Economics may hold the key to breaking the stalemate in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. Turkish and Azerbaijani officials reportedly are seriously mulling the possibility of Armenian participation in the long-planned Nabucco pipeline project as part of a comprehensive Karabakh peace pact.
Turkey is leading efforts to energize the Karabakh peace process. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Turkish, Armenian and Azerbaijani officials met in New York on September 26 to discuss the Karabakh issue and other security matters. That meeting kindled hopes that a settlement could be achieved by the end of 2008.
Although details of the recent discussions have been scarce, some experts believe that the three sides have probed a possible bargain under which Armenia would become part of the Nabucco pipeline plans, in return for a greater degree of flexibility concerning Yerevan's position on Karabakh.
Yerevan's willingness to modify its long-standing demand for Karabakh independence would appear to be the key as to whether this latest push for Karabakh peace can be successful. Azerbaijani officials seem willing to work with Armenia on the Nabucco project, if Yerevan shows sufficient flexibility on Karabakh. "Of course, Azerbaijan has set political conditionality related to the Karabakh conflict on this [Nabucco] issue," Elhan Shahinoglu, the director of the Baku-based Atlas center for political research, told EurasiaNet.
Turkish analyst Sinan Ogan, the chair of the Ankara-based TURKSAM think tank, said that the topic of Armenia's participation in the Nabucco project came up during US Vice President Dick Cheney's recent, controversial visit to Baku. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. "There are serious plans to involve Armenia in this project. Turkey and Azerbaijan were against this idea at first, but now Armenia's participation seems realistic," Ogan said in comments broadcast September 19 on Voice of America radio.
Initial indicators are that the three sides did not make significant headway on the Karabakh issue during the September 26 meeting in New York. On September 28, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan flatly admitted that 'there are no concrete results yet," according to a report distributed by the RIA-Novosti news agency.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul also revealed that there has not yet been any movement on the matter of Turkey ending its economic embargo against Armenia. The AzerTaj news agency reported Gul as telling a Turkish diaspora group on September 28 that "no talks over the border [re-]opening with Armenia are possible before Armenia's liberation of Azerbaijani occupied territories."
While the notion of linking a potential Armenian role in Nabucco to the Karabakh peace process has not been raised publicly, Gul came close to making a public admission on September 10 during a diplomatic trip to Baku. "No doubt that the fast liberation of the occupied [Azerbaijani] territories would be an important step and it would encourage very efficient economic cooperation in the region. Pipelines and transport communications would cover the entire Caucasus region," Gul said in Baku.
Shahinoglu, the Baku political analyst, believes the peace process is now at a delicate stage. Any potential breakthrough will likely require the United States and Russia - two of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group - to set aside their present differences and engage in diplomatic cooperation, Shahinoglu suggested.
"Obviously, there is a completely new dynamic surrounding the evolution of talks on the Karabakh conflict, creating unique opportunities for a breakthrough," Shahinoglu said. "However, this dynamic could [possibly] result in resumption of the war, if the great powers - first and foremost Russia and United States - continue to differ fundamentally on their approach to the future of South Caucasus region."
Shahinoglu added that the Kremlin was not especially interested in seeing the Turkish initiative concerning Karabakh succeed. He reasoned that the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations and the settlement of the Karabakh question, as well as Yerevan's potential involvement in Nabucco, would all do considerable harm to Russia's geopolitical interests in the Caucasus.
Shahin Abbasov is a freelance correspondent based in Baku.