A dangerous semi-settlement in South Caucasus

By Nina Bachkatov

The military operations in South Caucasus have ended with the signature of a cease-fire by Azerbaijan and Armenia, under Russia’s auspices. The agreement provided for the deployment of 2.000 Russian peacekeepers in and around Nagorno-Karabakh; and the exchange of prisoners on the basis of an all-for-all formula. But to say that peace returned with the suspension of the military offensive is wishful thinking.Peace requires a set of indispensable, and urgent, political initiatives to be taken by two states that lost around 7.000 citizens, and faced a new wave of bitter refugees, from 27 September to 9 November.

Back to politics

Unlike the three other frozen conflicts existing on the former Soviet territory, Karabakh is not about sovereignty disputed along ethnic or cultural lines inside a new republic in search of national identity. It involves two independent states, whose population has been fed generations after generations with an history of enmity and victimisation in the hands of the “others”. At any moment, a banal fist fight between individuals could derail the ceasefire, as they would call for help from their families, and ultimately from “their” soldiers on the spot.

If peace is not automatic, there is no doubt that the silence of the guns provides for a unique window of opportunity – the first real chance since the summer 1990 – to settle the political situation in Karabakh and the seven neighbouring districts.

Signals of urgency abound in both Azerbaijan and Armenia whose authorities are accused of rushing to sign a ceasefire, even of treason. Those accusations have been fed by associations of previous war’s veterans, who have been a political force weighting on each election since the end of the fighting in 1994, in Yerevan and in Baku. With the backing of displaced persons.

Susha’s fall

Armenians, in Armenia and NKO, have been shocked by the fall of Susha for which they were totally unprepared. For weeks, they were told that the fights were sharper than in the 90thies, but that victory was a question of time and courage. Suddenly, they were confronted with their military inferiority; and with the reality that it was possible to shed more blood, but not to win. Hence a feeling of betrayal, and a breakdown of Armenian legendary national unity between Yerevan and Karabakh’s inhabitants and fighters. And between Armenia and its diaspora that has been less generous and less politically efficient to rally their country around Armenia’s cause.

On 8 November, an opposition’s 16-party coalition seized the spontaneous emotion among Armenians, and called on people to start peaceful protests telling Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to resign or to face nationwide protests. He rejected the demand, saying he is determined to stick to his six-month plan to “restore stability”. Armenians, and some outsiders, began to detect the spectra of a civil war that will offer a fuller victory to Azerbaijan.

Uncomplete victory

In Azerbaijan, president Aliev has been accused of having stopped a military winning machine capable to “regain full national sovereignty” inside the borders recognised by the 1993 resolution of the UN Security Council. And missing an opportunity to send back Armenians to Armenia.

But president Aliev was enjoying much more than a military and political victory – it was also very personal. At last, the son has been emerging from the shade of his father, whose status eluded him despite successive reelections since the transfer of power in 2003. Now, it was the son, Ilham, who won back territories that the father, Haidar, lost.

In post-ceasefire speeches, he rejected the responsibility of the war on the Armenian leadership, that, he said, made peace negotiations meaningless and war unavoidable. He even indulged in a full military parade co-presided with Turkish president Erdogan, to salute the winners, but also to humiliate the enemy ‘crushed by the iron fist’ of a ‘strong army backed by national unity’.

Key issues

All those recent events call for bilateral discussions, and solutions, under international supervision. There is an urgent need to fill the legal vacuum concerning the conditions of refugees’ returns, property rights, reconstruction, the protection of old Armenian monuments or churches. And the status of Armenians who want to stay in Karabakh or anywhere under Azerbaijan authority.

After all, the Karabakh conflict and wars started with revendications about the cultural rights for Armenian minorities living next to Azeris.

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