Unresolved conflicts and breakaway territories divide five out of six of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership countries, most of them directly backed by the Russian Federation. But a policy of isolating the people living in these conflict regions narrows the road to peace.
President Aliyev 21 Feb announced appointment of his wife Mehibran Aliyeva, deputy chair of ruling New Azerbaijan Party, as first VP. Belarus 7 Feb extradited Russian/Ukrainian/Israeli blogger charged with supporting NK independence and making public calls aimed to “destroy state’s unity”; case condemned by Amnesty International. Russia said it was “deeply disappointed” about extradition, Armenia said it represented “gross violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of speech and movement”. President Aliyev visited Brussels 6 Feb to discuss inter alia new cooperation agreement between Azerbaijan and EU; cancelled planned meeting with European parliament president. Two Azerbaijani nationals arrested 20 Feb for high treason, accused of collecting information about Azerbaijan’s strategic objects, secret service agents and military personnel. Authorities reportedly killed four alleged extremists and captured one during 31 Jan search operation.
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.
Stronger international engagement is needed to help prevent the deadly conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan from escalating gravely at a time of internal political tensions in both.
As negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia to resolve the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh stall, the Azerbaijan government has improved living conditions for the internally displaced (IDPs), though return to the occupied territories remains by far the preferred solution.
Escalating front-line clashes, a spiralling arms race, vitriolic rhetoric and a virtual breakdown in peace talks increase the chance Armenia and Azerbaijan will go back to war over Nagorno-Karabakh, with devastating regional consequences.
If it continues to ignore the need for economic and political reform, Azerbaijan will squander an historic opportunity to use the country’s energy resources to build a more durable state system and a prosperous nation.
Azerbaijan wants to create a strong army to regain Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts, either by improving its negotiating leverage with Armenia or going back to war. It has exponentially increased its military budget, though it has not so far gained clear superiority over Armenian forces. If the new military is to be not only stronger but also better governed, however, it needs deep reforms to make it less corrupt and personality driven, more transparent and better directed.
Originally published in The International Herald Tribune
In the 1990s, the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia generated one of the world’s largest populations of internally displaced persons, or IDPs, when hundreds of thousands of ethnic Azeris fled their homes in the face of Armenian forces. Lawrence Scott Sheets, Crisis Group's South Caucasus Project Director, discusses how IDPs have fared and the prospects for a deal that could permit their return.
Lawrence Sheets, Crisis Group's South Caucasus Project Director, discusses the risks of renewed war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.