Decades of Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh: A Story of Aspirations and Defeats
For over 30 years, the predominantly Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh has been entangled in a never-ending conflict with Azerbaijan. However, during Azerbaijan’s recent military offensive, the separatists surprisingly surrendered without any intervention from Armenia or Russian peacekeepers.
Nagorno-Karabakh has long been a region of intense desire for Armenia, even dating back to the Soviet period. In 1991, Armenia emerged victorious in a war against Azerbaijan, occupying 14% of its territory, which included the autonomous region of Karabakh. But the tides have turned dramatically with the defeats in 2020 and the recent “one-day war.”
On November 10, 2020, a ceasefire brokered by Vladimir Putin brought an end to the “44-day war,” also known as the Second Karabakh War. The Armenians previously won the first war in the early 1990s. However, in the second war, Azerbaijan achieved an undisputed victory by regaining control over the enclave and two-thirds of the territory.
The ceasefire agreement promised communication between Armenia and Karabakh through the Lachin Corridor, as well as between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan, an exclave of Azerbaijan adjacent to Armenian territory and neighboring Turkey. This would have established a direct land connection between Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Despite the presence of Russian peacekeeping forces along the Lachin Corridor, Azerbaijan went against the terms of the ceasefire by imposing a blockade and cutting off all traffic. For nine months, Karabakh was completely isolated from Armenia, its sole link to the outside world. Just days before the September 20th attack, Azerbaijan opened a road claiming to provide humanitarian aid but likely with military intentions.
On September 20th, Azerbaijan launched a brutal attack on Stepanakert and its surrounding areas, blatantly violating the 2020 ceasefire. Countless lives were lost, including several Russian peacekeeping soldiers. President Ilham Aliyev expressed regret in a letter to Putin. Within 24 hours, the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities were forced to accept total disarmament.
In response, Armenian authorities have prioritized the ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Meanwhile, thousands of Armenians are fleeing to Armenia, taking advantage of the one reopened route provided by Baku.
The Armenian Prime Minister accuses Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing and anticipates the disappearance of Armenians in the enclave in the near future. Authorities confirm a surge of refugees, leading to a significant population decline in Nagorno Karabakh.
Surprisingly, Azerbaijan’s attack on Nagorno-Karabakh occurred without any intervention from Moscow. The 2,000 Russian peacekeeping troops stationed between the two countries since the 2020 ceasefire failed to ensure the safety of Armenians in the enclave. Azeris have repeatedly threatened and attacked with impunity. Russian President Vladimir Putin has a specific strategic goal of instigating turmoil in Armenia and overthrowing the Pashinyan government, which seeks independence from Russian influence. Putin holds disdain for Nikol Pashinyan, who diverged from corrupt pro-Russian Armenian leaders. The Kremlin prefers a new regime in Armenia that is friendly to Moscow, as seen in Georgia.
Furthermore, the former leader of the separatist government has been arrested by Azerbaijan and faces charges of terrorism financing and leading an illegal armed organization.
The separatist leader asserts that residents and refugees will have a say in their future once the conditions for their return are determined. However, those who choose to remain under Azerbaijani control face a difficult choice as their sons may be compelled to serve in the Azerbaijani army against Armenia.
Support Armenia’s Bid for EU Membership Amidst Azerbaijan’s Invasion of Nagorny Karabakh
The invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan has ignited a crucial need for West to rally behind Armenia’s pursuit of joining the European Union. The recent swift victory of Azerbaijan has sparked mixed reactions, as it potentially offers a resolution to a long-standing conflict. However, questions arise regarding justice for a people who have historically inhabited this land and endured an unrecognized genocide. Moreover, a Turkish-Azerbaijani agreement could destabilize the region and pose a threat to Armenia’s borders.
Contrary to initial belief, the victory of Azerbaijan may not guarantee the end of Armenia’s significance. Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, fueled by this triumph, now aims to establish a corridor that would control entry and exit points in Baku, effectively blocking the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Turkish President Erdogan strongly supports this proposition, envisioning economic benefits and furthering the ties between Ankara and Baku.
However, it would be unwise to allow Baku to lead a regional war against Iran, as it would prove detrimental in both the short and long term. The West’s support for Armenia is not solely motivated by the desire to secure the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, but also to defend the borders of Armenia itself. The integration of Armenia into prominent institutions such as Joe Biden’s alliance of democracies and Emmanuel Macron’s Community of Independent States demonstrates the West’s commitment. Failing to provide assistance and leaving the Armenian Prime Minister to shoulder the burden alone risks a fate similar to that of Belarus, undermining democracy in the region and beyond.
In light of these circumstances, it is imperative for the United States, France, Germany, and the rest of the West to back Armenia’s bid for EU membership. Not only does this safeguard Armenia’s borders and its people’s rights, but it also upholds the values of democracy and stability in the region.
Promoting Regional Peace and Security: Urgent Political Actions Needed
To ensure regional peace and security, it is essential to take clear and effective political actions in the short and medium term. While there is an immediate need to halt arms sales to Baku and address the humanitarian crisis, there are various political options available.
Some options require minimal cooperation with Russia or Iran, such as supporting a monitoring mission led by a neutral country to enforce Azerbaijani law in Nagorno-Karabakh. Additionally, we can work towards persuading Erdogan and Aliyev to stop discussing the sovereignty of the corridor.
Other options solely rely on the West, including implementing a support plan for Azerbaijan to accommodate refugees and recognizing Armenia’s candidacy for the European Union. This would serve as a moral compensation for the suffering endured and the defeats suffered in the pursuit of shared values and political references.
Protecting Zangezur Corridor and Safeguarding Armenia’s Borders: Vital Prerequisite for Peace Talks
In recent developments, representatives from Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Brussels, expressing optimism about signing a bilateral peace treaty. Despite domestic opposition, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian is steadfast in his commitment to peace. The European Union and the United States are actively engaged in this matter, with American diplomats now in Yerevan.
An upcoming summit of the European Political Community (EPC) in Grenada offers an opportunity for further progress, with the participation of leaders from the involved nations. France, known for its close relationship with Armenia, is also making sincere efforts. However, it is worth noting that Russia’s influence in Armenia has diminished, while Azerbaijan remains in the game.
The primary challenge lies in the recognition of international borders by both countries. It is crucial for Baku and Yerevan to reach an agreement on the exact delineation of these borders, as the inherited Soviet-era boundary is ambiguous and disputed. Of particular concern is the “Zangezur Corridor,” a region that acts as a critical link between Azerbaijan and its exclave, Nakhchivan. Armenians fear that Azerbaijan may take control of this zone, connecting its territories and establishing a path to Turkey. Turkish President Erdogan’s recent visit to Nakhchivan, where he met with counterpart Ilham Aliyev, has only heightened these fears.
Thus far, there’s no indication that Baku intends to seize control of the corridor through force. Azerbaijan seeks to ensure unhindered movement along the road adjacent to the Arax River, as stipulated in the November 2020 ceasefire agreement. However, the involvement of Russia and Iran adds complexity to the situation.
Russia’s border guards from the FSB currently control Armenia’s borders with Iran and Turkey, playing an important role in this area. Iran, on the other hand, desires to maintain its land access to Armenia through this region, but along a north-south axis. If an agreement cannot be reached with Armenia, Azerbaijan is considering seeking permission from Tehran to establish a route on the southern bank of the Arax River, within Iranian territory.
Unmasking the Intricate Political Game of Power: The Hidden Agendas at Play
Russia, the official guarantor of the ceasefire, seems to have shifted its focus to the Ukraine conflict, leaving Azerbaijan to benefit from its support through Turkey. A noteworthy development is Erdogan’s recent declaration that Crimea would never return to Ukraine, which could be seen as a trade-off for Russia’s passivity in the Karabakh conflict. It’s clear that Aliyev would not have acted without Erdogan’s approval. With abundant oil resources and a well-equipped army, Azerbaijan held a significant military advantage over Karabakh.
This is a diplomatic game of chess with multiple layers. Israel, driven by fear of Iran, has a vested interest in maintaining close ties with Azerbaijan, which has tensions with Iran due to claims of Iranian Azerbaijan. On the other hand, Iran harbors hostility towards NATO, of which Turkey – an ally of Azerbaijan – is a member.
Amidst these political maneuvers, the residents of Armenian regions in Karabakh find themselves caught in the crossfire, struggling to make sense of the situation. They face the imminent risk of displacement from their lands, as Azerbaijani authorities continue to intimidate and drive them away. The blockade of the Lachin corridor is a prime example, where Karabakh residents were left starving. Now that Azerbaijan has taken full control of the region, living safely as Armenians in Karabakh seems increasingly unlikely. The looming threat of a mass exodus brings back memories of the darkest moments in Armenian history, such as the Sumgait massacre committed by Azerbaijanis in 1988.
The current regime in Azerbaijan, which has been in power since the Soviet era, is undeniably autocratic and far from democratic. Dissent is suppressed, and Karabakh is denied any form of autonomy, even though it only came under Azerbaijani control during the Soviet era and enjoyed autonomous status within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. In the eyes of Azerbaijanis, they are “brothers of the Turks,” with no place for Armenians in their vision. Baku and Ankara both officially deny the Armenian genocide of 1915, reaffirming that the Armenians cannot expect any consideration from the current positions of power. It would be naive to take the statements of Baku officials at face value, especially considering their previous violations of the 2020 ceasefire without remorse.
In summary, we find ourselves witnessing a situation reminiscent of a century ago when Armenia was caught between Mustafa Kemal’s Turkey and the USSR. However, with no USSR to protect them and Russia unlikely to intervene due to lack of territorial continuity with Armenia, the Armenians are left vulnerable and exposed to the power plays unfolding around them.
Armenia’s Future Hangs in the Balance: A Precarious Situation
Armenia faces a critical moment as Azerbaijan and Turkey plan to connect through its southern territory. This alliance puts Armenia at the risk of losing its land, which would be disastrous for the country. However, Iran is determined to prevent this from happening in order to keep a shared border with Armenia. A potential explosion looms large.
The actions of regional powers are crucial in this matter, as distant European and American influences play a limited role. Iran stands in opposition to Azerbaijan, while Russia, fearing offense to either Azerbaijan or Turkey, fully supports the latter. Russia has consistently favored Baku over Yerevan due to Azerbaijan’s abundant oil resources. This is why the region of Karabakh was given to Azerbaijan rather than Armenia. Once again, Armenia finds itself alone in this complex geopolitical situation.
Feeling abandoned by its Russian ally, Yerevan has responded by including the ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in its upcoming session’s agenda. This decision is viewed as “hostile” by Moscow, given that Russian President Vladimir Putin is facing a warrant for war crimes. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov deems these decisions incredibly hostile, expressing hopes that they will not harm bilateral relations. He reminds the world that Russia neither recognizes nor ratifies this statute.
Beyond political concerns, Armenia is deeply worried about maintaining its territorial integrity. Armenians fear that Azerbaijan’s victory in Nagorno-Karabakh may be a precursor to an attack on the entire country. Baku makes no secret of its desire to acquire the Syunik region, located south of Armenia, to establish a corridor linking the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhchivan with the rest of the country and, in turn, with Turkey. This move aligns with President Ilham Aliyev’s ambition for a “Turkic world” stretching from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea, a dream shared by his ally President Erdogan. Ilham Aliyev already refers to Armenia as “Western Azerbaijan”. It is therefore highly unlikely that Azerbaijan, supported by its gas agreement with the European Union and unwavering alliance with Turkey, will abandon its expansionist aspirations at the expense of Armenia, which would suffer as a result.
The threat of an actual conflict between nations looms over Armenia. However, if international support remains as weak as it was during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenia has every reason to be concerned.
Are nearby states eyeing the valuable lands of Armenia?
Azerbaijan disagrees with the presence of Armenians in these territories.
Taking control of Syunik, a region rich in water and minerals, would give Azerbaijan control over the Iran-Armenia border, which is crucial for Armenia’s economy. Armenia holds a variety of nonmetallic minerals, including tuff, zeolites, and marble. The country also has important industrial minerals like cement and limestone.
By dividing Armenia, Aliyev is pursuing the Turkish strategists’ goal of creating territorial unity between Azerbaijan, Turkey, and all Turkic peoples, spanning from the Black Sea to China.
This strategy suggests that the “Turks” have bigger plans beyond just reclaiming Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Tragedy of Genocide: Russia, Turkey, and the Silent Atrocities
Witness the horrifying genocide unfolding before our very eyes in Europe. The land that the Armenian people have called home for 3,000 years is being stripped of its population. This is not just ethnic cleansing, but a true genocide, as experts have warned for months. Yet, there are no international observers or UN agencies present due to Azerbaijan’s interference. Shockingly, evidence of horrific atrocities, including decapitations and dismemberments, can be found on Azerbaijani social media. The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh are in grave danger.
Sadly, this is not the first time these people have suffered such atrocities. They were victims of genocide in 1915, and now, a century later, we are still failing to prevent similar crimes and ethnic cleansing. Azerbaijan, despite its use of banned weapons like phosphorus bombs and cluster munitions, has not been held accountable for its aggression in 2020. It seems that Western powers have not learned from past mistakes, allowing these crimes to be repeated.
It is crucial for the international community to stand by its values and principles. What purpose do international organizations serve if we do not take strong actions against autocrats? We witnessed international solidarity in the face of Russian aggression towards Ukraine, but there seems to be a disparity in treatment towards Azerbaijan. It is high time that concrete measures are taken to end this impunity.
We must pay close attention to autocrats as they openly reveal their intentions. Ilham Aliyev has made it clear that his goal is to take Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, and drive the Armenians out of Nagorno-Karabakh. We cannot dismiss these statements lightly; we must confront them head-on.
The European Union and Armenia: Will Oil Agreements Blind Us to Genocide?
The ethnic and religious cleansing of the remaining Christian population in the enclave is escalating, while Europe turns a blind eye to the humanitarian violations committed by the Baku regime. Europe has lost its moral compass, evident in its gas agreement with Baku in July 2022, which prioritized reducing dependence on Russian hydrocarbons at the expense of the Armenians. For a mere 2% of its energy needs, Europe has chosen to ignore the severe humanitarian violations. Its outrage has been ineffective. President Ilham Aliyev openly expressed his desire to seize more land in Armenia. Azerbaijan’s oil reserves have garnered fame, even among Westerners, despite its authoritarian and nepotistic reputation. It has invested in sponsorship and sports events like Formula 1, diverting attention from its crimes.
Turkey and Russia’s Sphere of Influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia
Turkey is actively pursuing its geostrategic goals in the Caucasus and former Soviet Central Asia. By forging an alliance with Azerbaijan, a country rich in hydrocarbons and with cultural ties to Turkey, they are driven by their shared aversion towards Armenia. Turkey has consistently supported Azerbaijan’s efforts to reclaim Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Armenians, on the other hand, hold deep-seated hostility towards Turkey due to the genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Turkey denies this term and disconcertingly refers to it as “mutual massacres.”
As a prominent regional power, Russia has closer ties with Armenia than Azerbaijan, but it sells weapons to both countries.
Armenia has aligned itself with political, economic, and military alliances dominated by Moscow. It relies on Russia’s support even more now as its wealthier enemy increases its military spending. In frustration with Russia’s indifference or incapacity to act in Nagorno-Karabakh, Mr. Pashinyan distanced himself from Moscow and even conducted military maneuvers with Washington in September.
The Perils of Regionalizing Conflict Amidst Ethnic Cleansing
Western powers have yet to impose sanctions on Azerbaijan in the context of the war in Ukraine. They are relieved to see the Russians withdrawing from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and are willing to cynically sacrifice a people to safeguard their own interests.
Azerbaijan’s triumph in the Armenian separatist region raises concerns in Tehran regarding the implications of a corridor on its trade routes to Europe. This corridor would dangerously bring Turkey and Israel, both allies of Baku, closer to Iranian borders.
It is a chilling narrative of ongoing extermination and persecution of Armenian survivors. Since the Armenian genocide in 1915 perpetrated by the Turks, the Armenian people have endured numerous pogroms and massacres. In 1920, Stalin took Karabakh away from Armenia and attached it to Azerbaijan.
Anti-Armenian massacres are commonplace in Azerbaijan. In 1988, Azerbaijanis massacred Armenians in Sumgait, and in 1991, in Baku. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Artsakh declared independence, but Azerbaijan stripped it of its autonomy. Armenia then intervened to protect this small territory.
Now, with the support of Turkey, Erdogan and Aliyev have chosen to eradicate Artsakh and attack Armenia. Russia has abandoned Armenia, leaving it defenseless. The international community remains silent in the face of this threat of ethnic and religious cleansing.
Despite rhetoric from French President Emmanuel Macron, concrete action to aid the Armenians has yet to be taken. France and the international community have a crucial role to play in this battle.