Armenia And Azerbaijan: Peace Process In The Shadow Of Border Clashes

Armenia vs Azerbaijan at the 2011 European Team Chess Championship
Image by Andreas Kontokanis

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One year after the 44-day war, Azerbaijan and Armenia still cannot build a sustainable peace in the Caucasus. The two nations occasionally engage into border clashes, and full normalization of relations between Baku and Yerevan will be difficult to achieve any time soon. 

On November 26 in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted talks with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, on the anniversary of a peace deal ending a conflict between the two neighbors over Nagorno-Karabakh – a region that lies within Azerbaijan but was under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia for more than two decades. As a result of war, Azerbaijan regained control of territory it had lost during a war in the early 1990s. Under the agreement, which was brokered by Russia, Yerevan agreed to allow Baku to cross to its enclave Nakhchivan through Armenian territory. The peace deal also resulted in the deployment of almost 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh, and Moscow still aims to portray itself as a mediator in numerous remaining disputes between the two archenemies. 

Although Putin said the three leaders have “reached agreement on a whole range of issues”, the very implementation of their deals is seen as a long-term process. According to Pashinyan, Armenia would never agree on giving Azerbaijan a “corridor” that would link Baku with Nakhchivan.

“We have never heard the word ‘corridor’ from Azerbaijan at the working level. Why should something that does not exist be acceptable for us, why should we discuss it at all, Pashinyan stressed

Indeed, Yerevan seems to be attempting to postpone the construction of the Nakhchivan corridor, also known as Zangezur corridor – a railway and a road that will pass through the southern Armenia and connect mainland Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan, and further with Turkey. Baku, on the other hand, plans to build several strategically important roads in Nagorno-Karabakh, and it is entirely possible that sporadic border clashes are part of Azerbaijan’s efforts to pressure Armenia to implement the 2020 deal. 

For instance, on May 12 the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan advanced more than three kilometres (two miles) into southern Armenia, allegedly trying to “lay siege” to Lake Sev Lich (Black Lake) that is shared by the two countries. Also, similar incidents occurred in Armenia’s Gegharkunik Province, and to this day the Azeri troops refuse to withdraw from Armenian territory. Baku insists that border demarcation is the only way to resolve the issue of control over disputed areas, while Yerevan verbally demanded help from Moscow to stop “Azerbaijan’s provocations”, but Armenian leaders never sent any official requests neither to the Kremlin nor to the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization. Russia, for its part, refuses to openly side with its nominal ally Armenia, quite aware that such a move could jeopardize its ties with Baku, and also have a negative impact on the Kremlin’s lucrative energy ties with Azerbaijan. 

“We expect long-awaited peace and stability to be established in the region as soon as possible”, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said on November 26, pointing out that it is important to find a way to normalize relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Kremlin even encourages Yerevan to normalize ties with Turkey – a country that strongly backed Azerbaijan during the 44-day war. Ankara and Baku have become de facto allies after Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed the Shusha Declaration – a new bilateral roadmap entailing political, economic and military cooperation – on June 15. Thus, Armenia’s room for political maneuvers is rather narrow, and sooner or later Yerevan will have to establish diplomatic relation with Ankara, and make significant concession to Baku. As the clear victor of the 2020 war, Azerbaijan has an upper hand to the defeated Armenia, which means that future negotiations about border demarcation will unlikely benefit Yerevan. 

However, a potential demarcation deal is unlikely to ease the tension between two the countries. Armenian opposition strongly opposes delimination of borders, and Pashinyan is expected to procrastinate the negotiation process as long as possible. Unlike Aliyev, who claims that all points of the 2020 peace agreement – except the one that calls for the unblocking of transport communication routes in the region – have been implemented, Armenian Prime Minister insists that the issue of hostages, prisoners of war and other detainees has yet to be resolved. In other words, Pashinyan will likely use this matter to temporize the peace process, quite aware that the construction of Zangezur corridor will deprive Yerevan of the last trump-card against Baku. In December, the two leaders will meet again, this time in Brussels on sidelines of Eastern Partnership summit. They are expected to continue talks on border demarcation and demilitarization, as well as on the future of transportation corridors, while Russia and Turkey – major foreign powers operating in the region – will unlikely allow the European Union to significantly increase its influence in the Caucasus.

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