Tide May Be Turning Against Azerbaijan with Renewed OSCE Efforts

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The second Karabakh war came to an end with the signing of the trilateral declaration on November 9, 2020, but the war of attrition continues with Azerbaijani incursions within Armenia’s sovereign territory.

No matter how those skirmishes are portrayed by the participants of the conflict or by the international community, the intention is very clear: Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan have referred, on many occasions, to Armenia’s dwindling population, which may eventually make the takeover easier, even without a war.

Unfortunately, there is a sad logic behind that argument. Many Armenians leave their homeland because they see no future for their children there. No matter how patriotic Armenia’s citizens may be, thinking objectively, they may conclude that they cannot build a solid family life in their homeland and they seek life elsewhere. After all, they think, they will have one life to live and they cannot afford to lose that life in a perpetual hot zone which might break out into war at any given time. That fulfills the ultimate goal of the country’s enemies.

Within this perspective, all political deals, discussions and counteraccusations are rendered meaningless. The alternative must be to build the armed forces and to decide to live in an armed garrison to have peace and stability. That unfortunately does not seem an achievable goal with Armenia’s limited resources and its dependence on its allies and friends for arms supplies.

The continued harassment and aggression by Azerbaijan is intended to convince Armenia to give up Karabakh and worry instead for its own security. That was the conclusion of Thomas de Waal, an expert on the Caucasus with Carnegie Europe, which he explained in an interview with Radio Free Europe.

A segment of the population of Armenia quietly resented the Karabakh war and blamed it for Armenia’s problems; more and more of that population has become vocal: “Let’s get rid of Karabakh and live a peaceful life,” they say. At one point, a similar sentiment was entertained by Baku Armenians, who believed that Karabakh’s demand for independence or unity with Armenia caused the Baku and Sumgait pogroms and led to the expulsion of the 400,000-strong Armenian population in Azerbaijan.

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However, historic developments come to prove that those resentments were misplaced. Azerbaijan’s mentor, Turkey, had all along planned to uproot the Armenians from the Caucasus to serve its pan-Turanic goals, as it did in historic Armenia, leading to a homogeneous Muslim population (except that there they had not taken into account Kurdish irredentism).

At the present time, President Aliyev is in a rush to beat the odds and forestall the developing political situation in the Caucasus. His remarks on CNN-Turk on August 14 created some waves in the media. He reiterated his demand for the Zangezur Corridor and his claims on Yerevan and Sevan, but above all, he complained about Russia’s rearming Armenia. He cynically stated that Armenians have come to accept their situation as a defeated people and as proof, he cited the reelection of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

The Russian side did not wait too long to respond to Aliyev’s statements. In fact, on August 19, Maria Zakharova, the official spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said: “It is in Russia’s sovereign right and the Russian side always takes into account maintaining a balance of military power in the region.”

She added, “In this regard, I would like to note the absolute counter-productiveness of confrontational rhetoric, let alone bellicose rhetoric, which political leaders in the South Caucasus sometimes resort to.”

This was a direct reference to President Aliyev’s warlike statements.

Zakharova’s remarks were amplified with a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense for the first time, blaming Azerbaijan for violating the spirit of the November 9 declaration, by engaging in border shootings with Armenia.

Although these statements demonstrate a favorable tilt in Moscow’s relations with Armenia, critics in Yerevan interpreted these statements with a grain of salt. For example, political analyst Hakob Badalyan wrote in a column sarcastically that Russia, holding the military balance in the Caucasus, has armed Azerbaijan sufficiently to win the war and armed Armenia commensurately to lose the war. His conclusion was that since Azerbaijan acquired Turkish and Israeli weapons, in addition to the Russian military supplies, Armenia similarly has to look elsewhere, particularly to the West, to balance its foreign policy.

In defense of this comment, we should remember how Russia has refused Prime Minister Pashinyan’s request to station Russian border guards between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.

These balancing acts do not offer convincing evidence that Russia truly is concerned with Armenia’s security. They simply demonstrate Moscow’s disillusionment with Azerbaijan, which, after receiving Russian blessing for its victory over Armenia, surrendered completely to Turkey politically.

Although Aliyev is concerned with Moscow’s actions, which he believes are favoring Armenia, he is more concerned with the statements coming from the West. First, US Ambassador Lynne Tracy stated that the Karabakh war has left many problems unsettled and negotiations have to resume under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group for a final peaceful settlement. Bolstering that call for backing the OSCE effort was French President Emmanuel Macron’s phone discussions with Pashinyan and President Putin, about the need to resume negotiations.

These statements will be amplified with Macron’s upcoming personal visit to the region. Although the US and French co-chairs of the Minsk Group have stated the need for further negotiations, until now Moscow was dragging its feet. It seems Macron’s call to President Putin has promised international legitimacy to Russian peacekeeping forces, if enhanced with some European soldiers from Scandinavia.

These developments have been worrying President Aliyev and that is why he is trying to extract a peace treaty with Armenia, legitimizing the takeover of Karabakh, before the co-chairs begin to discuss the future status of the enclave.

Also, the resumption of those negotiations will sideline Turkey, which in Aliyev’s conviction, has already occupied a permanent place in the Caucasus.

As Aliyev races for a quick settlement to legitimize his conquest, Armenia is pinning its hopes on the Minsk Group actions, now that the US and France have convinced Russia to join the tandem.

Now comes the next crucial question: If and when Karabakh’s self-determination is finalized, would that be within Azerbaijan or a different status?

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