Will the Armenia-Azerbaijan Peace Deal end Europe’s most intractable conflict?
On November 10, Armenian, Russian and Azerbaijani leaders agreed to a ceasefire in Karabakh and a peace deal. If fully implemented, this deal will end the 30-year-long conflict, which is in fact Europe’s most intractable conflict.
First, briefly on the conflict background: Since the early 1990s, Armenia has occupied nearly 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory, ethnically cleansing all the occupied areas of their indigenous Azerbaijani population. As a result, over a million Azerbaijanis today are displaced in their own country, living as internal refugees/IDPs (internally displaced people). The UN Security Council and General Assembly condemned this illegal occupation, demanding Armenian forces to be withdrawn from the occupied areas of Azerbaijan. Armenia simply ignored the resolutions, and great powers did nothing to force Armenia to comply with the international law. Peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan during the last 26 years, mediated by Russia, U.S. and France, led to nowhere, primarily because of Armenia’s intransigence to release any occupied area from its occupation and its demands to establish a second Armenian state at the expense of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory. Finally, a series of provocations by the current Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, led to increased tension and outbreak of violence on Sep. 27, which turned out to be the worst armed confrontation between the two countries since the 1994 ceasefire. Azerbaijan responded to Armenia’s attacks. Relying on its technological superiority and professional training of its soldiers and special forces, within a short period time Azerbaijan was able to liberate a large portion of its territories from Armenia’s occupation.
While losing on the battlefield, Armenia resorted to targeting Azerbaijani civilians far away from the conflict zone, firing ballistic missiles, including the widely banned cluster munitions, into some of Azerbaijan’s largest cities. Those Armenian missiles killed and injured scores of Azerbaijani civilians, including little babies.
In early November, Azerbaijani troops cut the shortest road from the Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, the Lachin road, and successfully attacked and took control of the Karabakh’s second largest city, Shusha, an ancient city that is of great cultural value to all Azerbaijanis; it also sits on the only road between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia proper and a few kilometers from the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh — Khankendi, which Armenians call Stepanakert. This is when Armenia realized that the whole of Nagorno-Karabakh could be lost within days and was forced to agree to a peace deal.
Here are the terms of the peace deal:
- Azerbaijan will keep its sovereign territory in Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas liberated during the 44-day war. Armenia will hand over some areas it held outside the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh, including Aghdam, Kalbajar and Lachin by December 1. Armenian armed forces will be withdrawn from these districts.
- Russia will provide around 1,960 peacekeepers for a duration of five years, which will be stationed inside Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin corridor that connects Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.
- The agreement calls for a 5-kilometer wide area in the Lachin Corridor to remain open and be protected by Russian peacekeepers.
- Refugees and Internally Displaced People are free to return. Around a million Azerbaijanis will be able to return to their villages and towns after nearly 30 years! Also Armenians who left Nagorno-Karabakh during the last war will be able return to their homes.
- The agreement also calls for Russian border services to monitor a new transport corridor through southern Armenia connecting Azerbaijan to its western exclave of Nakhchivan, which is surrounded by Armenia, Iran, and Turkey. This will connect mainland Azerbaijan to Nakhchivan for the first time since the Soviet Union collapsed. It is an enormous feat for Azerbaijan, of political, strategic and economic magnitude.
President Erdogan of Turkey also said that Turkey, a close ally of Baku, would take part in monitoring the ceasefire. Russia and Turkey are currently negotiating in Ankara about the exact role of Turkey in this process. Russia seems to reject any possibility of Turkish peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh or even close to it, suggesting a joint Russian-Turkish ceasefire monitoring center to be established in an area far from Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey insists otherwise. We will see soon enough whose position prevails.
The backlash in Armenia from the announcement was swift, with several thousand protesters angry at the government gathering in Yerevan as mobs stormed and ransacked government buildings, parliament, even the offices of the U.S. Government-funded RFE/RL. Speaker of the Parliament was severely beaten in front of his family and hospitalized. Opposition parties called on Prime Minister Pashinyan to resign.
Americans should be proud of Azerbaijan’s victory and the restoration of its territorial integrity. It is an ally of ours. Azerbaijan helped us fight international terrorism, sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. Armenia, on the other hand, sent soldiers to boost the regime of Syria’s dictator Bashar Assad, and helped Iran skirt U.S. and international sanctions.
Several U.S. Senators and Congressmembers, who receive campaign money from the Armenian lobby, almost immediately criticized the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace deal. These are Senators Bob Menendez and Ed Markey, and Congresspeople Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman, Judy Chu, Frank Pallone, and others. What do these elected officials want? The continuation of the war that would have produced even bigger disaster for their beloved Armenia? When the war was in full force, these same politicians were calling for immediate cessation of hostilities. Now that the ceasefire has been achieved and no more soldiers and civilians are being killed, no more blood is shed, these lawmakers are speaking against it. Confusing? If you understand the corrupt ways of doing business on the Capitol Hill, it is not that confusing. These politicians are just the hired guns of the Armenian lobby, and continue to take orders from this lobby on what to say and what not to say regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The current order from Armenian special interests is to go after the peace deal, which incidentally was also signed by Armenia. Why is Armenian lobby unhappy? Because for the first time in history a real chance has emerged for the resolution of this long-standing conflict. Armenian National Committee of America, Armenian Assembly of America and other Armenian special interests in the U.S. have constantly pushed Armenia towards maximalist positions, rejecting the return of even an inch of the occupied territories back to Azerbaijan. Their ultradical nationalist maximalism has brought Armenia to where it is now. Enjoying the beautiful sunshine in California or the comfortable lifestyle in Massachusetts, it might be quite easy to tell Armenians in Armenia and Karabakh not to yield. Now the Armenian lobby must bear the responsibility for their actions and do some soul-searching. As for the pro-Armenian Senators and Congresspeople, they are just fulfilling the lobby’s orders and never question if these orders are in line with U.S. national interests. Why? Because they don’t care. All they care about is how much in campaign cash they will receive till the next election!