The April 2018 “velvet revolution” in Armenia has brought new meetings and helped improve the dynamics of the three-decade-long conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Much more needs to happen to reach peace, but Azerbaijan’s old scepticism is giving way to cautious hope in diplomacy.
Despite tensions between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaderships over Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) peace process early March, much-anticipated official summit 29 March resulted in commitment to strengthen ceasefire, improve communications and implement humanitarian projects. Armenian defence minister late Feb announced military strategy that would consider possible attacks at enemy positions rather than just self-defence, while Azerbaijani President Aliyev 14 March accused Yerevan of attempting to block Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group-led negotiation process after Armenia proposed discussion on inclusion of de facto NK leadership in negotiations. After Director of Armenia’s National Security Service during visit to NK conflict zone 27 Feb announced full support to local nationalist calls for continued development of Armenian settlements, Azerbaijan 11 March announced launch of large-scale military exercises close to NK conflict zone – first since Armenian PM Pashinyan took office in May 2018. Armenia 12 March convened first-ever joint Security Council meeting with NK leadership in de facto NK capital Stepanakert, during which Pashinyan reiterated support to existing negotiation format and framework, and stated that inclusion of de facto officials not a pre-condition, but necessary for a more effective peace process. Azerbaijan 26 March reported one soldier killed in exchange of fire in southern direction of Line of Contact (LoC) in NK conflict zone. First official summit between Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev held in Vienna 29 March: both leaders assessed meeting positively and voiced readiness to continue talks. Minsk Group co-chairs released statement together with Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers which highlighted commitment of leaders “to strengthening the ceasefire and improving the mechanism for direct communication”; also mentioned agreement on “a number of measures in the humanitarian field”.
Rivalry persists between Russia and Turkey in their shared neighbourhood of the Black Sea and the South Caucasus. But Moscow-Ankara relations have warmed overall. Building on their wider rapprochement, the two powers can work together to tamp down flare-ups of regional conflicts.
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.
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.
A preliminary breakthrough in the two-decades-old Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – a framework agreement on basic principles – may be within reach.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have failed to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, even though the framework for a fair settlement has been on the table since 2005. A comprehensive peace agreement before presidential elections in both countries in 2008 is now unlikely but the two sides still can and should agree before the polls to a document on basic principles, which if necessary clearly indicates the points that are still in dispute.
Settlement of the long running Nagorno-Karabakh conflict -- the most significant obstacle to stability in the South Caucasus -- remains elusive, despite more optimistic noises recently from Azerbaijan and Armenia. Eleven years after the 1994 ceasefire, burgeoning defence budgets, increasing ceasefire violations, and continuing demonisation by each side of the other side are ominous signs that time for a peace agreement is running out.
The chances for the potential escalation [of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict] are very high. And the conflict will be more deadly this time, since both sides know each other’s capabilities
[A border clash between Armenia and Azerbaijan] is really very strange and surprising. There have been very few incidents outside Nagorno-Karabakh this year.
With his party’s victory in the snap parliamentary elections and a new calm on the frontlines with Azerbaijan, Armenia’s leader Nikol Pashinyan and his team will have more space to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Armenia’s new government will likely adhere to long-held positions in its 30-year conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. But the two sides need more direct communication in the conflict zone. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018 – Second Update early warning report, Crisis Group urges European policymakers to help forge these links to avoid renewed fighting.
Crisis Group’s second update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on seizing a chance for peace in Mali, avoiding escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh, mitigating conflict in Syria’s peripheral regions, and helping Somalia overcome obstacles to reform. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
Crisis Group's Europe & Central Asia Program Director Magdalena Grono talks about the relations between Russia and Turkey as they reflect on the Black Sea and the South Caucasus.