Since September 27th, 2020, the south Caucasian states Armenia and Azerbaijan restarted their confrontations over the region of Karabakh. This is a continuation of the Armenian provocations of July 2020. Only that this time the fighting took place on the Azerbaijani territory, instead of taking place in the border line shared by the two countries. It seems very warlike so one can therefore speak of a war within Azerbaijan, in which Armenia would like to continue its occupation policy.
The background of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan
In the course of the war in the 1990s of the last century, 20 percent of the Azerbaijani territory like Nagorno-Karabakh and its seven surrounding provinces were occupied. During this occupation, the United Nations (UN) passed four resolutions in 1993 calling for the unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian troops from Azerbaijani territory. On December 6th, 1994, at the OSCE summit in Budapest, the so-called Minsk Group was founded, which immediately began to develop the conditions for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. Since then, however, the decisions of the UN have been disregarded or ignored, so that it appears that the OSCE negotiations are merely recommendations.
Although a breakthrough was almost achieved in the negotiations during the administration of Levon Ter-Petrosyan, he resigned from his office on February 3rd, 1998. A conspiracy was organized against him under the leadership of the then Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan. Ter-Petrosyan proposed the liberation of some Azerbaijani areas in order to improve the economic situation. So, the Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh clan has been reactivated, as key figures have again entered the conflict zone. It can be assumed that these struggles will have a significant impact on the domestic political situation in Armenia.
Pashinyan’s attitude leads to war in the Caucasus
The Nagorno-Karabakh clan was in power in Armenia from 1997 to 2016, and Nagorno-Karabakh-Armenians held many key positions in the Armenian government in this context. After the fighting in April 2016, the mood in Armenian society changed because the Armenian occupation forces had lost some important posts on the front line. In 2018, Nikol Pashinyan became Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia after the seizure of power. During his tenure, Baku was unable to see any visible logic in his stance, as he behaved completely differently when he met with the Azerbaijani president, for example, then he appeared totally different in front of his people in Armenia.
In addition, he visited regularly occupied Azerbaijani territories, provoking Baku with certain inflammatory remarks. The first strong provocation came from the statement: “Karabakh is Armenia and period”. The expansion of a highway corridor from Armenia to the Karabakh region and the announcement that the administrative center of the separatist regime will be relocated to the city of Shusha, which is historically important for Azerbaijanis, were the last droplets that have now overrun the level of Azerbaijani patience.
During the military provocation in July 2020, Pashinyan still hoped that the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) would be actively involved in the conflict. Azerbaijan was nevertheless able to break away from the Armenian provocation through a strong counter-offensive and skillful diplomacy. While Baku again sent mediating words to Yerevan for a peaceful solution to this conflict, Pashinyan celebrated the July fighting as a significant victory by participating in various public ceremonies, both in Armenia and in the occupied Azerbaijani territories. In addition, Yerevan was preparing intensively for war. For this reason, some military exercises have been held in the past few months.
Domestically, Armenia is deeply unstable
After the Covid-19-crisis the economic situation in Armenia has deteriorated drastically. The Caucasus’ poorest nation has open borders only with Georgia and Iran. Because of the ongoing conflict, the borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey are closed. Armenia is a very poor country, tourism industry was an important sector of its national economy. Furthermore, the situation in the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region itself is even worse, as its regime is controlled and financially supported by Yerevan.
On September 18th, 2020, activists from the opposition “Reformist Party” held a protest rally calling for the resignation of the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, and the entire government. It is certain, that the population was disappointed with Pashinyan’s policies even before the skirmishes started with Azerbaijan. The last events on the front line have significantly worsened the already tarnished mood within the Armenian population, which is likely to favor or accelerate an overthrow of the Pashinyan government. Moscow itself is skeptical of the current government in Yerevan, although the Southern Caucasus republic is militarily and economically dependent on its protective power, Russia. Pashinyan’s administration has already arrested some pro-Russian politicians.
According to the recently passed law on audiovisual media in Armenia, the state television of the republic will ban all foreign channels from the broadcasting network from January 1st, 2021, ostensibly to ensure the country’s “information and language security”. This mainly affects Russian TV channels. Over the next few months, significant changes will take place in the bilateral dialogue between Moscow and Yerevan, one matter will certainly remain the same and that is, Russia’s presence in the Caucasus will continue to outshine European Union’s presence and Washington’s strategic interests in the region.
Hope remains high for other global actors to actively engage so that Azerbaijan and its people can immediately recover, secure a full territorial sovereignty and Azerbaijani IDPs can return in their native homes and ranches.
*Javid Sadikhov has earned a Master of Arts Degree in international relations and diplomacy