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An answer to the Nagorno-Karabakh question

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World powers have wrestled with the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh for decades but have never applied sustained pressure to achieve a breakthrough. Net result: zero progress. Under these circumstances, it was perhaps inevitable that the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia would be settled on the battlefield, not the conference table. Such is the outcome of last week’s historic peace announcement, writes Professor Ivan Sascha Sheehan.

The broad outlines of the current peace arrangement are clear. Azerbaijan regains its sovereign territory. Armenian occupying forces withdraw behind their international border. an international peacekeeping force moves in. And the UNHCR will supervise the peaceful return of as many of the 700,000 Azerbaijani refugees from Karabakh who choose to exercise this right. This is almost line by line the terms laid down over a decade ago by the OSCE’s Minsk Group.

Justice has been served. But the international community should be ashamed that it required bloodshed to reach this point. Particularly when concerted international diplomatic pressure could have achieved the same result.

Azerbaijan’s advancing forces created a new reality on the ground, as Armenian forces pulled back from the territories they had occupied for over a generation. While the Armenian government screamed genocide, the Azerbaijani population claimed liberation. The liberation of territories universally recognised as Azerbaijan’s was obvious to objective analysts. But while cries of ethnic cleansing now appear farfetched, the path to peace seemed neither clear nor easy.

The stakes today are high: with the regional powers of Turkey (pro Azerbaijan), Iran (pro Armenia), and Russia (historically leaning more towards Armenia but in the current conflict less warm) concerned, stabilisation and peace are matters of global importance. And the potential peace dividend in regional and global economic terms is substantial.

There is one unexpected detail of the terms negotiated this morning in Moscow. Those with long memories will recall Cyrus Vance, who served as US Secretary of State in the 1990s when international diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the Karabakh Question first began. Vance attempted to gain ground for a plan drafted by a creatively minded US political strategist, Paul Goble. The “Goble Plan” took into account a problem shared by both Armenia and Azerbaijan, related to what both parties perceived to be stranded pockets surrounded by the other’s territory.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan, has a large ethnic Armenian population, yet but no land border with Armenia. Meanwhile, Nakchivan, an autonomous republic with an Azerbaijani population, is similarly cut off from the main body of Azerbaijan, bordered mainly by Armenia and Iran, with a small slip with Turkey. Goble proposed land corridors for both sides, creating passage for logistical supplies and safe human movement from Armenia to Karabakh, and from the main body of Azerbaijan to Nakchivan.

Long condemned to gather dust on a shelf, these ideas have suddenly come back to life. Agreement on provision for both corridors is written into Monday’s joint statement from Armenian PM Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Aliyev, and Russian President Putin.

Exactly what form these corridors will take remains to be seen. Terrain permitting, rail links seem to be a sensible way forward: Azerbaijan has proved its competence at constructing new rail systems with the recently opened Baku-Tblisi-Kars line. But the pragmatism which lies behind the corridor agreement suggests real hope for the economic collaboration needed to cement the peace.

In recent months, the world has been reminded of both the instability, and the strategic importance, of the Southern Caucasus. Sandwiched between Iran to the South and Russia to the North, it’s a strip of land which forms a natural “middle way” land bridge between Asia and Europe. Through this strip pass not only the new rail link, but also oil and gas pipelines – mainly carrying fuel from Azerbaijan’s fields in the Caspian, one of Europe’s major energy sources.

A key staging post on both the ancient and the 21st century Silk Roads, this region should be one of the world’s economic hotspots, able to share and profit from both its trading position on the map, and its own natural resources.

The international diplomatic community has failed in this region: now the time has come for the international investment community to repair that wrong.

Professor Ivan Sascha Sheehan is the executive director of the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. Opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter @ProfSheehan.

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan's victory in Nagorno-Karabakh creates space for continued EU influence in the region

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On November 8th 2020, as Azerbaijani troops entered the strategically important town of Susha, after a fierce three-day battle, Nikol Vovayi Pashinyan, prime minister of Armenia and instigator of the aggression in Nagorno-Karabakh, would have realised that he had met his Waterloo. The issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani territory populated and governed mostly by ethnic Armenians, has been probably the one issue that has united the global Armenian diaspora. Instead of delivering his people a region, Pashinyan handed them a crippling military defeat. - writes Phillipe Jeune.

Whether he, or the man widely considered to be little more than Pashinyan’s puppet, President Armen Sarkissian, can survive politically has yet to be seen, although the prime minister himself is expected to do whatever he can to cling to power. However, thanks to his belligerence, and the asymmetrical relationship that his country enjoys with Russia, he may no longer be the master of his own fate.

Pashinyan’s actions, ill-advised, reckless, and costly, have led to a geo-political shift in the region.

The prompt arrival of Russian troops under the guise of “peacekeepers”, within hours of the Armenian capitulation, will present a challenge to the European Union which, whilst not being existential as such, certainly sees the bloc losing influence in the region. Possibly an obsession with “dealing with” Turkey, and an inherent inertia that sees it outmanoeuvred and outpaced by the Kremlin time and time again, has led to a certain dysfunctionalism in EU regional policy in this case.

President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, whose handling of the conflict has seen his political capital rise considerably at home and abroad, oversaw the agreement whereby Turkey, Azerbaijan’s strongest ally, would deploy a small force to the contested region to add balance, and to reassure his own people.

This move was immediately attacked by French president Emmanuel Macron, whose country is home to one of the largest Armenian communities in Europe - as many as 600,000 ethnic Armenians are believed to live in France - and he has faced criticism from that community that he did not do enough to help Yerevan.

France, along with Russia and the United States, jointly chairs the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, formed to mediate the conflict, but without any tangible signs of success having been achieved over the last three decades.

Macron’s domestic political concerns should not blind the EU to the importance of its role maintaining peace and stability in the troubled region, and its otherwise healthy relationship with Baku.

Instead of turning a blind eye towards Russia’s influence over Armenia the EU might consider addressing the belligerence of the Pashinyan regime, which in fact may be the result of Russian string-pulling, by imposing sanctions as it has done with Russia, Syria, Belarus, and certain Ukrainian officials and oligarchs.

The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh  saw Armenian forces burning homes and forests, as well  as houses built by Azerbaijani people in Kalbajar who in 1993 were expelled: people who lived in the hope of one day returning to those homes. The EU, and the political groups in particular should not remain silent about these crimes.

Concerns are being expressed in Baku and elsewhere that having served his purpose Pashinyan’s departure, which could take place as early as December, will herald the installation of a pro-Kremlin puppet government.

The EU should have no doubts that Vladimir Putin is choreographing events in the Balkans, just as he has done in Syria, in the Caucus, in eastern Ukraine, and, in the opinion of many observers, in Belarus.

Azerbaijan has shown resolve in the face of aggression, and magnanimity in victory: ensuring the security and integrity of the country remains is also the best and possibly the only chance that Brussels has to maintain its influence in the region.

All opinions expressed in the above article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect any opinions on the part of EU Reporter.

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Armenia

Nagorno-Karabakh: Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union

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Following the cessation of hostilities in and around Nagorno-Karabakh after the Russia-brokered ceasefire of 9 November agreed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the EU has issued a statement welcoming the ceasing of hostilities and calls on all parties to continue to strictly respect the ceasefire to prevent further loss of life.

The EU urges all regional actors to refrain from any actions or rhetoric that could jeopardize the ceasefire. The EU also calls for the full and prompt withdrawal of all foreign fighters from the region.

The EU will follow closely the implementation of the provisions of the ceasefire, especially with regard to its monitoring mechanism.

The cessation of hostilities is only a first step to end the long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The EU considers that efforts must be renewed for a negotiated, comprehensive and sustainable settlement of the conflict, including on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The EU therefore reiterates its full support to the international format of the OSCE Minsk Group led by its co-chairs and to the personal representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office to pursue this objective. The EU stands ready to effectively contribute in the shaping of a durable and comprehensive settlement of the conflict, including where possible through support for stabilization, post conflict rehabilitation and confidence building measures.

The EU recalls its firm opposition against the use of force, in particular the use of cluster ammunitions and incendiary weapons, as a mean to settle disputes. The EU stresses that international humanitarian law must be respected and calls on the parties to implement the agreements on the exchange of prisoners of war and the repatriation of human remains reached within the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs format on 30 October in Geneva.

The EU underlines the importance of guaranteeing humanitarian access and the best possible conditions for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of the displaced populations in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. It underlines the importance of preserving and restoring the cultural and religious heritage in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. Any war crimes that may have been committed must be investigated.

The European Union and its member states are already providing significant humanitarian assistance to address the immediate needs of the civilian populations affected by the conflict and stand ready to provide further assistance.

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Armenia

Armenia and Azerbaijan finally at peace? Is it true?

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Russia has surprisingly and very rapidly has become a peacemaker in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. The old wisdom says that a poor peace is better than defeat. As a matter of urgency, given the difficult humanitarian situation in Karabakh, Russia intervened and secured the signing of a ceasefire agreement by the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan on 9 November and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in the region, writes Moscow correspondent Alexi Ivanov. 

Protests immediately started in Armenia, and the Parliament building was seized. Crowds dissatisfied with the outcome of the war, which lasted since 27 September and took the toll of more than 2 thousand Armenian soldiers, brought destruction and disaster to Artsakh, now demand the resignation of Prime Minister Pashinyan, who is accused of treason.

Almost 30 years of conflict have brought neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan peace. These years have only fueled interethnic hostility, which has reached unprecedented proportions.

Turkey has become an active player in this regional conflict, which considers Azerbaijanis its closest relatives, although the majority of the population there of the Shia Islam taking into account the Iranian roots of the Azerbaijani population.

Turkey has recently become more active at the international and regional level, entering into a serious confrontation with Europe, especially France, against the actions to curb Muslim extremism.

However, the South Caucasus remains traditionally in Russia's zone of influence, as these are territories where Moscow has dominated for centuries.

Putin, amid the pandemic and confusion in Europe, very quickly took advantage of the situation with his neighbors and turned the war into a civilized framework.

The truce was not welcomed by all parties. The Armenians should return to Azerbaijan the territories captured in the early 90's, not all of them, but the losses will be significant.

Armenians are leaving the areas that should come under the control of Azerbaijan in large numbers. They take out property and burn their homes. None of the Armenians want to remain under the rule of the Azerbaijani authorities, because they do not believe in their own security. Many years of hostility have generated distrust and hatred. Not the best example is Turkey, where the term "Armenian" is considered an insult, alas. Although Turkey has been knocking on the door of the EU for many years and claimed the status of a civilized European power.

President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev promises protection to the Armenians of Karabakh, and he also promises to protect numerous Armenian churches and monasteries in this ancient territory, including the great Holy monastery of Dadivank, which is a place of pilgrimage. Currently it is protected by Russian peacekeepers.

Russian peacekeepers are already in Karabakh. There will be 2 thousand of them and they must ensure compliance with the truce and the cessation of hostilities.

In the meantime, huge columns of refugees are moving to Armenia, who are hopefully are expected to reach their historical homeland without problems.

It is too early to talk about a new turn in the Karabakh conflict. Prime Minister Pashinyan has already stated that he is responsible for Armenia's defeat in Artsakh. But this is unlikely to be the final point. Armenia is protesting, protesting against Pashinyan, against the shameful capitulation, although everyone understands that the conflict in Karabakh has to be resolved.

Many Azerbaijanis, there are thousands of them, dream of returning to their homes in Karabakh and nearby regions, previously controlled by Armenian forces. This opinion can hardly be ignored. People have lived there for centuries - Armenians and Azerbaijanis-and it is very difficult to find the perfect solution to this tragedy.

It is obvious that it will take many more years until old wounds, resentments and injustices are forgotten. But peace must come to this land, and the bloodshed must be stopped.

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