Deal On Joint Use Of Monastery Complex On Border Only Way To Water Down Ill-Wishers’ Plan

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 31 July 2019
Deal On Joint Use Of Monastery Complex On Border Only Way To Water Down Ill-Wishers’ Plan

The Kremlin take on former satellites has not undergone any profound changes since the USSR – the evil empire - seized functioning. Moscow’s modern behind-the-curtain games with most of the post-Soviet nations are reminiscent of the period that led to the re-occupation of the tsarist Russia’s Trans-Caucasus governorate and the restoration of the Russian empire under the name of the USSR in 1922.

Simply, the difference between the time span from 1918 to 1922 and from 1991 up to 2019 as well as the international situation is different, and the relatively young independent nations have more protection and support from the West than in the past with Moscow being under stinging sanctions.

Nevertheless, the Kremlin still exercises a myriad of ways to disappoint former satellites when they behave independently and look for relations with other nations by themselves without seeking its approval.

Although over 25 years have passed since the Soviet empire was officially declared dead, President Vladimir Putin still regrets about the deserved demise of the empire, and retains almost all leverages, ranging from diplomatic, public, religious to military, etc., to make what he has in his mind to happen.

The ongoing tension between Georgia and Azerbaijan around the monastery complex serves Moscow’s interests and must be tamped down immediately as the only beneficiary of the worsening of ties between Baku and Tbilisi would be Russia with its plots to have the empire restored to advance Putin’s ambitions.

Moscow knows the Caucasus from inside out with millions of ready-for-use scenarios to gain the upper hand. And the rising religious feelings around the monastery complex are a God-sent option for Moscow to stir up emotions. The site is religiously significant for Georgians, who call it Davit Gareji, for Azerbaijan, this is an issue of sovereignty and any deviation action or compromise would trigger unprecedented backlash. Azerbaijan has learnt a bitter lesson from the Karabakh conflict, which still remains unresolved with mounting tension in the western direction where Azerbaijan borders Armenia.

The Kremlin has been working hard to spoil the relations between Azerbaijan and its strategic partner in the South Caucasus – Georgia. With strategic gas and oil pipelines passing through Georgia towards Turkey and billions in revenue that Tbilisi gets is a headache for Moscow - still at loggerheads with the West over a new gas pipeline facing stiff resistance from several European nations.

Whereas the uninterrupted flow of natural resources from the Caspian basin to Europe provides European governments with opportunities to diversify their sources and hedge them to a certain extent against Moscow’s sabotages. The more Georgia gets from oil and gas pipelines in revenue, the more it will be free of pressures though some marginal forces do not often realize their benefits and let the Kremlin manipulate them for own far-going plans.

Moscow has been making all efforts to exploit domestic political problems in Tbilisi and paralyze the operations of the strategic pipelines and communications means. The recent provocations around the 180-km-long border segment that has not been demarcated and delimitated between Baku and Tbilisi become a rallying point for nationalist sentiment in Georgia with a lot of fuss.

On July 14, a provocation of Orthodox fanatics against Azerbaijani border guards at the ancient Kesikcidag monastery, also called David Gareji by Georgians, flared tempers and reached the point when a Georgian civilian amongst the protesters grabbed an assault rifle from the hands of the Azerbaijani border guard. Despite the fact that the assault rifle was given back, only thanks to the unshakable endurance displayed by the outfit, it was possible to prevent a serious incident plotted by ill-wishers behind all these provocations. They needed blood and sacrifices to immediately add fuel to the fire and bring in new uninformed actors to further worsen the already unstable Caucasus, of which sole beneficiaries would be the Kremlin, Tehran and Yerevan, who by default are ill-wishers.

On that day, Georgia and Azerbaijan were on the precipice of war. The overall reaction in Azerbaijan was that the Azerbaijani border guards deserve the highest praise for perseverance and endurance shown in a critical situation. They, indeed, prevented another war in the Caucasus, which could have significantly changed the alignment of forces in the region, thwarted the plans of enemies of Baku and Tbilisi.

What are the overall approaches to the Kesikcidag complex in Azerbaijan?

From the outset, officials, political parties and influential pundits in Azerbaijan warned against interferences by outsiders and urged Baku and Tbilisi to take decisive measures to resolve the issue by keeping unrelated actors at bay.
Now unlike calls by Georgian ultra-nationalist forces that boil down to further aggravation of the border dispute, well-versed experts in Azerbaijan are promoting mutually acceptable options. One of them has been recently tabled by former state adviser Eldar Namazov, Director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In an interview with Strati.az, Namazov reiterated that the border dispute needs to be hammered out immediately since any delay is fraught with dangers.

The recent events have shown that this issue is very sensitive for both our states and nations. It is already obvious that if in a short time, we do not find mutually acceptable options for resolving the situation, incitement of our external ill-wishers and provocations of various marginal groups can break the traditional relations of friendship and strategic partnership that have developed between our peoples and which we value so much, Namazov said in his address to Azerbaijanis and Georgians.

He insisted that the parties to discuss the issue in a calm and respectful atmosphere to find a solution to the issue that will not divide, but on the contrary, bring the two peoples even closer, strengthening the Azerbaijani-Georgian relations and mutually beneficial cooperation.

Further, he advised both sides to learn a lesson from their previous and bloody conflicts.

Recalling the Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetian conflicts, the pundit advised to immediately react to the border dispute as a belated reaction is full of dangers and no side can have the problem resolved by hiding “heads in the sand” and thinking that the problems will resolve by themselves.

It is just as dangerous to generate unjustified public expectations and illusions, which, when confronted with realities, evoke a sense of deception and anger in society. In his opinion, something similar is happening now, when public opinion is artificially focused on the work of the Joint Commission on the Delimitation and Demarcation of the Border, which has recently resumed its work.

But, he writes, this joint commission has a very specific and limited mandate, and cannot solve all the issues raised over this monastery complex. And its decision is likely predetermined. The boundaries existing from Soviet times, which divided this historical complex, are fixed in our constitutions. Azerbaijan and Georgia gained independence and were recognized by the international community under these documents.

The idea of belonging to this history and culture was formed in both states; both nations faced the problem of armed separatism and occupation of part of their historical territory and, therefore, are particularly sensitive to the issues of inviolability of borders, he opined.

Under these conditions, a joint commission cannot come to a different decision on how to establish existing boundaries and there is no doubt that our ill-wishers will try to present this unique solution as someone's "defeat" or "unresolved problem" to give impetus to new provocations and pumping up emotions.

Meanwhile, there is another approach that, in my opinion, the expert says, can contribute to the achievement of a result that would meet the public expectations and state interests of our countries. In world practice, special interstate agreements on trans-border facilities of an economic, natural, historical and cultural nature are usually concluded on rules for the joint use, protection, restoration, etc.

Therefore, in parallel with the work of the joint commission on the delimitation and demarcation of the border, we should launch another negotiations process aimed at signing an interstate agreement that will remove all the contradictions around this monastery complex.

In his opinion, the agreement between the two countries can be based on the following principles:

- the monastery complex is a single historical and cultural monument located in the territory of both states;

- by a joint decision, the two states create a historical and cultural reserve, which includes all facilities on both sides of the border that belong to this monastery complex;

- free visit and use of this monument is provided to believers, scientists, tourists;

- a joint board of trustees and a joint reserve administration mechanism are to be established to ensure the preservation, functioning and support of the complex.

In other words, the solution of the David Gareji/Kesikcidag complex is not how to redraw the existing border, but to remove the dividing lines on the territory of this complex, to make it unified, accessible to people and a symbol of friendship between the Azerbaijani and Georgian peoples.

By the way, this is not the only transboundary facility on which such decisions should be made. The Azerbaijani-Georgian border also runs across the lake Candar-gol. The famous tugai forests of Qarayazi also divide the border of the two states. In order to conserve and protect these unique water resources, rare species of flora and fauna, the two states also need intergovernmental treaties to save them for future generations by joint efforts.