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A glimmer of hope: Anticipating the possible peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

Written by Jayaditya Sinha

Edited by Annika Lilja


European Council President Charles Miche, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev during their fourth trilateral meeting on August 31 (Source: Armenian Weekly)

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at odds since the end of the Cold War, extending back to the early twentieth century when both were part of the Soviet Union. Both states claim historical rights over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory, which has produced severe discord between the two ethnic communities. Each side has accused another of terrorism and human rights violations throughout the conflict. The battle over the primarily ethnic Armenian region, known as Artsakh by Armenians, originated in 1988 when the autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh SSR declared independence from Azerbaijan, making it the longest-running post-Soviet conflict. The Caucasus region continues to remain volatile since the post-Soviet period and has often become caught up in multiple ethnic conflicts among different groups, such as Georgians, Abkhazians, and Chechens, to name a few. With decades of conflict marked by periodic killings, human rights violations, and the expulsion of thousands of people, both countries, as well as the rest of the world, are eagerly looking at negotiating a historical, enduring, and respected peace agreement between the two nations, with hopes of finally ending the decade-long animosity.


Background on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

The contested region of Nagorno Karabakh surrounded by Armenia and Azerbaijan on map (Source: Al Jazeera)

During the beginning of the 1990s, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Nagorno-Karabakh parliament conducted a referendum on its independence from Azerbaijan, with the minority Azerbaijani population completely boycotting it. Independence was declared, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and the loss of thousands of lives. Though the war had officially begun in 1988, Armenia was then able to mobilize troops into the region and occupy vast swaths of land in the region before signing a truce that allowed Armenia to preserve the lands it had captured. However, in September 2020, Azerbaijan initiated an armed campaign to liberate these areas, and the same events that occurred two decades ago occurred again, though this time, Azerbaijan recaptured the majority of the territory it had lost to Armenia. A ceasefire mediated by Russia was declared in November 2020, with Armenia ceding back some territories to Azerbaijan and Russian peacekeepers being deployed in the Lachin corridor, a narrow strip of land connecting Artsakh with mainland Armenia. Several attempts at peace negotiations were made over the years. However, they were not able to resolve the dispute concretely.


In September 2022, frequent ceasefire violations resulted in violent clashes leading to the deaths of hundreds of soldiers. Azerbaijan has been accused of using drones to attack Armenian troops near the border since the end of the war by the Armenian government. The European Union, along with the United States, helped restart the peace talks and mediate between both states after the violence. Despite the challenges, there have been some positive developments towards a possible peace deal. In May 2023, the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a longer-term negotiation plan under EU mediation, complemented by US talks. This has provided a glimmer of hope that a peaceful resolution to the conflict may be achievable.



Azerbaijani citizens celebrating the peace deal signed in 2020, which resulted in Azerbaijani forces reclaiming huge swaths of territories in Nagorno-Karabakh, in Baku (Source: Daily Sabah)

There has been significant progress toward negotiations for a peace deal since the international community got involved in resolving the conflict. The United States is taking a pivotal role in mediating discussions as Armenia has started to turn towards the West, with many Armenians remaining skeptical and dissatisfied with the handling of the crisis by Russia and CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization). Despite the complicated historical and ethnic tensions and disputes, both countries hope for a peace deal that lasts long and aids in the ending of the conflict.


The Prospects for a peace Deal Between Armenia and Azerbaijan


There is currently a glimmer of hope for a possible peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as both sides have engaged in diplomatic efforts toward resolving their long-standing conflict. The United States has been deeply involved in helping the two countries work towards a comprehensive peace agreement. In May 2023, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held peace talks with the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers after months of stalled negotiations. Despite the challenges ahead, including potential obstacles such as territorial disputes and political tensions, the ongoing negotiations and diplomatic efforts provide a promising prospect for a peace deal.


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a meeting with Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and Armenia's Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan at Washington on Nov. 7, 2022 (Source: Reuters)

However, potential challenges and obstacles still loom, which could hinder the peace process. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has stated that peace can only be achieved if it limits Armenia’s concessions. Meanwhile Azerbaijan has refused to provide “special security guarantees” for the ethnic Armenians living in the region as demanded by Armenia in exchange for giving up territorial claims on the region. Some experts also warn of the heavy price tag of a possible peace deal. Despite these challenges, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has expressed his commitment to normalizing relations with Armenia based on serious grounds, as he wishes to reopen train routes in southeastern Armenia to connect mainland Azerbaijan with its enclave of Nakhchivan.


If a peace deal is reached, it will nonetheless have significant impacts on the region and beyond. An agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan could have wide-reaching consequences for the entire Caucasus region and potentially pave the way for more peace deals amongst other disputed regions, as it would serve as an example for resolving other protracted conflicts around the world and uphold that peace and reconciliation are possible. Ultimately, a peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan would open up trade routes benefitting both countries economically and thus improving the lives of the ordinary citizens affected by the conflict for decades.


The Importance of a Peaceful Resolution for the Region and Beyond

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has had significant humanitarian consequences for the region since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Towns and villages populated by one of the two ethnicities have been destroyed and abandoned during the conflict resulting in the displacement of thousands of people from places like Hardut and Agdam. A peaceful resolution to the conflict would not only impact the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan but also provide much-needed relief and a sense of stability to those affected by the conflict.


Furthermore, there have been numerous ceasefire violations by both parties since November 2020, which has led to several questions about the situation of human rights in the region marked with conflict. One particular incident that drew international attention was when thousands of Azerbaijanis calling themselves “environmentalists” protested against Armenia for committing an “ecocide” in the region and blocked off access to the Lachin corridor, a key highway that connects Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia proper. This blockade effectively cut off essential supplies, including food and medicine, to people living in Nagorno-Karabakh for over a month. It was noted by various international organizations, including the International Court of Justice, that the protesters had government connections and used the protest as a pretext to block the route. These human rights issues must be addressed as part of any peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan. International organizations such as Amnesty International have called for thorough investigations into all alleged crimes committed during this conflict so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.


Armenians queue outside a shop in Stepanakert during the blockade. The blockade has caused severe shortages of vital supplies including food, gas and medicine. (Source: Getty Images)

The conflict has also had economic and political implications for the region. The ongoing conflict has hindered economic development within the two countries as most of the nation’s budget is disproportionately for military use. There remains significant pressure on landlocked Armenia's economy since most of its trade depends on transport through neighboring countries such as Iran and Russia, as it's surrounded by hostile neighbors, namely, Turkey and Azerbaijan. A peaceful resolution would open up opportunities for economic growth and regional cooperation, like new trade routes and corridors. Additionally, a peaceful resolution would contribute to stability in the region, which is crucial for attracting foreign investment and promoting political stability.


In conclusion, the broader implications of a peaceful resolution for resolving this conflict have significant implications for the two countries and beyond. The conflict has remained a long source of tension between the two ethnic groups, who continue to look at each other as enemies and threats to their existence. Resolving it would open doors for reconciliation between the two communities, like in Soviet times, when they used to coexist peacefully. It would help both states to boost their economy, encourage trade through cooperation, and have positive implications for international peace and security. While several disagreements are yet to be negotiated upon, a resolution is not impossible as both sides show commitment to ending the decade-long hostility. The commitment of the international community to support the peace process is crucial in ensuring a lasting and sustainable peace agreement. With emotions running high as casualties keep getting mounted, both communities remain optimistic about the peace talks and strive to end the decades-long conflict plaguing the region and the populace. As Secretary Blinken stated, peace is achievable in the South Caucasus, and the ongoing talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan provide hope for a peaceful resolution.


 

Sources:

“Upholding the Ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia.” Crisis Group, 29 Sept. 2022, www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/caucasus/armenia-azerbaijan-nagorno-karabakh-conflict/upholding-ceasefire.


Desk, EurAsian Times. “Armenia ‘Ready to Recognize’ Karabakh as the Territory of Azerbaijan, Armenian PM Pashinyan Hints at Ending War.” Latest Asian, Middle-East, EurAsian, Indian News, 22 May 2023, eurasiantimes.com/armenia-ready-to-recognize-karabakh-as-the-territory/.


“Continued Peace Talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan - United States Department of State.” Press Statement, 23 May 2023, www.state.gov/continued-peace-talks-between-armenia-and-azerbaijan/.


Andrew Osborn, Mike Collett-White. “Nagorno-Karabakh: Azerbaijan Says Extra Guarantees for Enclave’s Ethnic Armenians Not Possible.” Reuters, 23 June 2023, www.reuters.com/world/azerbaijan-rejects-demand-guarantees-nagorno-karabakhs-ethnic-armenians-2023-06-22/.


Pandita, KN. “US Initiates ‘Historic’ Mediation Process as Azerbaijan & Armenia Move to Resolve a Generation-Old Conflict.” Latest Asian, Middle-East, EurAsian, Indian News, 5 June 2023, eurasiantimes.com/us-initiates-historic-mediation-process-as-azerbaijan-armenia/.


Baiou, Sabrine. “Implications of an Armenia-Azerbaijan Peace Deal - New Lines Institute.” New Lines Institute - New Lines Institute Is the First Independent, Non-Partisan American Think Tank, 21 Oct. 2022, newlinesinstitute.org/state-resilience-and-fragility/implications-of-an-armenia-azerbaijan-peace-deal/.


“Despite ‘Glimmer of Hope’ in Armenia, Azerbaijan Conflict, Escalating Tensions Threaten to Derail Fragile Progress, Senior Official Tells Security Council | UN Press.” United Nations, 20 Sept. 2022, press.un.org/en/2022/sc15154.doc.htm.


Krivosheev, Kirill. “Armenia Is Ready to Relinquish Nagorno-Karabakh: What Next?” Carneige Politika, 28 Apr. 2023, carnegieendowment.org/politika/89635.

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