Monday, December 30, 2013

Steps Toward Peace in the Caucasus

James J. Coyle: Steps toward peace in the Caucasus
By JAMES J. COYLE / For the Register
Published: Nov. 27, 2013 Updated: Dec. 2, 2013 9:27 a.m.
Last week, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Vienna for the first time in almost two years.
The summit was important, because these two countries have been involved in a “frozen conflict” for two decades, ever since signing a ceasefire in 1994.
The discussions were held under the auspices of the Minsk Group, created by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and co-chaired by the United States, Russia and France. At the conclusion, the co-chairs issued a statement that the presidents had:
• Agreed to advance negotiations toward a peaceful settlement;
• Instructed their foreign ministers to cooperate with the co-chairs to build on the work done to date, with the aim of intensifying the peace process; and,
• Agreed to meet again in the months ahead.
In addition, the co-chairs agreed to hold working sessions in Kiev on Dec. 5-6, on the margins of an OSCE Ministerial meeting.
For many Armenians in Southern California with families and friends in the affected area, progress in the talks should be welcome news. Armenia's borders with both Turkey and Azerbaijan remain closed because of this conflict.
Today, Armenia is the poorest country in the South Caucasus and its population has decreased 40 percent since the conflict began in 1988. A settlement to the conflict holds the promise of greater prosperity in that country.
Azerbaijan has also felt the effects. Armenia occupies approximately 20 percent of what is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, in defiance of four UN Security Council resolutions. This has resulted in the displacement of one million Azerbaijanis from their homes.
The United States also has interests in the area – domestically and internationally.
Domestically, Armenians have been immigrating to the United States since the 1890s; today, 1.4 million Americans can trace their heritage to Armenia. They have a great interest in what happens in their ancestral homeland.
Internationally, America's major ally in the Middle East, Israel, gets 60 percent of its oil imports from Azerbaijan. European allies, including Greece and Italy, are patiently awaiting the construction of the Trans Anatolian Pipeline that will bring desperately needed natural gas from Azerbaijan to their countries.
A renewal of the fighting could threaten these important economic lifelines. In addition, approximately 40 percent of all air freight for our troops in Afghanistan transit Azerbaijan.
This route, called the Northern Distribution Network, will be crucial in the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. Azerbaijani troops have fought side by side with Americans in both Iraq and Afghanistan.