Azerbaijan is hoping for more than just support from Turkey to change what is being called an “unacceptable status quo” in order to make significant progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh talks, as the conflict has already dragged on for many years.

“Armenia might display a constructive position only after it recognizes that Turkey will never leave Azerbaijan alone in the region. Only after recognizing Turkish-Azerbaijan solidarity in the region, Armenia might show a real understanding of a peaceful settlement [of the conflict] at the negotiating table,”Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesperson Elman Abdullayev said in an exclusive interview with Sunday's Zaman.

It has been more than two decades that relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan have been tense due to Nagorno-Karabakh, a territorial conflict that erupted into a full-fledged war between the two neighboring countries in 1988-1994 when Armenian armed forces under the command of current Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, along with seven adjacent provinces of Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh is a mainly Armenian-populated enclave within the territory of Azerbaijan, while the seven adjacent territories are inhabited by Azerbaijanis and surround Nagorno-Karabakh like a circle.

Thirty thousand people were killed from both sides during the war, also known as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and hundreds of thousands fled their homes before a truce was signed in 1994, but there was no peace treaty.

The two countries have since failed to negotiate a settlement despite the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group, co-chaired by France, Russia and the US, which was established in 1992 to put an end to the conflict. However, the conflict resolution remains in a stalemate as there has been no progress in negotiations. Even the personal engagement of the presidents of France, Russia and the US could not make any progress to push the parties towards peace. However, a new approach is needed to revive the negotiation process, as Azerbaijan vehemently opposes the status quo since there are more than 1 million Azerbaijani international displaced people (IDPs) dispersed across the country; as such, Baku vows to take its occupied territories back by force, even though it favors peace talks.

"If the status quo continues, war with Armenia is inevitable," said Ali Hasanov, an Azerbaijani politician who is also the national adviser to the president of Azerbaijan in Ankara. He says Azerbaijan will never give up its territories, referring to Nagorno-Karabakh. Speaking to the state-owned Anatolia news agency, Hasanov noted that if Armenia insists on continuing the status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh and does not make any clear effort to resolve the issue, Azerbaijan will have to think about other options. “We are in the process of strengthening our army and economy.”

Commenting on the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement process that started with the soccer diplomacy back in 2009 and ended in stalemate after Azerbaijan resisted the efforts at normalization between Ankara and Yerevan, Abdullayev said that any gesture from Turkey to Armenia adversely affects the peace talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, pointing out that Turkey is doing its utmost to positively change the status quo, but unfortunately, the way it is doing it hampers the whole negotiation process between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“Leading the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks in parallel with the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement process is impossible, as Armenia insists on the talks [with Turkey] without any conditions. What are the conditions? Of course, Nagorno-Karabakh,” Abdullayev said, underlining that reset of diplomatic ties between Ankara and Yerevan will be a blow to the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Nearly four years ago, in 2009, Armenia and Turkey signed two protocols in Zurich aimed at normalizing relations and opening the border. The reconciliation process between two estranged states became deadlocked when Turkey linked the ratification of the protocols with progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Yerevan, however, responded by stating the protocols contained no conditions, and as such, it should proceed with ratification of the agreements unconditionally.

The reconciliation process shook brotherly relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan, albeit for a short period of time. Although the Azerbaijani administration preferred to keep silent, saying that this is an issue that concerns only Turkey and Armenia, there was growing concern among the Azerbaijani public that Armenia could benefit from the border opening, as it in fact conflicted with Azerbaijan's policy of economically depriving Armenia in the region. Azerbaijan managed to establish a blockade against Armenia in the belief that it was the only solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Turkey in return tried to appease its strategic partner in the region -- Azerbaijan -- with a claim that it might push Armenia to compromise in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Turkey has always backed Azerbaijan, as it did in 1993 when Turkey closed its border with Armenia to force the latter to respect the borders of neighboring countries -- as Armenia has territorial claims on Turkey as well – in a move that significantly strained diplomatic ties between Armenia and Turkey.

Cihan/Sunday's Zaman