Nagorno-Karabakh: a year after the war

MOSCOW, 05 Oct 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.

The anniversary of the Second Karabakh War was met in different ways in Azerbaijan and Armenia: Baku is celebrating the victory, Yerevan is talking about the dead and calling for the return of prisoners. Thus, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, in an address to the nation, said that his country had gained the upper hand in this conflict.

“The second Karabakh War is our glorious history,” the Azerbaijani leader stressed. “This victory will remain in history forever. The armed forces of Azerbaijan, having destroyed the enemy army within 44 days, restored the territorial integrity of our country. There is no administrative territory called ‘Nagorno-Karabakh’ in Azerbaijan. This issue has been resolved”.

As for Armenia, the anniversary of the war was celebrated there with a minute of silence declared throughout the country. Memorial services for the repose of the dead were held in the churches and temples of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Yerablur Pantheon, where the victims of both wars for Nagorno-Karabakh are buried (the first of them lasted from 1992 to 1994), was visited by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. He laid flowers on the graves of the dead, and then visited the wounded soldiers.

Azerbaijanis and Armenians will return to the topic of the second Karabakh war, and most importantly, the reasons for the defeat of Yerevan, for a long time. This will be the subject of special historical research, because the conflicting parties have suffered considerable human losses. 2,886 killed, more than 100 missing and  1,245 wounded continue to be treated in hospitals, the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry said. Armenia has published information about 2,718 killed, but has not made public the number of missing persons, that is, its information is far from being final. Both sides were losing up to 100 persons every day of the war. Civilian casualties on both sides number in the hundreds if not thousands.

The results of the war fundamentally changed the balance of power not only in the region, but also throughout the Greater Middle East. It is no coincidence that some experts believe that in Transcaucasia the third regional order is being established  after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The first one ended in 1994 with the signing of the Bishkek Agreements on Karabakh. The second one is connected with the Caucasian war of August 2008, when Russia recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Finally, the third one came at the end of 2020, when world diplomacy failed in its attempts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through political and diplomatic efforts and Baku regained control over the previously lost territories by force.

In this regard, the French Le Figaro writes about the “crisis of European diplomacy in the Caucasus direction”. By the way, Azerbaijan has become the second state in the post-Soviet space that has advanced along the path of restoring the lost territorial integrity.

We will note one more important point: after the collapse of the USSR, there were peacekeeping missions in Transcaucasia — they took place in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia. And following the results of the Karabakh war, a Russian peacekeeping mission appeared in Nagorno-Karabakh. Its stay is limited to five years, but can be extended. As noted in the statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry, “Russia’s efforts to resolve regional conflicts and crisis situations have brought concrete results”.

It was precisely Moscow that managed to stop the export of instability to Transcaucasia from the Middle East. Another external and not direct participant in the conflict, Turkey, almost until the last moment called on Azerbaijan to “go to the very end”.

As for the United States and France, which have participated for 28 years as co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group on the Karabakh settlement, they dropped out of the peacekeeping process at the last stage. Signed with the active personal participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 9, 2020, the Russia-Azerbaijan-Armenia trilateral peace agreement not only stopped the war, but also defined the contours of future cooperation between the conflicting parties through unblocking communication corridors in the region.

Now Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is engaged in the reconstruction of the entire infrastructure in the areas returned to his control, and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is trying to escape from the “explosive mixture of national mourning and national rage”.

A year ago, it was succeeded to stabilise the situation, including through the introduction of Russian peacekeepers into the region, but the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh itself remains relevant. In addition, at the first stage, Azerbaijan did not limit itself to the return of those territories that were disputed, but began to exert force pressure directly on the territory of Armenia, initiating the problem of demarcation of borders with Armenia, which slowed down possible direct contacts between Baku and Yerevan. This is despite the fact that the work of the OSCE Minsk Group was blocked for almost the whole year, and Yerevan’s relations with Baku were in a rather tense state.

And just a few days ago, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs issued a statement on the Karabakh settlement. They reported that on the sidelines of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in New York a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, Jeyhun Bayramov and Ararat Mirzoyan, took place.

“The Co-Chairs welcome the first meeting of foreign ministers since November 2020 as a sign of the determination of the two countries to resume the peace process through direct dialogue aimed at ensuring security, stability and prosperity in the region,” the mediators said.

At the same time, commenting on the negotiations, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan and Armenia drew attention to the fact that the foreign ministers exchanged views on advancing the process of normalising relations between the two countries, taking into account the new post-war realities. It also demonstrates that the normalisation process between the two countries is beginning to take practical shape. After that, President Aliyev, in an interview with France 24 TV channel, declared his readiness to start a dialogue with Armenia and hold a personal meeting with Pashinyan “under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group in order to give a new scale to broad cooperation in the South Caucasus region”.

So there is a change of political scenery in the region. In this regard, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that “the Minsk Group Co-Chairs agreed in New York with Baku and Yerevan to resume working trips to the Nagorno-Karabakh region”. In addition, by all indications, this action finds support to the same extent both in Baku and in Yerevan.

But does this mean that Armenia, which previously linked the issue of determining the status of Nagorno-Karabakh with the activities of the OSCE Minsk Group, has changed its position or, conversely, has there been a change in Baku’s approaches to the prospects of the negotiation process?

No, it doesn’t. Most likely, the scheme outlined by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko, which calls for “acting cautiously, without haste in developing mutually acceptable approaches to further steps, including on status issues, is starting to work”.

Such a scenario assumes, at the first stage, compliance with the principles reflected in the statement of November 9, 2020, and their transfer to the patronage of the OSCE Minsk Group. And only then, at the second or third stage in the settlement process, may new conditions arise for the emergence of some new formats in which interested external players can also take part.

Yerevan agrees with this approach. Aliyev opposes, stating that “the Karabakh conflict no longer exists”. But that’s for now. Anyway, Baku and Yerevan understands the need to start the so-called substantive negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh with an exit to a comprehensive peaceful settlement of the problem. In the meantime, only real grounds for restrained optimism have been identified.

From the point of view of experts, the war may indeed be over, but the Karabakh issue remains open. According to former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Robert Sekuta, Aliyev and Pashinyan must show political will and initiative, and the return from them will be significant.


Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT


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