One year after the 2020 Artsakh War, tensions are still high in Artsakh and along Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan. Despite numerous statements of the Armenian government to bring about an era of peace and stability to the region and willingness to normalize relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, peace is as remote a possibility now as it was on November 10, 2020. Since the end of the 2020 war, Armenia has made significant concessions to secure peace. In mid-December 2020, Armenia’s Armed Forces withdrew from their positions near Syunik, yielding 21 kilometers of the Armenia–Iran interstate highway to Azerbaijan. It was done in clear violation of the November 10, 2020, statement, which articulated that all forces should remain in their positions except the modalities concerning the regions of Aghdam, Lachin and Kelbajar. Armenia did not prevent the incursion of Azerbaijani forces into Syunik and Gegharkunik regions back in May and has not taken steps to expel Azerbaijani soldiers from Armenian territories.
After winning the early parliamentary elections of June 2021, the current government used very vague language on Artsakh in its new program, not using the term Republic of Artsakh and not clarifying its position on the status and fate of the territories taken by Azerbaijan as a result of the 2020 war. In recent months, the Armenian government constantly spoke about its willingness to normalize relations with Turkey and mentioned some mysterious positive signals received from Turkish counterparts. During his UN General Assembly speech, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan did not say a single word about Turkey’s involvement in the 2020 war and did not mention the Armenian Genocide.
Given the actions and attitudes of the current Armenian government, it might seem that Azerbaijan should do whatever is necessary to reciprocate and improve relations with Armenia. However, we see a different approach from the Azerbaijani government. Since the end of the 2020 war, Azerbaijan has launched a two-prong strategy in Artsakh – to contribute to the exodus of Armenians and bring Azerbaijanis into the territories of the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) currently occupied by Azerbaijan, in particular Shushi and Hadrut. Azerbaijan’s calculations are straightforward: to do everything possible to have equal numbers of Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the former NKAO as soon as possible. After reaching that goal, Azerbaijan may offer to organize an expression of will about the future status of Karabakh to close the issue finally. Simultaneously, Azerbaijan may try to convince Armenians living in Artsakh about the bright prospects if they agree to accept Azerbaijani citizenship and forget about self-determination and independence. This policy may start by offering potential new Azerbaijani citizens higher salaries, pensions and other privileges without demanding to leave Artsakh immediately. However, the ultimate goal of Azerbaijan in Artsakh is clear – to prevent even the slightest possibility of having an independent Artsakh, change the region’s demography and push out Armenians.
Azerbaijan has a clear-cut strategy for its relations with Armenia too. Since the end of the 2020 war, Azerbaijan has blackmailed, threatened and forced its way into trying to establish a land corridor with the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic and Turkey through the Syunik province. Azerbaijani leadership uses the term “Zangezur corridor” but is ready for any other word in line with its strategy. Azerbaijan’s vision is clear; Azerbaijani citizens and goods should pass through Syunik without any passport, customs or border control implemented by the Armenian side. The best case scenario for Azerbaijan is to have no control, the worst-case scenario – to have only Russian control – creating a so-called “Lachin Corridor 2” in the Syunik province. The long-term strategy envisages the growing Azerbaijani and Turkish presence in the Syunik region, a gradual change in demographics and the establishment of at least de facto control over Syunik. Thus, the uncontrolled passage through the province of Syunik is the only first step toward the ultimate goal of at least de facto cutting the province from Armenia.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has successfully implemented the so-called “salami tactics,” taking slices of Armenian territory. Azerbaijan promised Armenian leadership that Armenian citizens would have no problems while using parts of the Armenia–Iran interstate highway, which Armenia handed over to Azerbaijan in mid-December 2020. However, on November 11, Azerbaijan established customs control along that highway, effectively closing it for Armenians. Meanwhile, despite all statements from the Armenian government about its readiness to launch an era of peace in the region and normalize relations with Azerbaijan, Azerbaijani troops encroached into the Armenian territory in May and again earlier this week. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his Ministry of Foreign Affairs have reiterated that Azerbaijani troops were deployed in sovereign Azerbaijani territory, declaring parts of Syunik and Gegharkunik region as Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan has a clear strategy – to take as much territory from Armenia as possible, to force Armenia to provide Azerbaijan routes to Nakhichevan via Syunik without any Armenian control, and in the long run, to establish at least de facto control over Syunik. The current actions of the Armenian government are insufficient to protect vital Armenian national interests. All talks about positive signals from Turkey, a willingness to usher in an era of regional peace, declaring sections of the Armenia–Iran interstate highway as Azerbaijani territory and refusal to articulate a clear position on the future status and territories of Artsakh are parts of an appeasement policy towards Azerbaijan. However, both history and the past year’s developments have proven that appeasement and constant willingness to sacrifice national interests do not pave a path toward peace and development, but rather create a recipe for national disaster.