Over the last 25 years, many proposals have been suggested for the resolution of the Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Among them have been a swapping of territories between the two former Soviet republics and autonomy for Karabakh at the level approaching that of Finland’s Aaland Islands. Despite that, the Minsk Group, charged with settling the conflict, has not been able to find a solution that squares the circle between the principles of the maintenance of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the right of national self-determination for the ethnic Armenians of Karabakh.
Now, a new proposal is on the table. Last week, Mikhail Formuzal, the bashkan or head of the Gagauz Republic in Moldova, told Azerbaijan’s Publika.az portal that the status of his republic within Moldova could be a model for the resolution of the Karabakh dispute. Formuzal’s proposal has attracted attention in the Russian media, although much less so in that of the West. However, the Gagauz bashkan’s proposal may have the effect of further destabilizing the situation in the South Caucasus—indeed, that may have been the reason behind it. And thus, his ideas deserve careful scrutiny (regnum.ru, July 16).
Formuzal noted that “in the history of the formation of Gagauzia and Transnistria [the breakaway far eastern territory of Moldova] there is much in common, but to put these cases in one rank is incorrect,” from the point of view of both history and the aspirations of their respective political leaders. Gagauzia has “its own vision on many issues, which is different from the official position of Chisinau” particularly on European integration but also on domestic matters. “But,” he continued, “we start from the fact that Gagauzia is an inalienable part of the independent Republic of Moldova. More than that, we see our mission as being a unique anchor for Moldovan statehood and consistently speak out against processes of the loss by the state of its sovereignty.”
As such, Formuzal said, Gagauzia’s experience has much to say about the resolution of other inter-ethnic conflicts, including the one over Karabakh. With regard to that conflict and other similar ones, he continued, those involved should start from three “principles.” First, he argued, “the key role in the resolution must be played by the sides of the conflict, and the role of the international community must be limited to the creation of conditions for the negotiation process.”
Second, the sides must be committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict no matter how long that takes because “ten years of negotiations are better than one day of fighting. And third, he pointed “to the example of the Gagauz Autonomy as a quite rare example of the peaceful resolution of a territorial conflict in practice.” That resolution, Formuzal continued, is enshrined in the 1994 Moldovan act that gave the Gagauz Republic extensive autonomy in exchange for Gagauzia ending its pursuit of independence.
“I think,” the bashkan said, “that in the framework of these principles and ideas, the resolution of the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh should be considered.”
Though Formuzal did not openly express this, his audience certainly knows that the 1994 autonomy law specifies that Gagauzia has the right to pursue independence in the future if for any reason the borders of Moldova change—either because of the achievement of independence by the breakaway and Russia-backed Transnistria Republic or because of a decision by the remainder of Moldova to become part of Romania. The law, at least in the Gagauz interpretation, thus creates a trigger mechanism, one that takes effect under those conditions.
What would be the consequences of the Gagauz model being applied to the Karabakh conflict? It could, of course, be the basis for Armenia and the Karabakh Armenians to accept Karabakh’s autonomy within Azerbaijan because it would allow the region to pull out of any agreement if its residents felt that the provisions of autonomy were in any way being violated by Baku. Moreover, it might even be the basis for acceptance by Azerbaijan, particularly if Moscow went along with the deal and Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity were thus recognized by the accord.
But if the positives of such an approach are obvious, so too are the negatives. On the one hand, such an agreement about Karabakh could, in fact, institutionalize uncertainty. Gagauzia has behaved in ways that threaten Chisinau’s control, and Karabakh could do the same in the future—especially since it would certainly insist, as Gagauzia does, that it and not the central government has the right to decide whether its autonomy has been truly protected.
And on the other, such an accord might lead to even more problems for Azerbaijan, encouraging other ethnic minorities there, as well as their sponsors in Moscow and Tehran, to challenge Baku by declaring independence or demanding autonomy. Such steps would be easier for such movements to take if Karabakh secured such an independence triggering device in a peace accord with Baku. Given how high tensions currently are along Azerbaijan’s northern border (see EDM, July 21), such a danger should not be ignored (ndelo.ru, July 7).