Thursday, November 24, 2016

Trump and Armenia’s Occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh - Jason Katz

by Jason Katz

It is appalling that Armenia continues to use the argument of self-determination to occupy this region.

Recently, Azerbaijan celebrated 25 years of independence from Soviet rule. Arguably Eurasia’s most Western-friendly and secular Muslim-majority nation, Azerbaijan has long fought another battle, one that the election of Donald Trump may shift: the occupation of its Nagorno-Karabakh region by Armenia. 

As the international community often does, a multilateral body was established to “solve” the problem following a bloody war from 1988 to 1992. For decades, the OSCE Minsk Group, co-chaired by Russia, France, and the U.S., has produced no demonstrable gains. Successive U.S. presidents have paid lip service to the Minsk Group and pleaded for time. 

The election of Donald Trump may be a game changer.  

During the election, Armenian-American organizations, playing identity politics, waged a spiteful campaign against Trump, with continuous online attacks and the copious spread of misinformation. Parenthetically, Armenian-American organizations endorsed Bernie Sanders against Hillary Clinton. If anything, this shows ethnic lobbyists to be out of touch and perhaps even irrelevant. Note the defeat of ardently pro-Armenian and anti-Trump Republican Senator Mark Kirk, a co-chair of the Armenian Caucus, Congressman Bob Dold of Illinois, or of the Nevada Senate hopeful Joe Heck in Nevada. 

President-elect Trump, owing nothing to the Armenian-American lobby, yet on record as having positive views vis a vis Azerbaijan, may take his characteristically pragmatic, national interest-based approach to Nagorno-Karabakh and move the conflict to finality. 

Azerbaijan, located in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia, has been a steadfast strategic partner of the U.S. since its independence and represents exactly the kind of a secular, pragmatic, and modern partner America needs. Azerbaijan has generally tacked toward the West, although, as with so many nations, some wavering occurred during the current U.S. administration. However, Azerbaijan has continued building oil and gas pipelines that flow to Europe and Western markets. In addition, Azerbaijan continues to support the U.S. in international fora and has become a close and, some may say, indispensable ally of Israel.  

As Azerbaijan declared its independence, Armenia annexed Nagorno–Karabakh and adjacent districts with Russia’s support and Iran’s tacit approval. Wholesale murder, torture, rape and ethnic cleansing was the order of the day and nearly one million citizens of Azerbaijan became internally displaced persons as a result.   

Oddly, Armenia claims the right of self-determination, however, they make this claim after they occupied and ethnically cleansed all Azerbaijanis from the region. What about the self-determination of the thousands of Azerbaijanis murdered and the 1 million waiting to go home?  In fact, given that even the Armenians in Nagorno–Karabakh live under the occupation by Armenia’s military, they can hardly claim self-determination. This is why a peaceful resolution is needed soon to address the needs and aspirations of both the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities of Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Self-determination was originally determined as a “human right” by the UN in order to protect citizens from colonial rule and has been perverted by Armenia. This is no different than the approach frequently used by Germany in 1930s to occupy the Sudetenland and even annex Austria. The prominence of self-determination in the post WWII and post-colonial world emerged to prevent the type of occupation Armenian now maintains. 

Armenia clearly oppressed Azerbaijanis. Thus, according to the U.N.’s own definition, Armenia’s actions are contrary to world peace. Furthermore, when describing self-determination, the U.N. discusses the rights of “all peoples” to freely pursue “their economic, social and cultural development.” Again, Azerbaijanis were denied.    

Of note, in the final decree of this resolution, the U.N. resolves that all states respect a peoples’ “sovereign rights and their territorial integrity.” Both of these rights have been violated by Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijanis were not allowed to govern themselves, and thus their sovereignty was denied.   

Similarly, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is violated by occupation. The principal of territorial integrity, under international law, proscribes secessionist movements or border changes promoted by one state over another. This violation of territorial integrity is recognized widely, including by NATO, the UN, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and all UN member nations.   

It is appalling that Armenia continues to use the argument of self-determination to occupy this region. In order to comply with the decrees and resolutions of the UN, and to cease human rights violations, Armenia must immediately stop its occupation of Azerbaijan and allow Nagorno-Karabakh’s hundreds of thousands displaced people to finally return to their homes in peace with their neighbors.   

Although much will be on the new president’s plate, President Trump should strongly consider putting his weight behind solving this longstanding conflict that promises to cause his administration significant issues if not addressed -- lest we forget the violent flare-up of hostilities last April. Another such conflagration promises to escalate into a region war with the involvement of Russia, Iran, Turkey and others.  

Jason Katz is the principal of TSG, LLC, a strategic communications and political consultancy, specializing in the foreign policy and international relations spaces. For nearly a decade, he served as the Director of Governmental Relations and Public Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, based in Los Angeles.


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