Developments in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Road to Stability
Author: Samantha Fanger
Sep 29, 2023
While tensions in the Nagorno-Karabakh region remain high, this past week, Azerbaijan and Armenia have managed to stave off what many feared could have escalated into a third war.
On September 28, the separatist Armenian leadership in Karabakh announced that it will dissolve itself after almost three decades of bidding for independence. The declaration comes after Baku issued an “anti-terrorist operation” meant to target "only legitimate military targets." According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the September 19 takeover was their response to the six Azeris who were killed in two separate explosions, believed to be carried out by de-facto Armenian forces. In recent days, Armenians in the region have reported that villages were “under intense shelling,” and that some 200 people have been killed. As part of Baku’s operations individuals accused of inciting violence were detained, including Ruben Vardanyan, an Armenian-Russian businessman who headed the separatist government from November 2022 until February, and has alleged ties to the Russian oligarchy.
The operation was finalized on September 20, when an agreement was reached to withdraw the remaining units and servicemen of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia from the deployment zone of the Russian peacekeeping contingent and to disband and completely disarm the armed formations of the separatist regime and the withdrawal of heavy equipment and weapons from the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan for their prompt disposal. Following the ceasefire, over 40,000 ethnic-Armenians have fled Karabakh for fears of further violence and escalation, while others have opted to stay. Those fleeing the region have voiced fears of persecution and distrust Baku’s promises of peaceful integration.
In the last twenty-four hours, the situation on the ground has calmed but may remain volatile until forces on both sides refrain from escalatory actions and use of force. A face-to-face meeting between Prime Minister Pashinyan and President Aliyev in Granada, Spain on October 5 may be a critical opportunity to put a cap on further escalation. As a prelude to this meeting, Armenia's Secretary of Security Council, Armen Grigoryan, engaged in discussions with Hikmet Hajiyev, the Advisor to Azerbaijan's President on Foreign Policy on September 26. The multilateral meeting included French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Toivo Klaar, the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and Georgian crisis.
During the meeting, Hikmet Hajiyev articulated Azerbaijan's commitment to delivering humanitarian aid and ensuring the security of the local population. The EU, who is actively engaged in providing assistance to Karabakh Armenians, emphasized the importance of transparency and access for international humanitarian and human rights organizations and sought further clarification on Baku's vision for the future of Karabakh Armenians within Azerbaijan.
Furthermore, the meeting also has the potential to facilitate discussions amongst participants regarding the potential significance of a forthcoming leaders' meeting within the framework of the Third Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EPC) Summit in Granada. Though continued and more frequent dialogue is a promising sign that the leadership of both countries are working to find a peaceful resolution, at this point in time, it is up to both parties, but more particularly Baku, to carry out commitments to maintaining peace within its internationally recognized borders and reinforce promises of coexistence and integration.
Due to the gravity of the situation, the international community is urging Armenia and Azerbaijan to set aside their disagreements to prevent further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Karabakh. Both the ICRC and the United States have emphasized the need for neutral, impartial, and independent humanitarian access and assistance. Both have stressed that the humanitarian situation must be approached immediately and independently of the complex political conflict at hand. In the last month, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has held two emergency meetings aimed at de-escalating tensions in the region and addressing dire need for humanitarian aid to the region. According to the UNSC, “albeit small, there was a small scale movement of humanitarian goods that had taken place, via both the Lachin and Aghdam roads into Nagorno-Karabakh.” On September 21, at the invitation of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Azerbaijan, point person for contacts with Armenian residents of Karabakh Ramin Mammadov met with representatives of Armenian residents of Karabakh Sergey Martirosyan and David Melkumyan in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh. During the meeting, the plans for reintegration for the Armenian population of Karabakh was presented by the Azerbaijani government representatives. In the context of humanitarian issues, the representatives of the Armenian population highlighted specific needs for fuel and humanitarian aid in the form of food supplies. Following the meeting, the Azerbaijani government has reportedly sent at least 40 tons of food and hygiene products, as well as 120 tons of fuel to the Armenian residents of Karabakh.
While more aid has been able to pass through in the last few weeks, the United Nations September 21 to address the situation in Karabakh. In the ensuing discussions, the representatives of the international community encouraged both Armenia and Azerbaijan to adhere to international law, including providing urgent humanitarian aid to those in need, refraining from any further escalation via use of force, and for the Azerbaijani government to provide tangible guarantees pertaining to the reintegration of the Armenian population of Karabakh.
While international mediation by other countries and organizations such as the ICRC and UN should persist as essential mechanisms for observation and accountability on both sides, the primary responsibility rests with the directly involved parties. They must convene at the negotiating table, implement structural measures to promote peace, and, most importantly, uphold their respective commitments. Notably, as a show of more recent efforts to promote peaceful integration, Azerbaijan has launched a website in Armenian for Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians seeking to stay and register as residents. During his phone call with President Aliyev on September 20, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged no further military action, broad amnesty, and that Baku allow unhindered humanitarian access to the territory. As reported by a Department of State spokesperson, President Aliyev agreed to accept an international observer mission to Karabakh. The forthcoming meetings of both Azerbaijan and Armenia, supported by international actors, provide a significant opportunity to take these crucial steps towards resolution and stability.