A conversation with Vafa Guluzade, former national security advisor to President Heydar Aliyev and longtime political commentator
March 19, 2008
Azerbaijan in the World: How do you evaluate the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of Resolution 10693 reaffirming Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and demanding the immediate withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all occupied territories?
Guluzade: That Azerbaijani diplomacy was able to push through the UN General Assembly a decision reaffirming the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the right of refugees to return, I consider a great success, although in all probability, achieving it was not in reality as difficult as some in Baku have suggested for the simple reason that all the provisions in this resolution are found in the four resolutions of the UN Security Council on Azerbaijan. But despite that, this achievement is significant. Why? Because it highlights and underscores the position of the new leadership of Azerbaijan – President Ilham Aliyev.
Prior to his coming to office, his predecessor, Heydar Aliyev, made several remarkable proposals including a suggestion in 1994 that he was prepared to offer the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh the highest degree of autonomy in the world. And as an example, he suggested to Levon Ter-Petrosyan that it could have a status like that of Tatarstan. The Armenian president was surprised and asked whether he had heard correctly.
Heydar Aliyev responded firmly that he was ready to do so. Thinking about his action later, I concluded that he took this step from despair about the terrible national catastrophe of occupation, ethnic cleansing and refugee flows that his nation faced. President Heydar Aliyev clearly believed that his firm priority was to arrange for the refugees to return to their homes.
But there were three reasons why nothing could come of this. First, there is no precedent in Azerbaijan for such a step and other ethnic groups might exploit this to demand autonomy for themselves, something that would destroy the state. Second, Armenia was even then talking about something more, complete independence for Nagorno-Karabakh or its incorporation into Armenia itself, something that the status similar to that of Tatarstan would pave the way for. And third, Moscow was not willing to allow peace to break out, something that would compromise its ability to maintain its position in the South Caucasus and slow the entrance of Western influence.
In his search for a way out from the national disaster his country faced, Heydar Aliyev was prepared to do something else, something often hinted at but never officially acknowledged – exchanging territory. Again, the Armenians might have agreed but Russia was and is opposed, and for exactly the same reasons. Moscow does not want peace.
That was most obvious when Heydar Aliyev and Kocharyan reached an agreement on the issue. Once they did, the shooting incident occurred in the Armenian parliament and ended that chance for peace. By the way, at that time, I predicted just such a turn of events, one that could prevent any agreement from being realized. Before I retired, I told President Heydar Aliyev that Russia will not allow you to conclude a peace with Armenia in the current political environment. But he believed that he could get one at the Istanbul Summit, not least because the framework document reflecting the agreed-upon principles had already been prepared by the time. Then the violence in the Armenian parliament happened and that was that.
Kocharyan was summoned to Moscow where the Russians explained the facts of life to him. He then told Heydar Aliyev that all the agreements they had reached were vacated. But the Minsk Group co-chairs left the framework document in place. I think that was a mistake. It was never signed and was yet to be discussed at the Istanbul Summit, and no one knew what those discussions would result in. And when it was discussed by the two presidents later at Key West, that document did not advance the discussions. Indeed, there, Heydar Aliyev backed away from all of the concessions he had been prepared to make earlier.
But despite that, the Minsk Group co-chairs continued to stick to this framework document and put pressure on him and then on his successor Ilham Aliyev. But in every case, Ilham Aliyev has rejected their pressure, insisting that he will maintain the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. I consider his position absolutely correct. Nonetheless, because the West does not have any other mechanism for dealing with the conflict, it continues to talk about and stick to the framework document.
That makes the new UNGA resolution extremely significant because it offers an alternative way forward. It is based on the four UNSC resolutions and insists on Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity as a first principle, something President Ilham Aliyev believes and that has the support of every citizen and every political party of Azerbaijan. Indeed, on the basis of my numerous conversations I am convinced that the Azerbaijani people are prepared to wait or to fight as long as they are sure that Azerbaijan will again be whole and free. And the resolution may also help to convince the West that no stable peace will ever be achieved here by means of territorial concessions by Azerbaijan.
There really is only one way out of this problem – the United States, because of its preeminent power, must accept the principle of territorial integrity for Azerbaijan and work to realize it. In Kosovo, Washington did the impossible – it violated the territorial integrity of Serbia and at the same time proclaimed that this is not a precedent. Of course, we are pleased by the American position on that, just as we are pleased by Russian and French declarations of the same kind. But I would like to point out to everybody that this is a diplomatic game. That is, these countries support the principle, but none of them is against the possibility that Azerbaijan could voluntarily yield part of its territory in the name of peace. In their view, that would eliminate a major headache for them. But perhaps the resolution will help them understand that giving the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh autonomy is already a colossal concession, and we cannot and will not do more. In my personal opinion, the country that has carried out ethnic cleansing of the Azerbaijani ethnic minority population on its territory has no moral or legal right to demand any kind of autonomy for its own ethnic minority on our territory. That being said, giving them that autonomy is a great concession on our part.
AIW: Some have suggested that Azerbaijan should reject the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group and seek some other means of conflict resolution. What do you think of such proposals?
Guluzade: I start from the view that Azerbaijan does not have any choice and must continue to work with the Minsk Group while insisting upon the positions I outlined above concerning its territorial integrity. At present, the United States has enormous influence in all international organizations beginning with the UN and ending with the OSCE and other European Organizations. What would we gain by having the Americans come up with another group, say the Warsaw Group, in place of the Minsk Group? That will not change much. I would also like to stress that the governments of the USA, France and Russia are not much interested in the activities of their representatives in the Minsk Group, for they understand that peace in the current geopolitical environment is unachievable. Thus, all the activities of the three co-chairs are the products of their own design. This means that we must continue to defend our positions within the existing formats and to explain why we will not make any concessions on our core commitment to the territorial integrity of our country.
AIW: You mentioned Kosovo. How do you think Kosovo’s independence might affect the outcome of other regional conflicts, including the one in Nagorno-Karabakh?
Guluzade: Any question in international affairs must be considered from the point of view of one’s own national interests. From the point of view of the national interests of Baku, the weakening of Russia is very important. Consequently, the dismemberment of the Yugoslav empire, and the eventual membership of both of its parts, Kosovo and Serbia, in NATO may be considered as a positive course of events for Azerbaijan. Russia needs a strong Serbia because quite possibly that is Moscow’s only reliable ally in Europe. Consequently, the division of Serbia works against Moscow. I personally am against doing anything that advances the national interests of Russia or alternatively am for anything, like NATO’s eastward expansion and further evolution of GUAM, that undercuts them because Russia was the colonizer of Azerbaijan.
Russia enslaved Azerbaijan and all the Muslim peoples, including those which are now within Russia. Moscow is doing everything to deprive them of their national identity. It has changed the names of their lands to purely Russian ones. It is seeking to russify all the peoples living in Russia and has introduced the term “rossiyanin” to designate the product.
This effort, an echo of the one the Soviet Union employed against the Turkic republics, is far from over. And I hope that sometime in the not distant future, the star of freedom will shine for such entities as Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Buryatia and other peoples, and they will be able to speak their own languages again.
AIW: You touched upon NATO and its eastward expansion. How do you rate the pace of Azerbaijan’s Euro-Atlantic integration?
Guluzade: Azerbaijan in my mind is integrating into Euro-Atlantic structures without any unnecessary noise. Azerbaijan’s approach is working and it is welcome. Baku’s policy in this direction is both principled and balanced, and it allows it to move forward without provoking the kind of Russian reaction that Georgia’s more outspoken approach has guaranteed.
AIW: You mentioned GUAM. What do you think its prospects are given Russian alleged efforts to force Moldova out of that group?
Guluzade: In my view, the future of GUAM depends primarily on the United States. If the US wants GUAM to transform itself into a military-political-economic union, then that will happen. The Americans also could make Turkey, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic or someone else a member of this group. But I want to stress that the U.S. has now problems with Russia and it must resolve them first. Consequently, having helped get GUAM started, the U.S. is not pushing that group forward in the ways many of its members expected. And in that environment, GUAM will remain a relatively loose consultative body, though a number of important projects are already being realized within its framework.
AIW: What is in this case GUAM’s identity? Can GUAM be seen as an alternative to NATO for the GUAM member-states?
Guluzade: There is no alternative to NATO. The point is that the United States currently has a lot of problems with Russia to solve, which is why the US doesn’t yet want to give GUAM a concrete shape and identity. GUAM is actually not in the interests of China either. Remember that Uzbekistan has just recently been a member of GUAM, and it can always return back. It is just a matter of leadership in power. So, this is not that easy as it seems. But I see a great future for GUAM.
AIW: What do you make of recent efforts to unite the Turkic speaking world?
Guluzade: Pan-Turkism died once before without even being fully born. International politics do not rest on ethnic kinship; it is about national interests. I am entirely in favor of a common Turkic television channel and other similar initiatives that promote awareness of cultural commonalities, but I think our national approaches should be guided by our national interests rather than something else. Sometimes we Turkic language speakers will agree and sometimes we won’t. Our relations with Turkmenistan concerning the future of the Kapaz/Sardar island is a clear example. I also doubt that Anatolian Turkish will become the lingua franca of Turkic countries in this region. Russian used to play that role, now English is assuming that role – and in Turkey itself, English is pushing out Turkish in some sectors.