The November 9, 2020 declaration did not end the second Karabakh war, also known as the 44-Day War; the war continues for Azerbaijan. Indeed, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s rhetoric remains so incendiary that it may spark a new war at any moment. As a result, Armenia remains on edge, anticipating the next salvo from Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan’s increasingly bellicose language needs to be observed and analyzed within the context of unfolding regional and global developments.

Certainly the war in Ukraine is a factor to be considered. It was presumed that because of the standoff between Russia and the West, many conflicts in different regions would be placed on the backburner. As it turns out, that presumption is no longer true, as major powers seem to have a tacit understanding to micromanage other regional issues, despite the overarching war in Ukraine. And that can work to Armenia’s advantage if the leadership can find loopholes in the big picture and capitalize on them.

Armenia and Turkey have been negotiating to restore diplomatic relations without any preconditions. While Amenia is proceeding with good faith and abiding by that principle, the Turkish side has been coordinating its steps with Azerbaijan, which throws in its demands, namely signing a peace treaty sealing its five-point proposal, which calls for mutual recognition of territorial integrity, forgoing the status issue of Karabakh and opening the Zangezur Corridor, thus encroaching on Armenia’s sovereignty.

Armenia is facing winds that blow hot and cold as stakeholders make contradictory statements. Russia, for one, has changed its interpretation many times, driven by its interests and conflicts with Azerbaijan.

Last week, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov flew in from Baku to attend the annual meeting of the foreign ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) countries, held in Yerevan. On the sidelines of that meeting, Mr. Lavrov gave a press conference, clarifying Russia’s position on the issue of the corridor. He indicated that “the roads and communication lines will be unblocked and transportation between the countries will move without compromising the sovereignty of the country through which those roads pass.”

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“There could be no equivocation on this issue,” he emphasized, although adding a phrase which threw a monkey wrench in the works: “Transport will move in a simplified mode.”

It has yet to be interpreted what kind of “simplification” to which he was referring, but Armenia was reassured that despite the opening of the rail and highway linking Azerbaijan’s mainland to the Nakhichevan exclave, Armenian sovereignty would not be compromised. This reassurance comes on the heels of Mr. Lavrov’s visits to Ankara and Baku, where it was presumed, a consensus had been reached.

In a broader perspective, Lavrov’s statement was part of Moscow’s reasserting itself on the global scene; with Russia’s war in Ukraine, there was a forgone conclusion that Moscow will not be able to tend to its regional issues and policies. To dispel that perception, Mr. Lavrov took two firm steps. The first was discouraging Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from executing his plan of extending its territorial occupation of Syria and slaughtering the Kurds there friendly to the West. The second step was convincing Aliyev to refrain from infringing on Armenia’s sovereignty in the corridor issue.

The Armenian political establishment had hardly begun to breathe more easily when the Azerbaijani response arrived. This time around it was Ramil Ubasov, the secretary of the National Security Council, who announced that his government had decided to build a railway and a six-lane highway five kilometers south of Armenia’s border, through Iran, connecting Azerbaijan’s mainland with Nakhichevan. He added, “We have enough with Armenia’s bickering.”

Indeed, the Iranian side had earlier proposed such a project to Baku and had warned that Tehran would consider any territorial encroachment of Armenia a red line.

The proposal was very intriguing in the sense that the corridor issue was being relegated to the south and thus Zangezur would be safe. But these plans did not last long, as Mr. Aliyev changed the narrative yet again and reverted to his old plan, raising the tone of his rhetoric.

Aliyev called on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group to retire because it has not solved the Karabakh issue for 28 years, while Azerbaijan took care of it through the 44-Day War. In addition, Mr. Aliyev has been asking for a sliver of Armenian territory in the form of the Zangezur Corridor, as war booty. As if those were not enough, Aliyev is threatening to occupy the entire province of Syunik, which he says is part of historic Azerbaijan.

Speaking at the ninth Global Baku Forum, with the theme “Challenge to the Global World Order,” Aliyev stated, “If Amenia continues to question the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan will have no other choice and will question the territorial integrity of Armenia. … Armenia’s leadership must give up attempts to rewrite history. History has already been written and there is verbal agreement that nobody will talk about the status [of Karabakh]. Unfortunately, there is talk about that, which could lead to very serious consequences.”

As he continued his speech, the language got even more bellicose, as he proclaimed, “a speedy decision to open the Zangezur Corridor is one of the basic elements of the future peace in the region. If we are not allowed to enter and leave, it will be very difficult to talk about peace and all the efforts of Azerbaijan aimed at normal coexistence with Armenia, normal neighborly relations, will be in vain. This is an important issue. Azerbaijan has the right to demand it. The Armenian government has signed a corresponding statement. Second, Azerbaijan, as a country that won the war and suffered from the occupation, has moral rights to demand it.”

Deep down, Mr. Aliyev recognizes that Azerbaijan did not win the war. It was Turkey, which used Turkish and Israeli drones, and Pakistani pilots to win the war, at the expense of 12,000 Azerbaijani casualties and the destruction of 75 percent of its military hardware. Aliyev himself has confided that had it not been for Russian mediation, it could not continue the war.

Mr. Aliyev’s treatment of the Minsk Group was no less cavalier. “We have already been informed that the Minsk Group co-chairs will not function anymore. It is time for them to retire,” he said.

He also added that any mention of the Minsk Group makes Azerbaijan angry. “The reports about my death are greatly exaggerated,” Mark Twain famously said. Mr. Aliyev may soon learn that lesson about the Minsk Group from the developments in the region.

As to the fate of the Karabakh Armenians, Mr. Aliyev believes that they can be left to the tender mercies of Azerbaijan’s government. He tries to convince the world that Azerbaijan is a multiethnic country and the security and rights of Armenians will be respected. In a country where hate against Armenians is taught to children from kindergarten, where a museum of hate has been built, no Armenian in his right mind can believe he can live there safely. Before the Karabakh war for independence, there were 500,000 Armenians living in Baku and Sumgait (700,000 according to Samuel Babayan) and they were expelled and slaughtered through pogroms in the early stages of that war, which goes to show the benevolence and tolerance of the Azerbaijani government.

Although it is believed that Mr. Lavrov has convinced Aliyev about the status of the Zangezur Corridor, an acrimonious backstabbing continues between Baku and Moscow, as Azerbaijan has blocked the Ria Novosti and Sputnik Russian websites because they have aired an interview by the State Minister of Karabakh Artak Beglaryan. Moscow has retaliated in kind by blocking Azerbaijan’s official news site, Trend.

While Azerbaijan threatens Armenia’s territorial integrity, its friends and allies are keeping complete silence. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan raised the issue at the last CSTO foreign ministers’ meeting in Yerevan, requesting an answer to the protest lodged by Armenia to that body a year ago when Azerbaijan occupied 45 kilometers of Armenian territory, but the CSTO leadership kept dead silent. That was no surprise because all the members of CSTO, a defense partnership of which Armenia is a member and Azerbaijan is not, congratulated the latter upon winning the war. Some members, like Belarus, even supplied deadly weapons to Azerbaijan, making a mockery of that alliance.

But all is not lost yet. By compiling the news about recent developments, we can build block by block a more optimistic scenario. Mr. Lavrov’s assertive statement about the corridor is one such positive step forward.

On the other hand, the demise of the OSCE format has been proven wrong recently. That group is the last and best hope for Karabakh Armenians, because it represents the only forum which keeps insisting that the status of Karabakh has not been resolved yet and has to be resolved peacefully. That insistence is an indirect reprimand to Azerbaijan, which claims to have resolved the issue through military force.

It is understandable why Azerbaijan’s leaders “get angry” when they hear about the Minsk Group, because that format may undo what they claim they have achieved.

A parallel format had been floated by Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia to resolve regional conflicts, namely the 3+3 Format, led by Russia, Turkey and Iran, which would be complemented by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

That format at first had potential for supporting Turkish and Azerbaijani positions and deep down, it was proposed as a counterweight to the West in the Caucasus, which was represented in the OSCE format. Fortunately, the 3+3 Format was dead on arrival.

The next positive development is the visit to the region by US Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried, who met with President Aliyev and the leadership in Armenia this past week. In an interview with RFE/RL in Yerevan, she stated that the US is willing to continue to cooperate with Russia in facilitating a settlement of the Karabakh conflict.

This is bad news for Mr. Aliyev and others who have assumed that because of the Ukraine war, the US would not cooperate with Russia on any issues. When asked whether Washington is ready for a fresh contact with Moscow for that purpose, Donfried answered, “Yes, Russia is a Minsk Group co-chair. France, the US and Russia would continue in that format.”

When asked about Aliyev’s warlike rhetoric, she answered, “People need to be mindful about their words.”

These are delicate times and developing trends may eventually bring about a favorable outcome for Armenia, if the leadership there can demonstrate a correct reading of the situation.

The enemy is one threat to Armenia while the incompetence of the government and the opposition is another handicap. The opposition is out to oust Pashinyan and the government is retaliating with a witch hunt while the country is facing fierce enemies just beyond the border. If both factions can get their acts together, all hope will not be lost.

If the Zangezur Corridor issue is resolved in Armenia’s favor, war will be averted and Armenia’s survival would be guaranteed. If, however, it is resolved in Azerbaijan’s favor, Armenia’s existential struggle may not last very long.


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