Sep 22, 2023 at 8:04 p.m
The Nagorno-Karabakh region was the scene of fighting for the umpteenth time this week. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at loggerheads in this region for more than thirty years. It seems that Azerbaijan is now coming out on top.
Negotiations between the warring parties – Armenian separatists on the one hand and the Azerbaijani army on the other – are still ongoing, but there are indications that control of Nagorno-Karabakh will fall into the hands of Azerbaijan.
“Last Tuesday’s short but fierce battle marks the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh region as we know it,” said analyst Zaur Shiriyev of the International Crisis Group think tank. Shiriyev was in the area last week.
“We have reached a turning point after more than thirty years of fighting. The disarming of Armenian separatists and the dismantling of local power structures means that Nagorno-Karabakh is now likely to come under the direct authority of Baku.”
Azerbaijan managed to regain territory again and again
Although Nagorno-Karabakh is located in Azerbaijan, it has a largely ethnic Armenian population. Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a war ensued between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia took control of the enclave and conquered surrounding areas. The ethnic Armenian population was in charge.
“Until the second war in 2020, peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan revolved around two issues: the return of Azerbaijani territory and the status of the ethnic Armenian population,” Shiriyev said. During armed conflict three years ago, Azerbaijan managed to regain a lot of territory, but control over Nagorno-Karabakh remained in the hands of the self-appointed Armenian administrators.
During the 2020 ceasefire, it was agreed that Armenian troops would withdraw. “But Azerbaijan has always read that provision as a ban on all armed groups in the area, including Armenian separatists. So when Baku had indications that those groups were heavily armed, the reason for a new attack also became apparent.”
Peace negotiations at a low level
Although the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region seems to be taking place somewhat out of sight of the cameras, the EU, the United States and Russia have been working for years to achieve a definitive peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There are international observer missions from time to time and, since 2020, Russian peacekeepers have also been stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Shiriyev sees that the peace negotiations are now at a low level and that the attention of the EU, the United States and Russia has also waned. But Shiriyev goes too far to say that the lack of attention to the negotiations is the result of the war in Ukraine. “In recent years, Russian peacekeepers have had to adapt to the military situation on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh. This has always been determined by actions by the Azerbaijani army.”
Moreover, the road to peace has more obstacles, says Shiriyev. “There are elections for the European Parliament coming up in 2024 and the American presidential elections will be held later that year. Do the EU and the US want to get involved in such an active conflict? And how stable is the Armenian government?”
“The day after the Azerbaijani attack, people took to the streets in the Armenian capital Yerevan. All these factors are bad news for peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and therefore for the future of Nagorno-Karabakh and the local population.”
The location of the Nagorno-Karabakh region.