The Goris-Kapan road

Tom de Waal Anticipates Strong Pressure on Armenia by Azerbaijan This Year

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YEREVAN (Jam News) — “In 2024 Armenia will face not only threats from Azerbaijan, but also the threat of losing or breaking off relations with Russia. Undoubtedly, the country will face a lot of problems,” Tom de Waal, a leading analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Development, said.

In an interview with Radio Azatutyun (Liberty), he said that this year Armenia will have to make perhaps the most difficult choices and it is a “somewhat dangerous” moment.

The expert also talked about the signing of the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace treaty and the issue of the so-called “Zangezur corridor,” which could link Azerbaijan with its exclave of Nakhichevan through southern Armenia.

According to de Waal, it is a well-known statistic that the majority of peace agreements are violated by the parties within five years after their signing.

In this regard, he believes that the signing of the peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan is only the beginning of the process.

He went on that the Armenian side wants to get international guarantees for the fulfillment of the clauses of the possible agreement, including the presence of observers on the border, and this, in his opinion, will be a deterrent factor, possibly preventing the use of force by Azerbaijan. But he notes that Baku is resisting these attempts by Yerevan to resolve the issue with the participation of international actors:

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“And here we see the tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which says: no, we don’t need any international agreements, we need regional solutions, meaning Turkey, Russia and Iran, excluding the West. This is the main problem.”

Regarding the right of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh to return to their homes, de Waal noted that the majority would not want to return to their homeland and live in Azerbaijan.

“They might want to visit, get their property back, they might want to visit family graves or move those graves to Armenia. But I don’t think anyone is talking about the right to return anytime soon.”

According to him, some international control is needed on the issue of the right of return, and the right of return should apply to everyone:

“This also includes the 1988-1990 displaced persons. It is not so that many will want to return to Baku, Sumgait. But I think that this right should be enshrined at the international level, and it will be part of the future peace agreement.”

Meghri is in the southern region of Armenia, which is an internationally recognized sovereign territory, and de Waal considers the invasion of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces in order to penetrate the corridor to Nakhichevan to be risky. But he immediately notes that anything is possible:

“Azerbaijan is still strong, Armenia is weak. But if you take [the corridor] by force, it means you are behaving like Russia in Ukraine. Besides, if you want to build a railroad and you want international assistance in doing so, you should not occupy [Armenia’s] territory. You cannot force the World Bank and others to cooperate with you in building this railroad.”

The expert says that in trying to force Yerevan to accept its terms, Baku is using a strategy of coercion and the “Russian card.”

“Russia and Azerbaijan have clearly agreed on this issue. And for Armenia it is difficult [to resist] because the Russians are already there, they have border troops there. I expect less of a large-scale invasion [of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces into Armenian territory]. And more I expect a strong pressure on Armenia to accept it.”

He believes that the task of Armenia’s Western partners is to be able to offer Armenia something in return. He has in mind an “alternative strategy”, according to which the road will be built, but would become not only an Azerbaijani-Russian route, but also an international one.

When asked what to expect in a situation where Armenia’s Syunik region is again in the center of attention of major players, de Waal said: “Who would have thought a few years ago that in the town of Kapan we would see flags of the European Union, Iran, the presence of Russians, and the French would want to open a consulate there? What happened in 1919-20 is repeating itself, Syunik is becoming the center of international competition and diplomacy. And why is this happening? Because it is the most important route for both North-South and East-West directions.”

He recalls that Jugha (Julfa) in Nakhichevan used to be a railroad border point connecting the USSR and Iran. But it has been 30 years since trains have not traveled through this area. According to de Waal, if the railroad running through Syunik is restored, Jugha will once again become a railroad crossing between Russia and Iran: “So Russia and Iran are looking at this region again. For Azerbaijan, it’s a link to Turkey, and for the West, it’s also a new East-West communication route through Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan to Central Asia.”

He emphasizes that this small, 43-kilometer railroad is of interest to everyone, especially against the background of the Russian-Ukrainian war, when all transport routes from east to west were closed.

(This story originally appeared on the website www.jam-news.net on January 8.)

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