Daily Review: Armenia and Azerbaijan Reach Cease-Fire

Daily Review: Armenia and Azerbaijan Reach Cease-Fire
Russian peacekeepers’ military vehicles at a check point in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Nov. 17, 2020 (AP photo by Sergei Grits).

Today at WPR, we’re covering recent successes for social democratic parties in Europe and South Africa’s now-united opposition.

But first, here’s our take on today’s top story:

Armenia-Azerbaijan: After two days of fighting, Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have reached a cease-fire agreement regarding the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region. Talks between Azerbaijani officials and the region’s ethnic Armenian authorities on Nagorno-Karabakh’s reintegration into Azerbaijan are scheduled for tomorrow. (AP)

For context: This week’s fighting is the culmination of a 30-year conflict that dates back to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. For most of that time, Armenia occupied Nagorno-Karabakh—a separatist Armenian-majority region of Azerbaijan—as well as several blocks of Azerbaijani territory surrounding the region as buffer zones.

Over the past decade, however, the military balance of power as well as geopolitical dynamics have shifted in Azerbaijan’s favor, leading to the frozen conflict becoming hot for six weeks in 2020. In that short but violent war, Azerbaijani forces seized all of the Armenian-occupied territory surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, but not the region itself, the final status of which was supposed to be resolved per the terms of a cease-fire agreed to at the time.

Negotiations since then have stalled, largely because the outcome since 2020 has seemed clear: Nagorno-Karabakh would return to Azerbaijan’s control. As a result, Baku had little incentive to make any concessions.

Our Take: Azerbaijan’s attack yesterday had raised concerns that Baku would achieve that outcome not through diplomacy, but through a bloody end game resulting in the ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Though an Armenian exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh is already underway, the tentative cease-fire reached today—which essentially represents a surrender on the part of Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh—suggests that all sides are trying to avoid such a conclusion.

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Russia is bound by a mutual defense treaty with Armenia, and it has a peacekeeping force in Nagorno-Karabakh as part of the 2020 cease-fire agreement. Its troops have remained on the sidelines, however, with Moscow arguing that Azerbaijan has technically not attacked Armenian territory. But its inaction, as well as its shift toward accepting Azerbaijan’s preferred outcome, also reflect the fact that its influence and ability to shape outcomes in the region are now receding, in part due to being overstretched by its war in Ukraine.

Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan, confronted by the reality of a clear imbalance in military power, has tried to prepare the Armenian public for the inevitable over the past year. But the protests that have erupted in Yerevan since yesterday underscore what a hot-button issue the region is in Armenian politics. Conceding Armenia’s inability to protect Nagorno-Karabakh will weaken Pashinyan politically, but will not necessarily jeopardize his position, given that he went on to win a snap election following Armenia’s territorial losses in 2020.

Now, as talks begin on Nagorno-Karabakh’s “reintegration” into Azerbaijan, negotiations will need to focus on three main priorities:

  • Preventing any potential ethnic cleansing of the region’s Armenian population.
  • Ensuring the fair treatment of the Armenian population under Azerbaijan’s rule.
  • Avoiding any potential conflict with Iran related to Azerbaijan’s presence near Iran’s border with Armenia.
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That’s all for today’s Daily Review. Coming up, we’re covering Russia’s dwindling influence in Southeast Asia and a recent tipping point in China’s trade with the United States.

Have a great day,

Jakob Cansler

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