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Karabakh Conflict: Is a just peace respecting the rights of the Armenian people still possible?

Azeri stamp showing the "disinfection" of the Armenian population of Karabakh
Azeri stamp showing the "disinfection" of the Armenian population of Karabakh

The 44-day war in Karabakh last fall has reshuffled the cards in the region, without putting an end to the decades-old conflict. A fundamental reorientation of Armenia's foreign policy consistent with the interests of the great powers in achieving a “neo-imperial“ peace now appears to be at work to the detriment of the Armenians’ rights. Is such a “neo-imperial” peace inevitable?

The war aggression unleashed by Azerbaijan, with the support of Turkey and Syrian jihadists, against the Armenian people on September 27, 2020 was an all-out war. Armenia lost more than 4,000 young men in 44 days of war[1]. For a democracy of 3 million souls, this is a heavy toll. It is as if the United Kingdom had lost 85,000 young men in 44 days. It is as if the United States had lost 440,000 young men in 44 days.

On November 10, 2020, a ceasefire[2] with one-sided clauses imposed on Armenia the loss of many territories, without any guarantee for the status of Karabakh. Point 9 of the ceasefire on unblocking transport links in the region questions the sovereignty that Armenia will have over its southern Syunik region.

After the war, Azeri President Aliyev declared that the Armenians had fled like "dogs[3]". President Erdogan[4] praised Enver Pasha, one of the architects of the Armenian genocide and also responsible for the massacre of 10,000 Armenians in Baku in 1918. If the Baku-Ankara axis did not enjoy a remarkable level of impunity, Azerbaijan would have already lost all moral rights over Karabakh Armenians. As in Kosovo, remedial secession would have been imposed by the international community.

Why does territorial integrity prevail over the right of peoples to self-determination in the Armenian case?

- Turkey is a “valued member” of NATO, as stated by NATO’s Secretary-General at the war’s outset in October 2020[5]. - Azerbaijan supplies gas and oil to Europe. The Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), financed by Europe, began gas deliveries days after the ceasefire of November 2020.

Trans adriatic pipeline (TAP) "One of Europe's most strategic projects". Began operating days after the Karabakh War of 2020

This partly explains Europe's "neutrality", despite encouraging statements by French President Emmanuel Macron at the beginning of the war. Then US Secretary of State Pompeo declared Karabakh a "piece of real estate[6]", suggesting that the highest bidder could take it. The Biden administration, which maintained massive military aid to Azerbaijan, despite an election promise to end it[7], has also encouraged Azeri irredentism.

For their part, did the Russians greenlight the intrusion of Azerbaijan into Armenian territory[8] on May 12, 2021? The suspicion exists because the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Russian-dominated defense organization that is supposed to defend the territorial integrity of its members, stood idly by despite Armenia's calls for help, indicating possible Russian unity of purpose with the Baku-Ankara axis in achieving its war aim: land links between the two Turkish republics through Armenian territory (Syunik region). The CSTO has been proven to be useless, but the Russian "alliance" remains for Armenia a captive one at the service of the Turkish-Russian relationship.

Over the summer, the European Union (EU) announced that it wanted to "mobilize an unprecedented 2.6 billion euros[9]" to finance "Armenia's priorities", with support for the "north-south corridor" that should link the south and north of Armenia, from Iran to Georgia. This 600 million euros investment for this strategic highway in the southern Syunik region of Armenia[10] is a signal given to Baku that the EU – at least - supports the territorial integrity of Armenia. The EU would thus support a north-south alternative to the single east-west Panturkic axis, which only needs to cross the 30 kilometers of the Syunik region to be realized.

While Pakistan, which does not recognize the Republic of Armenia[11], has joined the Baku-Ankara axis[12], the Indian Foreign Minister made his first official visit to Armenia on October 12, 2021, the same day as the umpteenth visit of Armenian PM Pashinyan to Moscow. Will Russia allow Armenia to develop deeper relations with India, including the construction of a vital north-south highway linking Armenia to Iran?

In general terms, the risk of a "neo-imperial" peace imposed on the Armenians with the consent of their government does exist. Such a peace is not concerned with justice or truth, nor reparations. Only with shared prosperity, open markets and communication routes. Such a peace would only give an a posteriori legal cover to the right of the strongest, ratifying the new realities on the ground created by imperial powers (Turkey, Azerbaijan). The visit in July 2021 of 46 Baku-based ambassadors to Shushi, the now occupied cultural capital of Karabakh, shows that the supporters of such a peace want their share of Karabagh’s “reconstruction[13]”. This peace, which does not address the root causes of the conflict, is at heart superficial and unfair.

The reorientation of Armenian foreign policy allowing such a peace is all the easier that the guarantor of Armenia's security, Russia, is in favor of the opening of communication channels. Foreign minister Lavrov has already invited Russian transport companies to take an interest in the opportunities to come in this "promising territory[14]".

Faced with the invasion of Armenian territory at several points, only France reacted strongly. On May 13, 2021, President Emmanuel Macron[15] called for the immediate withdrawal of Azeri troops from Armenian territory[16]. As at the beginning of the war, the words of the French President ring true, but actions are desperately lacking. As co-Chairs of the Minsk Group, which has been seeking a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict but currently risks being marginalized by Turkey and Russia (the latter also a co-chair of the Minsk Group), France needs the backing of the United States: a support which would be all the more relevant that the U.S. will soon host the Summit for Democracy.

Logo of the Turkish-Az military exercises-2019. Karabakh & half of Armenia have disappeared.

The West cannot leave Armenia alone against the “Baku-Ankara + Moscow” axis. Pressure must finally be put on Azerbaijan to resume peace negotiations as soon as possible within the framework of a comprehensive settlement under the co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group. The delineation and demarcation of the borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia must be part of this. The de-occupation of the occupied territories (e.g. Hadrut) and the determination of the final legal status of Karabakh must be given priority. In the face of the guaranteed Armenian depopulation if Azerbaijan were to take control of the remaining territory currently under Russian protection, the remedial secession of Karabakh Armenians appears to be the only viable solution to the Karabakh conflict. A population threatened with ethnic cleansing by the state it depends on can legitimately claim its right to self-determination as a last resort in the name of its survival and security. If a people have ever been in such a situation, in a state that has elevated anti-Armenian racism[17] to the level of state policy, it is the Armenians of Karabakh.

If this did not happen, the law of the strongest would continue to prevail globally. In the absence of a just peace, new setbacks would also be inevitable for Armenia itself in the face of countries that remain on a Panturkic and non-democratic logic.

[1] [2] [3] [4] During the victory parade held in Baku on December 10, 2020 (International Human Rights Day!) [5] Statement by Stoltenberg on October 5, 2020 in Ankara, days after the start of the Turkish-Azeri offensive. [6] [7];; [8] [9] Taken from the same speech by Charles Michel in Yerevan on July 17, 2021. The Eastern Partnership summit (bringing together Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and the countries of the South Caucasus) will take place in December 2021. It should decide on an ambitious economic and investment plan in the region with the mobilization of 17 billion euros over the next few years, including 2.3 billion euros in grants, the rest being investment projects set up with the EIB or the EBRD . [10] Claimed and partially occupied by Azerbaijan - [11] [12] In July 2021, for example, the Speakers of the Turkish and Pakistani Parliaments visited Baku. The Speaker of the Turkish Parliament called Armenia a "threat to regional stability" during the visit. The three countries carry out regular military exercises. [13] [14] [15] [16] He also indicated that he wanted to refer the matter to the UN Security Council. [17]

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