Sochi agreement is good news for refugees and IDPs

On 10 March 2011, Mediamax (, to which our Secretary General, Michael Kambeck, is a columnist, published an analysis about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In the article, he discusses the potential changes for refugees and IDP’s after the Sochi Summit of 5 March 2011.


Click here to read the article in Armenian

Click here to read the article in Russian

“Sochi agreement is good news for refugees and IDPs”


During their recent meeting in Sochi, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on long overdue concrete steps to build up more confidence. Accompanied by yet another tragic shooting incident on the Line of contact, in which 20-year-old Armenian soldier Grigor Shakhkyan was killed through the bullet of an Azerbaijani sniper, the parties above all agreed that in future each such incident will be thoroughly investigated by the OSCE – and the OSCE has stated on 9 March to fully implement that mandate. Besides the conflicting parties agreed to exchange Prisoners of War and War Casualties.
While Armenia and Azerbaijan should clearly be congratulated for this concrete achievement, the reaction from lower rank political Azerbaijan and from NGOs connected to Baku was a provocative reflex. The claim was spread that this agreement was a success only for the Armenian side and that especially “870.000 IDPs” would now face a longer waiting time before they could return to their homes. Apart from the fact that such vastly exaggerated figures reveal the non-constructive intentions – the USSR census never counted so many people, even if all disputed areas and all ethnic groups were taken together, the figure is at best the number of people housed by Azerbaijan in its specially designed refugee camps – such statements are based on the medieval believe that one side can only win if the other loses. In that thinking, anything which leads to a peace solution, which always means compromise, prolongs the pain. Instead, modern history has shown that wars directed against the will of the local population always produce a situation in which there are extremely high risks, unpredictable long-term consequences and mainly losers on all sides.
That is why the Sochi agreement is good news for both, IDPs and refugees. It means a small but concrete and important step towards peace. I have met several refugees in Karabakh and in Armenia and their suffering stories are heartbreaking and an understandable reason for complete distrust and even hatred against Azerbaijan. But in most of them one wish is strongest: Don’t let my children suffer the same! There will be only one way for this wish to come true, both for IDPs and refugees: Peace.
The country I know best, Germany, has fought many wars for hundreds of years, most strongly with it’s neighbour France. The suffering of refugees and IDPs was comparable and even in greater numbers. Children learnt at school that the neighbour is evil and must die. After the tragedy of the Second World War, we recognised that we have to end the lose-lose situations and that we should start confidence building measures, such as the ones agreed in Sochi. Many followed, above all the trade agreements of the European Communities (later EU) and no earlier than 15 March 1991, only 20 years ago and after two generations of ‘relative peace’ for our children, a peace treaty was formally enacted. Incidentally, German refugees from arears East of the rivers Oder and Neisse accepted (some painfully) that they could not return, for the sake of the peaceful and prosperous future they had built up in the meantime for themselves and their children.
About Karabakh, there is now homework for everyone. Of course, it is possible that Baku might soon ignore Sochi, just as it claimed after the Moscow declaration of November 2008 that “only peaceful means” does not exclude taking Karabakh by military force. Such moves strongly damaged the credibility and coupled with weekly direct war threats made Azerbaijan look like a war thirsty country. But the main problem was that Baku has in the past deprived itself of political options by radicalising its own population, especially the IDPs. Such a radicalised population will demand only one thing: a full success – which is impossible to deliver. However, a real politician needs options to chose from, otherwise he becomes an administrator who decides nothing. This is why President Aliyev should see and sell this success to his own population as what it is: a proud step towards peace and towards the end of their suffering. If he has not lost touch with reality, if he does not want to look like Libya’s Gaddafi, he must now start to get himself out of the corner into which he manoevered himself, by selling negotiation success stories positively at home and thus regaining his regional and international credibility. This includes alerting his public about the fact that the implementation of the so-called Madrid Principles – as a whole, i.e. as a comprehensive peace plan including all elements of self-determination for Nagorno-Karabakh and territorial integrity – is the only way predictably leading to the return of the IDPs.
Armenia has already accepted the Madrid Principles as a whole and should communicate this repeatedly, as this means “peace is in reach, no war is necessary”. But it must now find the difficult balance of implementing diplomatic achievements, such as the Sochi agreement, while facing a neighbour who still has to prove his credibility. Everybody knows that Armenia would be prepared for an Azerbaijani attack, but Yerevan has nothing to gain from stating this as a reflex to every war threat. Instead, Yerevan should continue to show why it deserves the moral high ground and the international support needed for Nagorno-Karabakh: the intervention in 1991 was only a reaction required to stop the human suffering caused by the Azerbaijani pogroms, then the so-called Operation Ring and also a repetition of developments witnessed in Nakhichevan. Armenia is not aggressive, is ready for peace and does not do anything to the contrary. There is visibly no settlement programme to “Armenianise” the districts around Karabakh and Armenia fulfills it’s international commitments reliably. Armenia also has stated to have nothing to hide from OSCE Minsk Group observers. This is the way to create confidence and to offer a tangible way to peace.
The OSCE Minsk Group must be praised, as it has for some years now changed it’s “snail-progress” approach into a “concrete-steps!” approach, mainly thanks to the Russian government’s initiatives. Of all international players, Russia has most to lose from any possible escalation – politically and economically. Russia will secure its goals if it continues on that path, and besides scores valuable points on the international scene, which is watching it carefully since the Georgian war. If France wants to underline that it is rightfully “alone” in representing Europe in the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, it must now push to fill the Sochi agreement with concrete life. Armenia and Azerbaijan have now given a de-facto mandate to the OSCE for more observation on the Line of Contact and France should implement this by pushing for a strong increase of observers, while it’s less relevant from which Minsk Group state they will originate.
And the refugees and IDPs? They should be part of the next confidence building measures. They cannot gain from any radicalisation, only from their strongest commitment to gain more peace for their children than they had for themselves. There is still a long way to real peace. But it has been done elsewhere and if everyone who loves his country works for peace, it can also be done in Karabakh.

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