What can end the clashes in the South Caucasus?

03 November 2020 — 11:48

By Javid Valiyev

On September 27, the South Caucasus witnessed a new escalation in the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This war has turned the world’s attention to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which has remained unresolved for 30 years. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, consisting of France, the USA and the Russian Federation, have been dealing with this problem for 26 years, unable to produce any results. With Nikol Pashinyan becoming Prime Minister of Armenia, many people hoped it would push towards a solution of this problem. In fact, during the first meeting between the leaders of the two countries held in Dushanbe in 2018, Prime Minister Pashinyan asked for time from Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in order to consolidate his power in the country and to take creative substantive steps regarding the solution of the conflict.

However, Nikol Pashinyan instead chose to take provocative steps under the influence of competition in his domestic policy. At this point, he has even made harsher and more radical statements than Robert Kocharyan and Serj Sargsyan, who are regarded as the Karabakh clan. These steps taken by Armenia have provoked Azerbaijan and strengthened the idea of ​​war in the country, whose last hope for peace has now been exhausted.

Although the international community has taken some steps in hopes of stopping the conflict from its initial start date, it has not yielded any results. Since the beginning of the clashes, with Russia, France and USA’s coordination, the two sides have thrice agreed on a temporary “humanitarian truce”, although neither three turned into a final ceasefire agreement. During the humanitarian truce, as a result of Armenian ballistic missile attacks, 61 Azerbaijani civilians lost their lives.

While the Armenian side argued that a ceasefire should be achieved urgently without preconditions, the Azerbaijani side argued for a timetable to be put forward for the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories. This plan is in accordance with the four resolutions of the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly resolution adopted in 2008. James Warlick, a former U.S. diplomat and one of the Minsk Group co-chairs, also shared in his twitter that peace is possible only if the occupied territories are returned to Azerbaijan.

Nonetheless, Armenia does not accept these offers. In his interview and address to the nation, Nikol Pashinyan made a statement saying that they do not accept these conditions and told Armenians that “we will either fight to the end or accept the offer of Azerbaijan”. After the twice occurring meetings in Moscow between Ministers of Foreign Affairs of both countries, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan declared that the problem does not have a diplomatic solution and they will fight until the end.

Both sides have complained about the lack of sufficient international support and attention. Elections held in the USA have negatively affected the country’s activity on this issue. In general, experts believe that the US interest in the region has been in decline since the Obama and Trump era. However, the presidential candidates have recently called for an end to the war. Trump’s rival Joe Biden declared in a statement that for a permanent ceasefire, Armenia has to withdraw from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh region. US Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison has also stated that “Armenians should live within the borders of sovereign Azerbaijan! This can be resolved and then this conflict will end”.

Different approaches were taken by EU member countries. While Hungary and Italy supported the position of Azerbaijan, French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement that “France will not allow Azerbaijan to enter Nagorno-Karabakh” pleased Armenia, while making Azerbaijan believe that France undermined its neutrality as a member of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs. But later, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of France Jean-Yves Le Drian corrected President Macron’s remarks and stated that France should remain neutral on this issue.

As a member of the CSTO, Armenia first expected a Russian military intervention. After Pashinyan’s fourth phone call, Vladimir Putin made a statement saying that the clashes were not taking place within the borders of Armenia and that the CSTO would not intervene. Afterwards, Armenia called for Russian peacekeeping troops to be brought to the region. However, since this region is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, peacekeeping troops cannot be deployed without the approval of Baku. According to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, the arrival of peacekeeping troops here should be the last step after a political solution is reached. According to Matthew Bryza, former member of Minsk Group Co-Chairs, peace units cannot come to the region from Minsk Group Co-Chair countries.

In addition, Azerbaijan has constantly insisted on Turkey`s involvement in the negotiation process, hoping that it will speed up the resolution process. Although Turkey is one of the members of the OSCE Minsk Group, it is not a Co-Chair. 

Despite some claims, Turkish forces are not on the ground fighting against the Armenian troops. As reported by the Azerbaijani officials, the Azerbaijani army has sufficient manpower to remove the Armenian troops from its territory on its own. According to some experts, Armenian claims about the Turkish involvement in clashes have three reasons. First, this creates Russian-Turkish escalation in the region. The second reason is to get support from the West. Thirdly, it allows the Pashinyan government to convince the Armenian people that they are fighting against both Azerbaijan and Turkey. 

There have also been some allegations about Syrian fighters. However, all the video and photo evidences shown were scenes of conflict shot in Syria, not in Nagorno-Karabakh. President of Turkey Rajab Tayyib Erdogan has also debunked this claim, stating that Syrians have more work to do in Syria. Azerbaijan has enough manpower and has no reason to bring in foreign fighters, and additionally, Azerbaijan is a secular state. Past actions of Azerbaijan, like imprisoning some of its citizens and even stripping others of their citizenship for going to Syria to fight also make the allegations seem illogical. 

Iran, one of the other states of the region, also argues that the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh should be resolved within the framework of the UN Security Council resolutions and within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. 

The resumption of this war is the result of lack of advancement in the peace negotiations process that have been going on for 26 years within the framework of the Minsk Group. Azerbaijan, along with implementing the four UN Security Council resolutions that were adopted in 1993, is also useing its legitimate right of self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter. The conflict will come to an end when Armenia withdraws its troops from the Azerbaijani territories. Otherwise, ceasefires will be temporary and occupation will be permanent.