TODAY.AZ / Politics

Dennis Sammut: "A dialogue between the Azerbaijani government and its civil society on the Karabakh conflict will make the position of Azerbaijan in the international arena much stronger"

18 September 2008 [12:51] - TODAY.AZ
Day.Az interview with chief executive of British NGO LINKS Dennis Sammut.

- Can you comment about the Russian decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia?

- I was surprised that Russia has recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia unilaterally. Quite apart from the fact that Russia had recognized Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union within the borders of the Georgia SSR and had been party to various UN and OSCE resolutions which supported Georgia’s territorial integrity, the decision has wide and long term implications for the whole international system, but more significantly and immediately it has implications on all the post soviet space. The status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be defined through a wider international effort and the Russians could have put their case for independence in such a context.

- How will it influence the situation in the region?

- It makes the situation in the Caucasus even more complicated than before. I do not believe that this is what the Russians wanted. Russia has an interest in peace and stability in the Caucasus. It is just that it sometimes goes to achieve this objective in a heavy handed manner. Russia has yet to learn the lesson of how to use soft power. Tanks and guns are not the only way to project power.

- Will the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia help to resolve their conflict with Georgia?

- In the short term this is going to make even basic discussions and negotiations difficult. It will be up to the Georgian leadership to be pragmatic and not to worry too much about symbols but to engage with Abkhazia and South Ossetia on more substantial issues. If the international community is able to be creative and to be united in wanting peace in the region it can still come up with formulas that would enable both Georgia, as well as Abkhazia and South Ossetia, to come out of this with honour. The Abkhaz de facto president, Mr Bagapsh has been talking about making Abkhazia an offshore financial centre. Offshore centres need stability to succeed. So I think once the dust settles down both sides will need to find channels of communication and ways to move forward.

- And what is the impact of all this on Karabakh?

- Diplomats, both Russian and American and European say that Karabakh is a different case. But then they said this about Kosovo also! Of course they are right in that each conflict has its own specific dynamics but we must expect some fallout from the Georgian crisis in the Karabakh context too. For me there is one important lesson to be learnt by everybody, namely that it is a big mistake to leave these conflicts unresolved. There should now be an urgent renewal of the effort to solve the Karabakh conflict peacefully and both the international community and the parties directly involved need to revitalize the peace process.

- Do you think that the initiative of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to launch a Caucasus Stability and Co-operation platform can contribute to peace in the region?

- I think the Turkish initiative is long overdue and I congratulate the Turkish Government and Turkish diplomacy for starting the process. This is not going to be an easy process. The CSCE process in Europe during the cold war took ten years to prepare and two years of intensive negotiations before the Helsinki Final Act could be agreed. I think we can move quicker in the Caucasus but this will still require a long term engagement and Turkish diplomacy needs to stick with the idea through its ups and downs, of which I am sure there will be many. I believe for this idea to succeed it must be inclusive. The US and the EU must play a full role. Iran should be brought in. And then the biggest challenge will be how to engage with the de facto authorities in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh. We have an absolutely new situation now in the Caucasus. In a relatively small region we have three tier s of political entities: sovereign states that are part of the international system; states that have self declared independence and have been recognized by some, and unrecognized states. How to get everybody round the table to sort out the mess we are in now is a challenge we all have to engage with.

- How will LINKS change its work to respond to the new situation?

- We have first and foremost to continue providing a space for key players from different sides to discuss with each other in informal and semi formal frameworks. I think that if more of this was done in the previous years between Russians and Georgians and Georgians and Ossetians we will not be where we are today.

Secondly we will contribute with ideas about how we can move the different processes forward. We are working closely with other non governmental organizations in Europe and in the region and we will intensify this work. Governments must start listening more to what civil society has to say.

I want to appeal specifically to the Government of Azerbaijan to open a dialogue with its civil society on the Karabakh conflict and on the future of the region. Such a dialogue will not be a sign of weakness but a sign of strength and it will make the position of Azerbaijan in the international arena much, much stronger. But it will need to be a real dialogue not something orchestrated for media consumption.

At the moment LINKS is working with other organizations in the framework of the Consortium Initiative to prepare concrete suggestions on these issues which we hope to discuss with both the Azerbaijani, as well as the Armenian government in the near future.


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