The Dilemma of Post-Conflict Development
by Vasif Huseynov
“It is a historic day for our country today. An end is being put to the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict today”, said President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan addressing his nation in the early hours of the 10th of November, immediately after having signed a trilateral statement in a televised videoconference with President Vladimir Putin of Russia. On many occasions since then, President Aliyev has reiterated that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was resolved and became only a subject of history books. This view was reiterated by President Vladimir Putin of Russia soon after the signing of the ceasefire deal. Addressing a meeting gathered to discuss post-war situation in the Karabakh region on November 13, President Putin expressed his hope that “we will no longer say ‘the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict’ and hope that we will soon move to discussing other issues”. Such interpretation of the post-war situation in the region is however not shared by the Armenian side whose government and non-state representatives insist that the conflict has not been settled but only frozen for an indefinite time. This inconsistency between the two sides of the dispute poses some questions to observers both within the region and abroad: What is the status of the three-decades old conflict? Why do the two sides have different visions of the post-war situation? What does this difference mean for the future of the region?
For Azerbaijan, the conflict with Armenia was provoked by the latter’s irredentist claims to Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories and the occupation of the Karabakh region and surrounding districts in the course of the First Karabakh War of the early 1990s. Azerbaijan’s struggle over the last three decades since then to reach a negotiated resolution failed due to Yerevan’s undeclared objective to prolong the status-quo and solidify the annexation of the occupied region. The imitation of the negotiations by Armenian politicians led to the breakout of the Second Karabakh War. In autumn of 2020, Baku succeeded to liberate the occupied territories and fulfil the requirements of the four resolutions of the UN Security Council that demanded immediate withdrawal of the Armenian forces from the Azerbaijani territories. This outcome has entirely changed the nature of the Armenia – Azerbaijan conflict as it was until September 2020. The military victory of Azerbaijan put an end to the occupation and as such to the conflict as it was before the war. The conflictual issues emerged in the wake of the war, e.g., the imprisonment of the Armenian saboteur groups in the period after the establishment of ceasefire or Armenia’s refusal to hand over the mine maps to Azerbaijan, are the remnants of the former conflict and can be shortly resolved if both sides agree to compromise and co-operate. The appreciation of the unblocking of the regional transportation and communication channels by the governments of both countries demonstrates that there is a good potential for the resolution of the remaining contested issues.
Armenia sees the post-war situation in a different way. Refusing to accept the realities created by the 44-day war and its loss over the territories it maintained under illegal occupation for around thirty years, Armenia finds its rather difficult to comprehend the new situation as “resolution of the conflict”. This is the reason why the Armenian leaders seek to put forward the issues that might complicate the situation, present it as the continuation of the conflict and draw in the defunct institution of the OSCE’s Minsk Group. Their attempts to bring the status of the former Nagorno-Karabakh region back to the negotiations and transfer military servicemen in disguised forms through the Russian-controlled Lachin corridor to the Karabakh region aim to re-ignite tensions and prevent the establishment of lasting peace and stability in the region. In parallel, the refusal to hand over the mine maps to Azerbaijan aims to delay the return of the Azerbaijani IDPs back to their homelands they were forced to flee three decades ago. Hence, it is a wishful thinking in Armenia to prevent the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from becoming a part of history and freeze it for future to strike back stronger.
This difference in the perceptions of the post-war situation of Armenia and Azerbaijan begs the question about the potential implications of this disagreement for the future of the region. The developments since the signing of the trilateral ceasefire accord on November 10 demonstrate that there is a historic opportunity to achieve lasting peace in the region. The return of all IDPs and refugees back to their homes, the re-establishment of peaceful co-existence in line with the trilateral deal along with the unblocking of regional transportation and communication links would help the two countries to come to agreement in other political and economic issues as well. The two sides seem currently to be treading this path. However, it is critically important to take into account the challenges to the peace process. In particular, the transfer of Armenian military servicemen to the Karabakh region is a threat that might spiral into another armed escalation with drastic consequences to both sides. Constructive mediation of the international institutions and the external states that have the leverage to affect the situation would buttress the regional efforts to counter such challenges and help the creation of lasting peace in the region.
Vasif Huseynov, a senior adviser at the Baku-based Center of Analysis of International Relations (Air Center), special for News.Az