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Spotlight Article

Securing Lasting Peace in the Caucasus

Elmar Mammadyarov, Foreign Minister of Azerbajian
December 05, 2012

Written by Elmar Mammadyarov, Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan

At the end of this week, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will gather in Dublin for its annual ministerial meeting. I remain hopeful that we can achieve real progress on resolving some of the outstanding issues facing our region—in particular, achieving lasting peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is economically prosperous due to an oil and gas boom, but our efforts to build a modern country are handicapped by security issues. The broader Caspian region is plagued with tension, which could quickly escalate from political problems between neighbors to open conflict. The most irritating and damaging issue for my country is with neighboring Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh province of Azerbaijan.

This province belongs to Azerbaijan. Armenian forces have occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent Azerbaijani districts since the 1993 cease-fire that was negotiated by the OSCE. The occupation has displaced nearly one million Azeri citizens from their place of origin.

As a result, our relations with Armenia are practically nonexistent. There is also a distinct lack of economic cooperation and trade between our two counties.

Azerbaijan wants peace so that we can continue to grow our economy, develop our energy resources and advance our relations with Europe and our neighbors. But Armenia also has a stake in peace with Azerbaijan. The country is isolated in the region largely because of this conflict. It is excluded from all regional infrastructure and energy projects, such as the oil and gas pipelines passing from the Caspian Sea to Turkey and Europe via Georgia, as well as a new railroad line between Azerbaijan and Turkey through Georgia, to be inaugurated this year. When we can agree on lasting peace, Armenia could become a stakeholder in these regional projects.

 
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Associated Press

Azerbaijan is becoming a major energy exporter to Europe via the pipeline agreement signed with Turkey.

Settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would benefit Europe as well. Azerbaijan is becoming a major energy exporter to Europe, and with the new pipeline agreement signed with Turkey, Europe will soon receive 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Azerbaijan. That volume could eventually rise to more than 20 billion cubic meters.

European economic interests in Azerbaijan and the region extend beyond energy. Stability in the Caucasus is now part of Europe's internal security. It is no longer a matter of the EU engaging with its periphery. Like Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the Caucasus is now part of an internal EU security debate.

One thing should be clear: We will not accept a territorial division of Azerbaijan. Our territorial integrity must be respected, as this is international law. In 1993, the U.N. Security Council approved four relevant resolutions calling for an immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from our territory. The Armenian military withdrawal must be comprehensive, and it needs to take place now.

Beyond these two conditions, we are flexible and willing to support any peace process. We will back it up with a real economic development plan for Nagorno-Karabakh, including serious investments.

We can resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh problem only if there is political will on all sides. There certainly is such will on our side. Azerbaijan is the biggest proponent of an immediate settlement of the conflict, and we stand committed to building a stable economic and security environment in our region.

I suggest we move forward in Dublin and achieve progress on this issue beyond what has already been agreed with Armenia and the three OSCE co-chairs: France, the U.S. and Russia. After drafting a comprehensive peace agreement within a fixed time frame, the OSCE should agree on a new Minsk Group meeting to be attended by all parties.

Peace in the Caucasus would open up new avenues for cooperation and regional integration. With peace, we could all progress more quickly in our efforts to catch up with the rest of Europe. Dublin is our peace opportunity. I urge our Armenian counterparts to seize it, together with us.

Mr. Mammadyarov is foreign minister of Azerbaijan.

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