Once part of the Transcaucasian Federation, the modern-day countries of Armenia and Azerbaijan remain stalemated in their fight over the Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Since its establishment in the Soviet era under Joseph Stalin, the Christian region with an ethnic Armenian minority remains isolated, surrounded by an Azerbaijani-Muslim majority, and has been the root of countless war crimes and territorial disputes. In its struggle for independence and unity with Armenia, the ethnic Armenians within Nagorno-Karabakh have continuously fought against Azerbaijani forces with little to no progress.
Since the worst of the violence ended in 1993, various attempts at peace have been made, with countless ceasefires broken. Any attempt at resolution cannot be met without first resolving underlying interests.
In an attempt to resolve the frozen conflict, the OSCE establishment of the Minsk Group has proven that any approach to meditation must allow the conflicting parties to conjoin in efforts of reaching a mutually beneficial arrangement. In 2018, certain provisions of the OSCE Minsk Group remain crucial in preserving the notion of democratization in the frozen conflict.
Perceptions of threat are deemed one of the most effective indicators of negative intergroup relations and intergroup conflicts thereafter. As described in various aspects of Realistic Group Conflict Theory (Sherif et. al, 1961); (Sherif 1966, 1967), the behavior between any intergroup is motivated by competition and any other potential threat(s); either symbolic or realistic. The greater the threat between ethnic Armenian Christians and Azerbaijani Muslims and their resources, the higher their support for a restrictive policy against the minority.
Regarding Armenia-Azerbaijan relations, “the Armenians pride themselves in being the first to accept Christianity; as for the Azeris, while there is no national religion, approximately ninety-seven percent are Shia Muslim” (Mitoyan, 2017). These religious differences fuel ethnocentric beliefs and welcome a stronger alliance to a group’s social identity. Once an out-group has been identified as a threat to the integrity of an in-group, whether materialistic or symbolic, “the seeds of intergroup conflict have been sown” (Brewer, 2011). A failed attempt at gaining independence through a referendum in 1988 led to a six-year war between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, with over 30,000 deaths on either side resulting from war crimes and ethnic cleansing (World News, 2016).
Although perceived threats may provide enough justification to “motivate offenses against the threatening out-group, the escalation of violence and aggressive actions associated with protracted intergroup conflict may require further collective cognitive effort to justify perpetuating conflict” (Brewer, 2011). By the end of the war, in 1994, Armenian forces decreased Azerbaijan’s occupied landmass by more than 15 percent and gained substantial control of Nagorno-Karabakh, and parts of its surrounding territory (World News, 2016). Under these circumstances, people will continuously engage in strategies of social competition through in-group bias, intergroup conflict, or collective action to minimize the surrounding threat (Tajfel & Turner, 1979).
The presence of any symbolic threat towards a majority group often leads to segregated attitudes against minorities, and fuels negative intragroup relations, as seen in the Middle-Eastern region of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both groups are motivated to protect their respective interests, including “defending the group boundaries from encroachment, protecting group values from dilution, and preserving group integrity” (Brewer, 2011). Analyzing the conflict within Nagorno-Karabakh through various characteristics presented in both Realistic Group Conflict Theory and Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), it becomes evident that both realistic and symbolic threats remain a contributing factor to the conflict in the Middle-Eastern region, with no long-term resolution in sight.
The history of meditation is as old as the notion of conflict and the conflict itself (Berkovitch, 2001); however, in conflict resolution, an agreement alone to end peace is not enough to ensure its lasting success. Conflicting parties “must accept each other’s existence and agree to cease all violence against one another” (Berkovitch, 2011). Successful mediation is a continuous, dedicated effort, and a successful mediator must “be expected to come before the conflicting parties, knowing that pre-existing prejudices, stereotypes, and political interests must be addressed. Within the negotiation context itself, there must be an enormous concern with detail and desire to understand fully the complexities of the issues involved” (Berkovitch, 2011). As an ethnic conflict fueled by “extreme nationalist ideology” (Carley, 1998), the collective distrust between both the Azeri and Armenian people have convinced both sides that their actions are a matter of retaliation, and not instigation.
Since its establishment in 1992, the co-chaired OSCE Minsk Group has “implemented various aspects of mediation to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with little lasting reform. The Group is co-chaired by France, the Russian Federation, and the United States” (OSCE, 2018). In September 1997, the Minsk Group “proposed a ‘phased’ approach plan, entailing an Armenian withdrawal from seven Azeri provinces, followed by a discussion of the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh” (Carley, 1998). The plan was “accepted by Azerbaijan, accepted with reservations by Armenia, and rejected out of hand by Nagorno-Karabakh” (Carley, 1998), and in 2017, Armenia has remained in control of those seven provinces.
In-depth discussions on conflict resolution must ensure negotiation. For mediation efforts, there must be an influential mediation group capable of going beyond analyzing both opposing parties and finding common ground within the conflict. In the case of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, “a critical step to mediation determined by the OSCE Minsk Group is to render territorial ownership to enact a clean start” (Mitoyan, 2017). If accomplished with success, “both parties would then be able to address their issues and interests, while addressing the dark past that they have suffered through together in the negotiation process” (Mitoyan, 2017). It must be Armenia to take the first step and “withdraw from all efforts by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group” to “mediate the conflict that has failed and thus, serves reason as to why it is termed the frozen conflict” (Mitoyan, 2017). Although mediation is “an extension of peaceful conflict management” and “involves outsider intervention” (Berkovitch, 2011), many argue that the unsuccessfulness of the Minsk Group lies within their neutral stance, which result maintains the status quo.
Successful negotiation must include a sense of victory for both parties and allow room for compromise; however, from the perspective of both regions, “the Armenians are appeased with the existing state of affairs, given that any other settlements between the two regions will most likely involve a returning of some regions that Armenia has sovereignty over” (Mitoyan, 2017). The Nagorno-Karabakh mediation efforts have only sought to acknowledge issues on a structural level, handling only the immediate issues (Mitoyan, 2017). These negotiation efforts have “confined the OSCE Minsk Group to the narrowest possible framework, reaching only the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and leaving off the agenda the deeper conflicting patterns of behavior and strategic thinking of the various parties to the conflict” (Mitoyan, 2017). Both Armenia and Azerbaijan must “develop a common position on the desirability of establishing [long-term] peace” (Berkovitch, 2011). Armenia wants Nagorno-Karabakh to “become independent and reject any deal on an autonomous status for the region”, while Azerbaijan wants to “preserve its territorial integrity and similarly declines any proposal which might lead to the independence of the region” (Mitoyan, 2017). The mediation effort implemented under the OSCE Minsk Group has successfully put a cap on the Azeri-Armenian conflict, but only for a moment. With revisions to mandated policies under the OSCE Minsk Group, both parties can attain their optimal result and ensure the success of mediation.