By Vahan Zanoyan
International and pan-Armenian attention is currently understandably focused on opening the Lachin Corridor, since that constitutes the immediate and most visible mitigation of an unsustainable situation for the population of Nagorno Karabakh. Nevertheless, it would be a dangerous mistake to view the current crisis in Nagorno Karabakh merely as a humanitarian crisis. The damage done by the blocking of the Lachin Corridor by Azerbaijan goes beyond the shortages of food and medicine and other necessities. An equally dangerous consequence of the blockade has been a shift in the focus of international attention from the right for self-determination, autonomy, and independence of the ethnic population of Nagorno Karabakh, to humanitarian assistance. This, and the concurrent shift of emphasis in the international narrative around Nagorno Karabakh, has created the risk that international mediators, once they “solve” the humanitarian problem, will consider the conflict resolved and their job done.
What makes this risk real and present is the fact that the international mediators have not yet shown the political will to tackle the difficult challenge and root cause of the blockade, namely, Azerbaijan’s clearly demonstrated intent for ethnic cleansing and Genocide. There seems to be a rush, perhaps even a competition, among international mediators to achieve (and then claim credit for) peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan, at any cost, including turning the fate of the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh collateral damage in the process.
Charles Michel, the president of the EU, in his briefing after the trilateral meetings in Brussels in mid-July, was deliberate in his exaggerated optimism about the prospects for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan; two points in his briefing were telling: First, that the two sides had accepted each other’s territorial integrity with specific square kilometers cited as the area of each country, in effect confirming Armenia’s recognition of Nagorno Karabakh, as well as 8 Soviet era Azerbaijani enclaves in Armenia proper, as part of Azerbaijan; and second, his praise of Azerbaijan’s willingness to provide humanitarian supplies to Nagorno Karabakh through Aghdam. These two points are significant because they show total disregard for the basic rights of the population of Nagorno Karabakh.
In early July, the US Ambassador to Armenia, Kristina Kvien, was unambiguous in her statement to the effect that Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh can live in peace as citizens of Azerbaijan. Of course, the Government of Armenia itself has formally and publicly accepted that Nagorno Karabakh is part of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. And Russia is not far behind, supporting the notion that the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh have to accept Azerbaijani rule.
Accepting that Nagorno Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan and that the Armenian population there can be integrated in and live comfortably as citizens of Azerbaijan, has many unimaginable consequences that make the premise simply impossible. Those who advocate this as a way forward have not thought through these consequences.