27 December 2006

1331) "Armenians And Turks Don’t Need Mediators" The former mediator thinks

Interview with the former US co-chair of OSCE Minsk group, Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh

- Turkey has always been perceived as a negative player in the process of Karabakh conflict settlement. Do you see a possibility for Turkey to ever play a positive role in this process, taking into account its huge influence on the parties of the conflict?

- Turkey has actually already acted in helpful ways. When the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process was moving forward in late 2000 the Turkish government was supportive of a variety of measures that would have helped make peace more likely. At that time, the three Minsk Group co-chairs visited Ankara and met with foreign minister Ismail Cem to review what was envisioned in a potential peace settlement and the steps that Turkey could take to help advance peace efforts. Today the N-K peace process is exploring different solutions, but the potential for Turkey to be helpful remains.

Unfortunately, the current political and economic situation – with the blockade and sanctions – precludes normal relations between Armenia and Turkey. Nevertheless, many Armenians, in Yerevan and in the countryside, and many Turks – in particular along the border in the Kars region – have made clear their desire for more direct economic and cultural interaction.

- Some experts think public opinion has nothing to do with the settlement of Karabakh conflict, and public engagement would only harm the process. What is your view as an experienced mediator?

- I believe public opinion does have a positive role to play and that public engagement is very important. Leaders of the countries in the region -- and I’d include not just Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also Turkey and Russia -- should ensure that there is a general understanding by their publics of what kind of solutions could work to bring about peace. In my opinion it is very important to prepare populations for compromise. I think that if there is no public discussion of possible compromise, especially when there is a backdrop of statements by officials suggesting “we’ll never give up anything,” it becomes very hard for leaders to make reconciliation and compromise among themselves and then gain the support of their own people as the solution will not match their earlier rhetoric or declarations.

As for greater public engagement, this is a task not only for political leaders, but also for NGOs and civil society groups. It is important to bring people together to better understand both the costs of continued division and the benefits of a definitive settlement. Today in Azerbaijan, everyday life is improving with the new wealth being generated by energy exports. However, people should understand that a peace settlement would offer even greater prosperity and long-term security.

- Do you really believe there could be a South Caucasus without borders?

- I think that it is not something that is on the horizon today. Nevertheless, a South Caucasus with borders that are more open for trade and transportation should be achievable. This would require progress on the issues that have divided countries in this region. The peace process is the first part of that. When you visit the city of Gyumri on the border between Turkey and Armenia and see the unused railway connection, it is clear the great potential for significant trade and transport between Turkey and Armenia. When you go to the border of Turkey and Nakhchivan and that between Nakhchivan and Armenia, it is obvious that these routes too could support more significant economic activity and engagement.

The situation that exists today in the South Caucasus region is artificial, but it has been so for a long time. When the Soviet Union existed, Armenia’s border with Turkey was sealed. And again, with the reestablishment of an independent Armenia, these borders remained sealed. Similarly, travel and trade are difficult within Georgia, due to the unsettled situations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Nevertheless, I can envision a day when these barriers are gone, enabling trade and communication to flow freely to the benefit of the entire region. Realistically, however, this breakthrough will require a lot of hard work.

- Do you think Armenians and Turks need mediators? Or do they have to resolve their problems themselves?

- I believe that the two nations can deal with their problems either way. Outside mediators can often be helpful, offering a different perspective or suggesting an impartial way to move forward. At the same time, knowing the Turks and Armenians well, I think they have the ability and the capacity to do this on their own.


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