*by Marianna Mkrtchyan*
An interview with Bulgarian political scientist, Professor of Moscow State University and Varna University of Economics Georgi Kolarov
Mr. Kolarov, do you think it is possible to draw a parallel between the past Bulgaria-Macedonia relations and the current Armenia-Artsakh ones?
On 2 August 1903, in the territory of present-day Macedonia and Northwestern Greece the Bulgarians’ biggest anti-Ottoman rebellion broke out. It lasted for 3 months and ended up in failure due to the prevalence of the Turkish army. Part of Bulgaria, which was already free at that time, was unable to help the rebels. This factor, as well as the following Balkan wars, WW I and WW II resulted in separation of these territories from Bulgaria. Later, for a number of reasons the local elite in Macedonia started developing national consciousness on anti-Bulgarian basis with the support of Royal Yugoslavia and Greece.
It came to the point that the local Communist regime started imposing anti-Bulgarian consciousness on the local Bulgarians. Moreover, Macedonia claimed that the rebellion against the Ottoman Empire was committed by Macedonians and that Bulgarians had nothing to do with that. I think if Armenia’s leadership regularly neglects the interests of Karabakh people, one day people in Stepanakert may say, “We are not Armenians and we have nothing in common with Armenians and we won the Karabakh war, not Armenians. This is what is being observed in Macedonia now. On the threshold of 2 August 2014, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras declared that the Macedonian language is a dialect of the Bulgarian language and that the nation of the Macedonians and their language were invented by the Communists in the 1930s.
Let’s talk about the parallels.
If the Karabakh Armenians have not yet separated from the rest of Armenians, a big role here belongs to the presidents Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan, who came to power as victors of the Karabakh war. But I can assure you that if Levon Ter-Petrosyan had remained at power, the process of separation would have started long ago. I have been to Karabakh twice. I paid my second visit there as an observer at the presidential election in late July 2012. I can say that unlike the Armenians of Yerevan, the Armenians of Karabakh have no strong pro-Western sentiments. As soon as Armenia takes the course for the West, separatist sentiments will arise in Karabakh. The residents of Artsakh will cease taking into account the interests of Armenians worldwide and will be geared to Russia.
In other words, do you observe pro-Russian sentiments in Karabakh?
Yes, I do. They even speak Russian better than the residents of Yerevan. I have recently attended a CSTO event and I was very much surprised at the fact that the Defense Ministry representatives spoke Russian worse than English. It was obvious that they attended training courses in the United States or in Great Britain or in any other English-speaking country. This already demonstrates the replacement of the value system. I think this fact cannot help causing certain concerns for the future of Armenia, because I consider Armenia’s eventual commitment to the West and the breach of relations with Russia to be disastrous. Armenia may experience the same developments as in Ukraine, because most of the Armenian people will put up with the breach of relations with Russia under no circumstances.
Can one expect resumption of military actions in the Karabakh conflict zone in the near future given the frequent ceasefire violations?
I think the second Nagorno-Karabakh war is inevitable. Armenia should get ready for the second war at least in order to avoid the third one. Azerbaijan is actively arming itself. If there is a gun hanging on the wall, it must fire one day. If Azerbaijan is actively buying arms, it will use them sooner or later. Rich as it is, Azerbaijan is full of social-economic and religious contradictions. The conflict between Islamist and pro-Western moods may result in political unrest and collapse. So, the best way for the Azeri authorities to avoid this is to provoke a new war in Nagorno-Karabakh. On the other hand, Azerbaijan will not be able to win this war. But under current circumstances, even a small victory and a compromise-based peace will be enough for the Azeri authorities as they will convince their people that it was a big win. So, the Armenian army must be ready for military provocations and must do its best to win the new war so as avoid any concessions during subsequent peace talks.
How would you explain the escalating tension on the Armenian-Azeri border?
The key reason why more incidents are being recorded on the contact line is growing tension inside Azerbaijan. The same is going on in Ukraine, where local authorities are availing themselves of ongoing war to rob their people.
How would you assess the fact that Azerbaijan initiates the provocations but the OSCE Minsk Group’s statements are addressed to both parties?
The representatives of all the three co-chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group speak and behave like professional diplomats. I suppose it is no secret that the public opinion of these three superpowers is in Armenians’ favor. These are the countries where Armenians found refuge after the genocide. One can also understand Baku’s regular protests against the OSCE Minsk Group’s decision and the Co-Chairs’ behavior. Baku has clever people who realize that these three mediators represent the countries whose major part of the society feels sympathy for the Armenians. I think Armenia has no reasons to worry about the OSCE Minsk Group’s steps.
What can you say about the Armenian-Turkish relations?
I think that Ankara is concerned about opening of the Armenian-Turkish border not less than Yerevan, as it will become a push for development of the eastern regions of this country. This will become a push for development of the eastern regions of Turkey where Kurds have been chiefly living in poverty. As a result of complex social conditions in these regions of Turkey, emigration is growing and these territories clear. As Turks scare the Armenian revenge and devastation of the territories at the border to Armenia is not beneficial to them, and social and economic development of these regions plays into Ankara’s hands. Taking all this into consideration, Turkey will soon open the border to Armenia. At the same time, one should take into account the growing disagreement between the prime minister and the future president of Turkey Recep Erdogan and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, as the latter still has been vibrating between Erdogan and the Suni priest Fethullah Gulen, which has been ruling the Turkish foreign policy much. In such a situation, I think that especially on the threshold of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, opening of the border will promote mellowing of the situation and raising of Turkey’s rating in the eyes of the world community.
Does it mean that you do not rule out opening of the Armenian-Turkish border till 24 April 2015?
Yes, it does. I think that the border will be opened even earlier..
What is the reason of Erdogan’s statement made on 23 April 2014 in which he expressed condolences to successors of the victims of the tragedy at the beginning of the 20th century?
There is such a tendency in Erdogan’s policy. This is a mellow approach in order not to disturb Turkish nationalists, on the one hand, and on the other hand, to start a fluent approach to the dialogue with Armenians and the world community. Erdogan is not fool and understands that if he goes on worsening of relations with Armenia in general, and with the Armenian Diaspora in particular, in that case, he will not be able to lot upon effective relations either with Russia or France and the USA or other superpowers, where the influential Armenian Diaspora lives. Even during the Karabakh war, Russia and the USA were supporting Armenia. Yes, Russia may arm Azerbaijan, but if Aliyev has got so much money, he will find the way to purchase weapon, if not from Russia, but from Ukraine, Belarus and other CIS countries.
Is recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey possible in the near future?
No, it is not. Turkey will not recognize the Armenian genocide on the threshold of its 100th anniversary, but certain revision of the Turkish position regarding the events at the beginning of the 20th century will take place by the 24th April. Ankara will not be as radical as today. I think that the future president of Turkey Erdogan will not accept Armenian president’s invitation to visit Yerevan on 24 April 2015. If he makes such a step, he will come across big problems in his country from the side of Islamists and nationalists. I think that it is still early to make such a step. Erdogan cannot let himself make such a step because of the local reasons.