On December 1st, Lachin was handed over to Azerbaijan in line with the trilateral peace treaty among Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia, which took effect on November 10th. The return of Lachin completed the withdrawal of the Armenian military forces from the Azerbaijani territories, which were occupied by Armenia during the first Karabakh war of 1991-1994, writes Dr. Ceyhun Osmanli.
The treaty also ensured the return of Aghdam and Kalbajar regions to Azerbaijan on November 20th and 25th, respectively. As a result of a 44-day-long second Karabakh war, which broke out on September 27th, the Azerbaijani army restored its sovereignty in Nagorno-Karabakh and its 7 surrounding districts. Nagorno-Karabakh and its 7 surrounding districts are recognised by the international community as Azerbaijani territories but were under the occupation of Armenia for almost 30 years.
The trilateral peace treaty brought a decades-long conflict to an end while promising to bring justice for Azerbaijani IDPs, who were forced to flee their homes during the first Karabakh war. 4 UN Security Council resolutions as well as numerous OSCE, European Parliament and Council of Europe resolutions had been calling for the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and for the return of the IDPs for several years.
However, these resolutions had remained unfulfilled and peace proposals by international and regional organisations were unsuccessful for a variety of reasons. The recent trilateral peace treaty has, thus, achieved what many efforts failed to do in the last three decades.
However, the peace treaty was not welcomed by the Armenian side. Many Armenians accused the Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan with treason and called for his resignation; and three Armenian Ministers, including the Minister of Defense Davit Tonayan, resigned from their posts amid unrest and protests in Yerevan. On the other hand, Azerbaijanis saw the end of the conflict as the greatest military and diplomatic victory of the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. The liberation of the occupied territories was celebrated in Baku with great national pride.
The ceasefire has boosted Aliyev’s popularity to unprecedented levels while cementing his legacy as a ‘national hero’ and ‘the commander-in-chief of the glorious Azerbaijani army’. Fulfilling his father Heydar Aliyev’s will, Ilham Aliyev, who turns 59 today, strengthened the Azerbaijani economy during his presidency and equipped the Azerbaijani army with modern military warfare and combat drone technology that played a decisive role in Azerbaijan’s victory.
It is expected that the new peace treaty will open new horizons for the South Caucasus. Being rich in minerals and energy resources, the region is home to natural beauty, unique historical and spiritual sites, and diverse cultural traditions. But it has been isolated due to the territorial dispute between neighbouring states Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh since the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a result of the conflict, borders were closed, railways were interrupted and the economic potential of the region was missed out for many years. Now, the next step will be the normalisation of relations based on the current reality. The task is not an easy one. Besides demining the territory, all the infrastructure for energy, gas pipelines, electricity, water, houses and schools has to be rebuilt.
In this context, Ilham Aliyev stated that “this unity will allow us the opportunity to revive the liberated lands and return our internally displaced people to those lands as soon as possible… The Karabakh region, our beautiful historical land, will be reborn, revived, and revitalised” during his victory parade on December 10th.
In addition, there is new hope for the peaceful co-existence of Azerbaijanis and Armenians, as Azerbaijan is determined to integrate its Armenian minority into the country’s political, social and economic sphere. Respecting the diversity of values, religions, ethnicities and languages in a multi-cultural society, the Azerbaijani constitution guarantees the rights and freedoms of all its citizens on an equal and non-discriminatory basis. Hence, Azerbaijani citizens of Armenian origin will also enjoy equal rights, irrespective of their ethnic background, like other national minorities, such as Lezgins, Russians, Talysh, Tatars and Jews.
Without any doubt, Azerbaijan will bring economic growth, education opportunities, modern infrastructure, peace and security to the region, promising more prosperity for the South Caucasus. This can already be seen by new connectivity projects, such as a new railway project, which aims at connecting Khankendi with other parts of the region.
Now that the 30-year-old Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which was the biggest threat to peace and security in the South Caucasus, has been sidelined, the region will likely attract more investment and capital. More prosperity, openness and welfare are in the cards for the Caucasus in the upcoming years. This is a positive development for the EU, which will not only benefit from increased stability in the European neighborhood but also from stronger economic, energy and tourism links with its eastern partners.