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What Links Kosovo, Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh?

Pockets of Instability: What Links Kosovo, Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh?

By Gallia Lindenstrauss , via INSS

During the week in which Kosovo declared independence, two important elections took place elsewhere, in Cyprus and Armenia. They attracted far less attention than did events in Kosovo, but they are also likely to influence Europe and its neighboring areas. Furthermore, there is some overlap between the issues raised in these election campaigns and Kosovo’s declaration of independence. While those supporting diplomatic recognition of Kosovar independence insist that it implies no precedent for international recognition of secessionism in other states, in practice concerns are being voiced in other regions about similar problems. Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Armenians, and Azeris are among those looking closely at events in Kosovo and their possible implications.

The elections in the Republic of Cyprus – in the southern part of the island – produced a tight race between three candidates, each of whom managed to garner more than 30% of the votes. More noteworthy, however, is the fact that the Greek Cypriots chose not to support another term for the incumbent president, Tassos Papadopoulos, who was among the leaders of the opposition to the 2004 Annan Plan for the reunification of the island. The two contenders left in the run-off election, Communist Party leader Dimitris Christofias and former Foreign Minister and right-wing leader Ioannis Kasoulides – take a more pragmatic approach to the Cypriot question, and either is more likely to succeed in negotiating reunification. At the same time, developments in Kosovo may encourage many on the Turkish side to support the permanent division of the island, and some have already begun to ask if there is any difference between the demand of Kosovar Albanians for independence and the same demand of Turkish Cypriots.

In the case of Armenia, presidential election results were far less close. The victory of incumbent Prime Minister Serge Sarkissian, who is a native of Nagorno-Karabakh (an Armenian-majority enclave inside Azerbaijan, over which violent conflict was waged between 1988 and 1994) came as no surprise. Most interest in the election focused on the campaign of independent Armenia’s first president, Levon Ter-Petrossian. As president, Ter-Petrossian had adopted a moderate approach to the question of Nagorno-Karabakh and his crushing defeat is evidence that his approach has few supporters in Armenia today or at least that those who do endorse it find it difficult to express their preferences. Still, Armenia’s control of 14% of Azerbaijani territory for more than a decade since the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is a source of instability in the region. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are investing more and more in armaments, and while energy-rich Azerbaijan can afford to spend four times as much on weapons, the Armenians claim that they can get away with spending less because they are able to acquire Russian materiel at preferential prices. Whatever the case, it seems that the two sides are preparing for a “second round” which some predict will break out towards 2012, when Azerbaijan’s oil and gas production will peak.

Developments in Cyprus and Armenia have an impact on the foreign relations of Turkey and its ties with the European Union. Peaceful trends in Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh can somewhat ease Turkey’s position in its negotiations for EU membership. By contrast, renewed violence in Nagorno-Karabakh can push Turkey, which has traditionally cooperated with Azerbaijan and maintained complicated and high-charged relations with Armenia, to take steps that would run counter to European norms. By the same token, if it appears that Turkey is retreating from its support for the Annan Plan and returning to its traditional pro-partition policy on Cyprus, that could also work against Turkey in the negotiations with the EU. Still, Turkey was one of the first to recognize Kosovar independence and there are many Turks who now hope that the international support for Kosovo might help mitigate the overwhelming international opposition to the partition of Cyprus. On the other hand, Kosovar independence is seen as a problematic precedent, not only by Greeks and Greek Cypriots, but also by Azeris. They most fear a situation in which Karabakh is permanently separated from Azerbaijan. Thus, it is hardly surprising that Azerbaijan declared its refusal to recognize Kosovar independence.

It has been argued that some states have agreed to recognize Kosovo only because the combination of circumstances attending the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia will almost certainly not arise anywhere else and that preserving the territorial integrity of states is still in the interest of the international system. Moreover, those who spread horrific scenarios following Kosovo’s declaration of independence are sometimes accused of swallowing Serbian propaganda. However, the refusal of many states confronting their own secessionist problems to recognize Kosovo suggests that fear that other groups will emulate the Kosovar Albanian fight for independence is also shared by those who are not Serbia’s traditional allies.

More generally, it remains very difficult to stipulate how relations among rival ethnic groups can be rebuilt after a long history of violence and ethnic cleansing. It is particular difficult to see how Armenians and Azeris in Nagorno-Karabakh can co-exist (after mutual ethnic cleansings that displaced more than a million people, the majority Azeris but also very many Armenians) except through an exchange of territory between the two countries. In the case of Cyprus, there has been no violence between the protagonists for over three decades, but there has been a prolonged separation following the upheavals of the 1960s and ‘70s that culminated in the Turkish invasion of 1974. Those who insist that recognition of Kosovar independence does not constitute any kind of precedent will therefore have to work hard to demonstrate what makes Kosovo unique. Otherwise, instability in these other enclaves may very well leak out into the entire regional system.



INSS Insight is published through the generosity of Sari and Israel Roizman, Philadelphia

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