Azerbaijan-Armenia: Journey from ceasefire to peace

15 November 2021 13:00 (UTC+04:00)

By Orkhan Amashov

Last year's Second Karabakh War profoundly changed the state of affairs in the South Caucasus. Azerbaijan’s meticulously executed peace-enforcement master plan culminated in an emanation of virtue by means of the swift application of the nation’s will in accordance with the laws of war. The whole campaign, in particular, the battle of Shusha will go down in the annals of history as irrefutable evidence of Azerbaijan’s moral and military superiority over Armenia.

Yet not everything is done and dusted. The ceasefire agreement was a milestone, but it was not a fully-fledged peace agreement. A comprehensive treaty, addressing the full spectrum of future Azerbaijani-Armenian relations, is yet to be signed. 

A recent provocation on the Shusha-Khankandi road, a deeply worrying incident on the Lachin section of the Azerbaijani-Armenian state border, the instances of intensive Armenian firing at Azerbaijani positions in the newly liberated Kalbajar region and some other developments showed that there are those, both inside Armenia and outside, who are vehemently against a final normalisation between the sides, and it will take some patience and carefully executed foreign policy steps before the region is able to enjoy what could be described as lasting and stable peace. 

Insufferable procrastination 

When Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan came to power, there were some hopes that he would be different to his predecessor. But the expectations did not materialise, as it later emerged that Pashinyan wanted to procrastinate the conflict and delay its solution till the end of his tenure, whilst assuming that Azerbaijan would be gently coerced into accepting the evolution of de facto into de jure. Whatever his personal, yet undisclosed, thoughts on the subject might have been, the legacy that he inherited from the previous government forced him to pursue extreme maximalism.

The desire to look tough and uncompromising in the eyes of his countrymen made him produce ludicrously bombastic statements that he was to lament later. This escalation, which resulted in total war, was the outcome of Yerevan’s unreasonableness and recalcitrance. Azerbaijan was not to be trifled with. The Tovuz events in July 2020 were the straw that broke the camel's back. It was evident, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the aggressor was to be dealt with through military means and so it happened.

Enduring victory

Whilst conversing with Patrick Walsh, a distinguished Irish historian, on the implications of the trilateral ceasefire declaration last year, he told me that history was littered with “total victories” that had unraveled and caused even bigger wars within a generation, and that the most complete victory was an enduring one. On reflection, I concur with the eminent Irishman.

When Armenia was compelled to succumb to Azerbaijan’s peace-enforcement measures, Yerevan was in the depths of despair. After the battle of Shusha, which will be remembered by posterity as a defining point in Azerbaijan’s history, Baku was more than capable of carrying out the campaign until the point of completely exterminating the illegal entity based in Khankandi, but it stopped. It was a decision based on a careful and ultimately wise examination of competing considerations.  

Firstly, it was clear that, with the liberation of Shusha, the commanding height of Karabakh, the fundamental objective of the campaign was achieved. The November deal that ended hostilities formalised Azerbaijan’s gains and did not touch upon what was left of the former so-called illegal and unrecognised "Nagorno-Karabakh Republic" in any detail. The absence of its mentioning did not exactly mean the issue would never ever crop up, but what it meant was that the rigmarole on the so-called status of Nagorno-Karabakh was no longer on the agenda and, given the balance of bargaining chips, which by virtue of the military achievements of Azerbaijan massively favoured Baku, the prospects of the nonsense called “Artsakh” were nonexistent.

Secondly, Azerbaijan’s political and military leadership was wise enough not to repeat the mistake of the "Karabakh clan", so painstakingly lamented by former President Levon Ter-Petrosyan, or to fall into the trap of a euphoria-induced arrogance that led to the fatal miscalculation of the entente at Versailles following the First World War.

Thirdly, Baku followed the timeless adage of wisdom in line with which magnanimity, tempered with just ambitions, is regarded as a virtue. However catastrophic to the long-held toxic Armenian desire the trilateral declaration might have been, it gave Yerevan a chance to bow down in a reasonably dignified way. Magnanimity should not militate against the core interests of the magnanimous, and Azerbaijan, as a victor, knew that the defeated aggressor would no longer be able to take revenge.

Fourthly, Azerbaijan managed to liberate the substantial part of Aghdam, Kalbajar and Lachin without human sacrifice. So many lives, on both sides, would have been lost, had the war lasted for a day more. As Matthew Bryza, former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, has wisely observed, perhaps Armenians and many others do not yet appreciate the unmatched magnanimity and unparalleled acumen ingrained in the decision of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to agree to end military operations, but history and humanity at large will pay tribute to him in the fullness of time.

No status for Karabakh

With regard to Karabakh, Azerbaijan’s stance has been consistent over the past three decades: the idea of agreeing to a referendum leading to the creation of another Armenian state on Azerbaijani territory has never been contemplated. The possibility of giving the Armenians of Karabakh a form of autonomy within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan was viewed as admissible by Baku during the protracted negotiations, but since the end of the war, it is a mere relic of the past discussions. It was supremely evident from the logic of the statements made by Baku from November 2020 onwards that there would no longer be an enclave on the liberated territories, but a more simplified administrative division. In fact, Azerbaijan formalised this stance by creating two units in the formerly occupied lands in July 2021 – namely, the Karabakh and the East Zangazur Economic Regions.

The trilateral ceasefire agreement does not incorporate any clauses about a legal regime applicable to the Armenians of Karabakh. Azerbaijan’s stance is crystal clear. Baku views the Armenian population of Karabakh as its citizens. Given Azerbaijan’s present leverage and ability to dictate its own terms with careful consideration for the defeated, the likely scenario is that the construct to be offered will be of such a nature to allow Armenians to enjoy full cultural rights, but will not amount to any form of self-governance.

Today it is clear to many, including Armenians, that the nonsense called “Artsakh” is dead. In fact, this pernicious idea has never evolved from the minds of the separatists into a verifiable form of existence. Now, with Azerbaijan’s firm military and diplomatic triumph, it has been finally thrown into the dustbin of history. And that is the most critical and irreversible dictum engendered by the consequences of the Second Karabakh War.

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