Cool heads needed in Nagorno-Karabakh’s long hot summer

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A tank serves as a war memorial in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. [Adam Jones/Flickr]

Summer is a dangerous time in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian and Azeri forces must keep their cool to avoid escalating the 27 year-old conflict, writes Tim Stott. 

Tim Stott is the editor of Caspian Review.

While so many in Europe are now enjoying their weeks of summer relaxation, there is a small band of professionals and volunteers for whom summer is a tense time. They’re the “peace” observers and NGO workers who are presently bracing themselves for more bloodshed on the contact line of Nagorno-Karabakh. This time last year scores died in the worst clashes in almost a decade.

Summer in this occupied region has proved to be anything but relaxing.

But this year there is a legal twist in the 27-year Nagorno-Karabakh saga that brings hope to the one million displaced people who long ago decided they had been forgotten by the international community.

At the start of summer the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in the case of seven men, Azerbaijani Kurds, who have been unable to return home since been driven out by Armenian soldiers in the wake of the 1992 invasion.

The court ruled their human rights had been violated in the areas of protection of property, the right to private and family life, and the right to an effective remedy. But more tellingly for the future of this unresolved conflict, it found that Armenia, as the occupying force, exercises “effective control over Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories”.

This is a blow to Armenia which has a portrayed Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state; albeit an independent state recognised by no-one. It also means the government of the Armenian capital Yerevan can be held to account for what goes on under its occupation. The status quo just became harder to maintain.

And it strengthens the calls by MPs from 24 European nations for a fair trial for two alleged spies, convicted last year of murder by a “court of first instance of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”. Any claim to legitimacy by that court has now been seriously challenged.

While the ECHR ruling might well have changed the stakes in Nagorno-Karabakh, it is still far removed from the beleaguered peace process, of which we hear so little in the European media.

That’s because the OSCE Minsk group has achieved nothing to date, powerless to enforce any of the international resolutions calling for Armenia’s immediate and unconditional withdrawal.

It also means that this ruling, more than ten years after the legal process began, is largely symbolic given the six remaining men (one died in 2005) can’t return to their homes.

And sadly, it will have little impact on the contact line. If this summer passes without a repeat of last year’s loss of life, it will have nothing to do with a group of judges in Strasbourg and everything to do with restraint shown by both sides. Cool heads are needed once again.

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