Azerbaijan and Armenia: a conflict resolved?

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Three years ago, a war was taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region internationally recognised as Azerbaijani territory but occupied by the Armenian military forces. That war ended in a ceasefire, with Azerbaijan regaining swathes of land it had lost in a 6-year-long war as a result of Armenian irredentism in the region, including the districts of Ağdam, Kalbajar, Zangilan and most importantly, Shusha, Azerbaijan’s cultural capital. Precisely a day after the capture of Shusha, a ceasefire was signed with the Armenian side, as they feared an invasion of the largest city in Nagorno-Karabakh, Xankendi (known as Stepanakert for Armenians).

However, there was still uncertainty over a small region of the former unrecognised Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (also known as Artsakh by the Armenian side), occupied by Russian peacekeepers which may have been resolved in a short 24-hour war.

The Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Azerbaijan announced that “local anti-terrorist activities” would take place after 2 civilians and 4 policemen fell victim to a landmine adjacent to the Armenian-controlled side. Azerbaijan, considering that Armenia had not abided by the November 2020 ceasefire – which required the presence of the peacekeeping force – launched this military operation, seizing small areas within Nagorno-Karabakh and managing to confiscate six armoured vehicles, more than 800 small arms units and 5,000 rounds of ammunition.

However, as a possibly unexpected conclusion to this conflict, the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh announced its surrender to the Azerbaijani army and would be ready to enter reintegration negotiations with the Azerbaijani side on their terms, an event which took place on the 21st of September in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh, with no Armenian or Artsakhi flags on the table or in the room. This, to many political analysts, seems almost like an unconditional surrender from the irredentist movement, despite the ongoing talks.

Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev has been enjoying swathes of popularity since the end of the 2020 war. After winning the 2018 elections with 86% of the vote, he has since transformed his legacy, only securing his position at the top of government.

International organisations seem quite concerned about the dangers of ethnic cleansing in the region

However, despite President Aliyev’s government giving guarantees that Armenians will coexist peacefully with Azerbaijanis, international organisations seem quite concerned about the dangers of ethnic cleansing in the region, making his international reputation quite unstable. Presidential Advisor Hikmet Hajiyev stated that the Azerbaijani government will ensure the safe travel of civilians through the Lachin Corridor (a road which unites Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia) as well as an amnesty offering to former combatants. Azerbaijan has also sent 20-tonne trucks with food and hygiene products and two trucks with bread to the region. Azerbaijan would also give Azerbaijani passports to all of the ethnic Armenian residents who decide to stay in the region.

Azerbaijan has acted in order to defend its territorial integrity. However, it has received a strong backlash from the international community. Since Hungary blocked an EU-wide statement against Azerbaijan’s military actions, individual states have been strongly encouraged to apply firm diplomacy against these military actions, mostly from Germany and France. This comes despite the fact that Ursula Von Der Leyen, President of the EU Commission, signed a declaration for Azerbaijan to increase its supply of gas to Europe by 50% by 2027, making the country an essential ally for the Union’s energy security.

The United States, Russia and Turkey have been quite slow in reacting to this event, with even the latter two blaming Armenia for an escalation of the conflict, and ceasing to take any action against Azerbaijan. Considering the fact that Russia has 1960 peacekeepers in the region, the fact that it decided to not act shows a shift in the geopolitical situation of the region, with Putin turning towards his Azerbaijani counterpart, Aliyev, rather than the Western-alligned Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan.

Azerbaijan is seeking… a full reintegration process

What Azerbaijan is seeking here would be a full reintegration process. The government and Azerbaijani people are largely against granting large autonomy to the Armenians living in the region, as they believe that this is what sparked Armenian irredentism back in 1988. For now, 100,000 people have fled Nagorno-Karabakh, however, Azerbaijan has set up a checkpoint to identify and arrest war criminals, most recently arresting Ruben Vardanyan, a Russian billionaire. Samvel Shahramanyan, the ex-president of the dissolved self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh has signed a decree that all state institutions will be dissolved by the end of the year.

For now, Azerbaijan has become the clear winner in this conflict, delivering a knockout after 30 years of continuous diplomatic and military losses against its neighbours. Many see this as the de facto end of this conflict and the end of Armenian attempts to set a second state in its neighbours’ territories, however, this is not guaranteed, anger still burns in both countries. This may also potentially lead to leadership changes in Armenia, as the country has only been suffering losses since 2018, after the so-called ‘Velvet Revolution’ and the arrival of Prime Minister Pashinyan. Whilst a reintegration process is possible on paper, it is yet to be seen if this will be successful or spark more hatred between both peoples.

Image credit: The Presidential Press and Information Offices of Azerbaijan via Wikimedia Commons

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