This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope talk to Crisis Group’s South Caucasus expert Olesya Vartanyan about the conflict in and over Nagorno-Karabakh, a year on from a Russian-brokered ceasefire that put an end to renewed large-scale fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Originally published in ISPI
Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders and FMs renewed diplomatic engagement, facilitating prisoner release and easing tensions. In positive sign of increasing engagement and lowering tensions, govt participated in series of meetings with Azerbaijani counterparts following notable late-Nov breakthrough when Russian President Putin, Azerbaijani President Aliyev and Armenian PM Pashinyan agreed that bilateral commission on delimitation and demarcation of state border should be set by Azerbaijan and Armenia. Armenian FM Ararat Mirzoyan 1 Dec and Azerbaijani FM Jeyhun Bayramov 2 Dec met Minsk Group Co-Chairs at Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Stockholm Ministerial Council. Reportedly with Russian mediation, Azerbaijan 4 Dec returned ten captured Armenian soldiers to Yerevan in return for landmines maps. European Council President Charles Michel 14 Dec hosted trilateral discussion with Pashinyan and Aliyev, announcing EU’s readiness to offer technical assistance for border delimitation and demarcation, and praised agreement to restore communication channel between defence ministers, set up rail link and agree on “further tangible steps” ahead of planned launch of negotiations on delimitation and demarcation talks. Pashinyan and Aliyev 15 Dec also informally met at initiative of French President Macron. Azerbaijan 19 Dec released ten Armenian detainees “with mediation of the European Union”. Armenian soldiers 18 Dec detained two Azerbaijani servicemen after latter crossed into Armenian territory; Armenia 20 Dec returned soldiers. With mediation of Hungary, Azerbaijan 29 Dec handed over to Yerevan five Armenian soldiers detained during 16 Nov border clashes. Aliyev 14 Dec insisted Lachin corridor – which connects Russian peacekeepers stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia – and Azerbaijan-Nakhichevan corridor should have “exactly the same” legal regime without customs controls; Pashinyan same day countered this would contradict earlier agreements. After Armenia and Azerbaijan in Sept filed cases against each other, International Court of Justice 7 Dec announced provisional decision for both “to refrain from any action” aggravating or extending dispute, to prevent racial hatred, and for Azerbaijan to protect Armenian prisoners and Armenian cultural heritage. Aliyev 1 Dec appointed Emin Huseynov to new post of Special Representative to Karabakh Economic District, with territory covering regained lands of 2020 war.
The 2020 war over Nagorno-Karabakh left many issues unresolved and the front lines volatile. The parties should establish a formal communication channel to address urgent post-war problems, Russian peacekeepers need a clearer mandate and aid agencies must be granted access to the conflict zone.
Russian mediation succeeded in ending the six-week war in Nagorno-Karabakh but left much unresolved, chiefly the region’s future status. If the cessation of hostilities is to become a sustainable peace, the parties should start by cooperating on humanitarian relief and trade before tackling larger questions.
Fighting in July interrupted what had been a stretch of relative quiet on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. The incidents underscored how quickly and unexpectedly this front can erupt. The two countries should take better advantage of a hotline created in 2018 to avoid dangerous misunderstandings.
If they move quickly, Armenia and Azerbaijan could break out of their long impasse over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. They could pursue quiet talks on thorny issues – settlements, peacekeepers and final status – but along separate tracks rather than in a single package.
Armenia and Azerbaijan are once again on collision course along increasingly active front lines in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. Mediators Russia, France and the U.S., should pressure Yerevan and Baku to tone down inflammatory rhetoric, agree to talks and take steps towards peace.
Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in early April killed up to 200 people, forcing international attention back to resolving the generation-old Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The time has come for a decisive push for progress in the peace talks. Both sides are on an unprecedented war footing, and any new clashes risk dragging outside parties into a wider war.
Many people would be very surprised if clashes at the Armenia-Azerbaijan border spiral out into war, but that doesn’t mean something cannot happen, say, in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.
Fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh is decimating towns and cities, displacing tens of thousands and killing scores. Combatants must cease attacks on populated areas and let humanitarian aid through. International actors, notably the UN and OSCE, should send monitors and push harder for a ceasefire.
Azerbaijan and Armenia are again at war over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region. Russia and France may be best-positioned to broker a ceasefire, but would need to offer parties prospects of attaining goals through talks. It will be a hard sell.
In this week’s episode of Hold Your Fire!, Aaron Miller, a veteran U.S. diplomat, unpacks President Trump’s unconventional foreign relations with our President Rob Malley and co-host Naz Modirzadeh, a Harvard professor of international law and armed conflict.
The fresh violence in the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border now threatens the livelihoods of many facing the impossible choice of leaving their crops to rot or risking their lives gathering their produce for market.