Brenda Shaffer (“Nagorno-Karabakh After Crimea,” May 3, 2014) is right that a reenergized U.S.-Russian partnership to end the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh would be worthwhile. But she errs in ignoring the role of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in ending the fighting.

In her discussion of the protagonists in Nagorno-Karabakh, Shaffer makes no mention of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, the independent but formally unrecognized state that governs most of the region. That reflects an inaccurate view of the conflict as being between only Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was a signatory to the 1994 ceasefire agreement and, until 1998, an official party to the peace talks. If the United States truly wants to resolve the conflict, engaging the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic will be just as important as engaging Russia. This means Washington should encourage the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to return to its seat at the negotiating table alongside Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Furthermore, Shaffer errs in tying Armenian-Turkish reconciliation to the advancement of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. She assumes that Ankara’s 2009 so-called linkage policy, in which Turkey and Armenia agreed to reopen their borders and establish normal diplomatic relations, was a genuine attempt at conflict resolution. It was not. Rather, Turkey linked the Turkey-Armenia Protocols to a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to avoid ratification of the protocols. Indeed, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue appears nowhere in the protocols because it is an entirely separate issue -- and it should be treated as such moving forward.

Finally, in writing that the trade benefits of Armenian-Turkish rapprochement “can only be granted if Armenia withdraws from a significant portion of the occupied territories,” Shaffer underestimates the importance of the Armenian-controlled buffer zones in Nagorno-Karabakh, which exist to protect population centers that are farther inward.

Azerbaijan’s aggressive behavior -- as evidenced by its rejection of a proposal by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to remove snipers from the line of contact dividing Armenian and Azerbaijani forces (something Armenia agreed to) -- is proof that control over these territories remains a security necessity for Armenia. Until Azerbaijan demonstrates that it really wants peace, trade with Turkey will not be enough to change Armenia’s calculus. 


Executive Director, Americans for Artsakh