerbaijan makes references, for proving such a claim of partiality of the member states of the Minsk Group, to the negative votes of France, Russia and the United States governments to non-binding resolutions of the General Assembly of the United Nations on the necessity of retreat of Armenian forces from the occupied territories of the Azerbaijan Republic. This has created disappointment and frustration for the government of the Republic of Azerbaijan for the peaceful resolution of the Karabakh dispute within the framework of the Minsk Group.
On the other hand, the United States, Russia and France as the co-chairs of the Minsk Group are having serious differences over the issue. In fact, the interests of these three countries run against each other and therefore they cannot reach a common understanding over the issue of Karabakh and their interests in the Caucasus region. In this way, the Minsk Group performance has resulted in the continuation of the dispute rather than its termination.
The need for a new mechanism
The fluid fate of the Karabakh dispute and the existence of the many players with almost conflicting interests have made the future of this conflict uncertain and to a large extent insolvable; especially when we understand that the Karabakh dispute is not merely a conflict between the Armenians residing in that region and the local Azerbaijanis but it is considered as an international crisis left behind after the end of the Cold War with domestic, regional and global dimensions and levels.
In the domestic level, the main reason of dispute is the historical and territorial differences on the Karabakh region which is pursued by the two parties in an environment inspire by ethnic and nationalistic tendencies by both Armenia and Azerbaijan. To put it differently, the nationalistic approach towards this issue and a behaviour on the basis of nationalistic motifs as well as the pressure of domestic groups in both Azerbaijan and Armenia coupled with the efforts of both sides to maintain legitimacy are considered as a main reason behind the prolonged effort to find a solution to this conflict.
In the regional level, different stances taken by various players in the crisis has complicated the settlement of the Karabakh dispute. In particular, in recent years, emerging players such as the Zionist regime and Saudi Arabia have been added to traditional players of the scene Iran and Turkey.
In the international level, both rivalries and differences between Russia and the United States have always caused this Karabakh dispute to remain unresolved.
In this way, the Karabakh dispute is a mixture of contrasts which have made the settlement of the problem harder with the interference of foreign players. For this reason, during the past years, no formula has been found, approved and implemented for the complete settlement of the Karaback dispute. Under such circumstances, the continuation and prolongation of this dispute for long years are almost predictable especially when there is not enough political determination at the regional level to implement a peace plan. At least, until Turkey continues to side with Baku as one party of the conflict, it cannot be expected to create a regional solution for the peaceful settlement of the Karabakh dispute. It should not be forgotten that the resolution of the Karabakh dispute requires a process which is capable of converting the present situation of conflict and truce to a permanent sustainable peace. The settlement of the conflict involves an effort to safeguard collective and multinational peace as well as the agreement of all the players engaged in this dispute.
Here, the Islamic Republic of Iran should try to play a constructive role in preventing the further escalation of the Karabakh conflict and managing the crisis. Given its geographical proximity, historical and civilizational links as well as rational policy adopted in recent years to avoid siding with the parties to the conflict, the Islamic Republic of Iran is the best option for mediation and or the formation of a regional mechanism for the final resolution of the Karabakh dispute. On such a basis, it is necessary that the Islamic Republic of Iran, while adopting a policy of active impartiality, steps up its diplomatic consultations at the regional and international levels and present a practical initiative within the framework of a new regional mechanism.