As We Cross Fateful Anniversary of November 9 Ceasefire

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One hundred and six years after the Genocide, the unrepentant perpetrator is still next door, and its Turanic plans still being driven forward, at the expense of Armenia.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls the surviving Armenians “leftovers of the sword,” meaning that they deserved the fate of their martyred kin, yet have been spared the execution they deserved in the minds of their executioners.

In his turn, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev continues to characterize Armenians as the enemy and brags that the Azerbaijani army has chased the Armenians “like dogs” from its territory. This kind of parlance is not a lexicon for political discourse in the 21st century. And yet, Armenia is poised to sign a peace treaty with leaders who have such a mindset.

The Turkish delegation was received by Aliyev.

To further explore the irony of that logic, we need to quote the Turkish daily, Sabah, which has covered the victory celebrations in Shushi, where Turkey was represented by Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.

“Speaking at the ceremony, Akar said, ‘Victory has been won but a new struggle has begun to ensure a permanent peace that will bring stability to the Caucasus after many years.’

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“Earlier on Monday in Shusha, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev said the country was able to ‘mobilize all our forces and kick the enemy out,’ referring to Armenian militias that occupied Karabakh since 1991. ‘Armenia is now a defeated state.’

“Aliyev and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have displayed an extremely constructive approach to bequeath peace to future generations, and have opened the door to a new era based on stability and cooperation, Akar noted.

“’Everyone needs to know that a future cannot be built on grudge and hatred. Armenia should abandon hostility and look to the future,’ he said.”

This kind of rhetoric is not characteristic of a victorious party; it is derived from the frustration of the Turkish and Azerbaijani leaders. If President Aliyev truly believed that he could “mobilize all our forces and kick the enemy out,” he would not need Israeli and Turkish drones, nor Syrian jihadists and the firepower of the Pakistani air force. With all this “mobilization” the Armenian army justified its reputation as the most formidable fighting force in the region by opposing the onslaught for 44 days and causing three times more casualties (18,000) to the Azerbaijani army.

In the aftermath of the war, the situation appeared so fluid that Turkey and Azerbaijan might be able to force open the “Zangezur Corridor” for themselves. But since then, the configuration of forces has prevented the Turkish plans from being achieved. Before the war, the Azerbaijanis had resented that the Armenian army had taken part of “their territory.” Today, they have to tolerate the presence of two armies: the Karabakh defense forces are still in Stepanakert, while the Russian peacekeepers are portrayed as an occupying force.

The restive domestic opposition has been contributing to anti-Russian sentiments blaming Aliyev for the Russian presence.

Although the Aliyev clan has been touting the city of Shushi as a war trophy, no Azerbaijani citizen has yet set foot in that city, contributing to the rising resentment towards Aliyev’s autocratic regime.

Turkey, in its turn, was able to gain a larger foothold in Azerbaijan, albeit together with the Russian forces, but was left out of the tripartite negotiations amongst the deputy prime ministers of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan.

After eight sessions during the course of an entire year, since November 9, 2020, these negotiations have come up with agreements for unblocking roads and communication lines.

During the last year or so, a number of pointed political signals were delivered from the West toward Turkey and Russia, not necessarily in support of Armenia but certainly against the latter’s enemies. As a consequence of those signals, Armenia has gained some breathing room and possibility to maneuver.

One such obvious signal was President Biden’s acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide, directed at its uncooperative NATO ally, Turkey. The State Department’s Erika Olson’s visit to Yerevan, to confer with the US ambassadors to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, was yet another such signal. And that conference in another capital would have sent a different message.

President Biden has invited the leaders of Armenia and Georgia on December 9-10 to Washington for a conference on democracy and demonstrably has left out Turkey and Azerbaijan as authoritarian countries.

Earlier in the year, the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Georgia to blast the 3+3 formula for the resolution of the conflicts in the region.

“Russia has to respect Georgia’s territorial integrity before promoting such ideas,” he stated.

Also taking aim at Azerbaijan, the Parliamentary Assembly of Europe (PACE) has blamed that country for violating one of its fundamental principles of membership, resorting to war to resolve conflicts, which warrants sanctions.

Azerbaijan has also violated stated principles of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) by resorting to war. However, no party has yet reprimanded Baku for that violation.

Indeed, behind all the negotiations and political developments in the Caucasus, two conflicting formats are at play. One format has been promoted by Ankara and Baku, to which Moscow claims to be a reluctant partner. That format (“3+3”) puts the burden for all settlements on Russia, Turkey and Iran, with Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan as participants.

Georgia has ruled out participating in that format because it refuses to deal with Russia. The Armenian side hesitates to do so, in order not to ruffle feathers in the Kremlin.

Since the main purpose behind this deal is to keep the West out of the Caucasus, Iran is treating it favorably. Considering all the participating countries, one can find out none of them favor discussing the legal status of Karabakh. For Russia, the status of Karabakh is something that can be done in the future, as it hopes to see the total Russification of the enclave.

The other competing formula is that of negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group, which still maintains that the legal status of Karabakh is one more remaining principle to be settled. Armenia pins its hopes on the Minsk Group, however, not exactly knowing what the co-chairs of that group visualize as a legal status for the enclave.

Throughout the tripartite negotiations, the Kremlin has sent mixed signals regarding accommodating Aliyev’s claim on the “Zangezur Corridor” at the expense of Armenia’s sovereignty.

But it seems that signals from the West and political developments in the Caucasus region have brought clarity to Russia’s position.

Recently, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk visited Armenia. Answering Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s complaint that Azerbaijan has not fulfilled its obligations under the November 9 declaration, Overchuk stated: “Armenian and Azerbaijani government officials have made major progress in Russian-mediated negotiations on establishing transport links between their countries.”

More significantly, he addressed the sovereignty issue: “So we now have a very good understanding of what really exists on the ground, the state of the roads,” he said. “Based on that knowledge … it seems to us that we are getting close to concrete decisions, which are first and foremost based on the notion that the countries will retain sovereignty over roads passing through their territory.”

This, of course, is an indirect reference to the corridor issue. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement, reinforcing Mr. Overchuk’s commitment, which directly referred to the “Zangezur Corridor.”

“It is no less important,” clarified the statement, “that particularly in light of the so-called ‘Zangezur Corridor,’ debated in the news media, that all members of the tripartite working group have agreed that all unblocked or newly-built roads will operate respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their respective countries.”

These statements may satisfy the Armenian side. Is that why Moscow has announced that the parties will be signing an agreement soon, via remote meetings?

This may lay to rest the corridor issue. However, the Armenian opposition, led by former president, Robert Kocharyan, organized a rally on November 8 in Freedom Square, protesting the “Turkification of Armenia.”

Once the details of the agreement are released, Armenia’s citizens will learn which party was right, the government or the opposition.

This, of course, is the beginning of a long process, to determine the unblocking of roads or building new ones. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia may be the eventual beneficiaries but the network of roads will be determined by major powers and investors to serve their interests.

Next comes the process of demarcation and delimitation of borders, which is a thorny issue but nothing like the thorniest of all, which is the peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan is proposing a peace treaty whereby Armenia has to renounce all claims on Karabakh. Turkey’s peace treaty intends to finalize its borders with Armenia based on the Treaty of Kars of 1921 and to absolve Turkey of the crime of genocide.

Both treaties are as toxic as the war the duo unleashed on Armenia.

We are at the beginning of a long haul.

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