When a wild animal senses a wounded victim, there is no pacifying their appetite. While Armenia continues to double down on its concessions of accepting Azerbaijani territorial integrity that includes Artsakh, the Azeri response this week is hardly optimistic. Dictator Aliyev, who has committed war crimes and ignored the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on Berdzor (Lachin), arrogantly declared that he will not negotiate with Artsakh. He said that the Armenians must accept Azerbaijani rule or leave and demanded a corridor through sovereign RoA territory (so-called Zangezur). He openly displays disdain for all Armenians, particularly those that he claims are his citizens in Artsakh.
The West, obsessed with beating the Russians to the punch, continues to offer empty words that overstate the prospects of a peace agreement. Russia is only concerned with maintaining control in the South Caucasus and will turn on Armenia in a moment to serve that objective. Agreements, such as the lauded and often referenced November 2020 trilateral agreement after the war, mean nothing as Russia and Azerbaijan violate its content on a daily basis. Sadly, Armenia continues to point out the violations with a victim mentality. Azerbaijan taunts Armenia with brazen comments such as last week’s threat that it can carry out any military operations against Artsakh. Aliyev further demanded the resignation of the Artsakh government and the dissolution of the parliament. Even a casual observer would conclude that any “peace” agreement in this environment would be absurd. Azerbaijan is so confident in its position that it openly threatens military actions if its demands are not met. Why not? It’s not as though following rules and abiding by agreements got them here. It has been quite the opposite. They have violated every agreement and continuously committed acts of aggression.
the objective of self-determination remains in the hearts and minds of our brethren
While Armenia has wasted time with unilateral concessions, its military needs drastic attention. What is the difference between standing up with self-interest in the diplomatic process with an Azeri threat of violence and the inevitability of Azeri military action even with a peace deal? Both carry the threat of conflict, but the latter contains the false assumption that the Azeris want peace. The former is focused on the interests of the Armenian people, while the latter inadvertently has encouraged Azeri aggression. Apparently Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is sufficiently alarmed by Aliyev’s response that he publicly questions the latter’s commitment to recent agreements in Brussels. He has good reason to draw these conclusions. The Armenian strategy has been to use unilateral concessions to draw Azerbaijan into reciprocation or be identified as a non-committed party to be pressured by the mediators. Aliyev has not responded positively to any of the concessions. His comments have been focused on what remains, which is more of a surrender than a peace deal. The alternative of pressuring Azerbaijan is only viable if the mediators are willing to go to extremes such as sanctions and other economic mechanisms to influence Azerbaijan. They have been consistently unwilling to go down that path. Azerbaijan has committed war crimes, violated international laws, ignored agreements with their signature and failed to implement an ICJ ruling, yet the West and Russia have done nothing to enforce civility. Some blame it on the power of fossil fuel for addicted western nations. Do not underestimate the impact of the Israeli/Azerbaijani alliance as it relates to Iran and the United States. The western nations are operating as diplomatic mediators but are driven by countering Russia and are limited by the Turkey/NATO and Israel/Azerbaijan partnerships. This is the reality of geo-political alignments of self-interest, yet Armenia clings to the hope that continuous concessions will appeal to Azerbaijan’s sense of righteous relations. There is no such thing as a soul for that state. They are driven by a false sense of history, blind aggression fueled by racism and a series of profitable relationships.
In this context, the voices of Armenia speak of “rights and security” for Artsakh as a reciprocal agreement. What should we make of this “policy” statement? Probably the most important observation from a democratic perspective is that the people of Artsakh do not support this direction. On numerous occasions based on press statements from Stepanakert and political analysts, the objective of self-determination remains in the hearts and minds of our brethren. Before we criticize this as unrealistic, remember they are the only ones who live on the land, have sacrificed for their rights and will bear the consequences of alternatives. They understand what Azeri rule with its oppression and racism will mean. The Armenians in the Republic of Armenia don’t live there, and they have officially ended their long tenure as the security guarantor. Those of us in the diaspora don’t live there and certainly the non-Armenian, third party mediators do not reside in Artsakh. Moreover, Armenia is the only party that clearly states this as an objective. The Azeris display open disregard for this idea. In their view, the matter was resolved in 2020, and the Armenians of Artsakh either live under Azerbaijani rule (and its consequences) or leave. This is officially referred to as a deportation and is within the definition of genocide. The mediator parties have been intentionally vague on this matter. Without international guarantees (as Armenia has stated repeatedly), there will be no rights or security.
What would be helpful in this process would be a general criteria of “rights and security.” Today, we have polar opposite views expressed by Artsakh and Baku. In Artsakh, it is defined as the ability to live in cultural, religious and political freedom. There has been a functioning government for over 30 years and a defensive military. If you ask our brethren in Artsakh, the only “rights and security” come from defending yourself to maintain freedom without Azeri oppression. It is not a new idea. They have articulated it and sacrificed for it since 1988. On the other side of the spectrum, we have a defiant and belligerent Azerbaijan that ignores all standards of justice and civility declaring that all current infrastructure must be dissolved and Artsakh “reintegrated” into Azerbaijan. That is a huge gap. Armenia’s definition of “rights and security” has been left vague in deference to the negotiating process. Thus far, it has become a unilateral concession and resulted in a stalemate. Aliyev, who ignores all sense of diplomatic decorum, will usually initiate military operations when his tolerance is exceeded. I would assume that attributes have been released privately in order to gain support from the mediators. To date, Azerbaijan continues to respond with an approach befitting the dictatorship and racist regime it has become.
What is particularly ironic in this sea of anarchy and uncertainty is Armenia’s role as a nation that refused to recognize Artsakh for 30 years and now feels empowered to negotiate the future of those they claim no governmental responsibility over. Armenia has stated that it advocated direct talks between Artsakh and Azerbaijan. Initially, Aliyev, in a ploy to neutralize Ruben Vardanyan, stated he would only work with people native to Artsakh. When his demand was met, he immediately reneged by stating there will be no direct talks, only compliance to Azerbaijani rule. As a result, the concept of “rights and security” remains unclear because the designated Armenian party is not being given voice. An absurd sequence at best.
The entire concept of “rights and security” for Artsakh (a policy downgrade from 30 years of self-determination) is dependent on international guarantees. This is code for an on-site multinational peacekeeping force. It would be expected that the Europeans, particularly France, would shoulder most of the burden. The hole in this argument is that if you have already declared recognition for the “territorial integrity” of the 86.6 thousand square kilometers of Azerbaijan, why would you advocate a peacekeeping force on their “sovereign” territory? It seems as if the decision to unilaterally announce “territorial integrity” needed to succeed (not precede) the “rights and security” dialogue. Granted, the reasoning was to take a major issue off the table, but until it is reciprocated, it is meaningless and complicates the “security” issue. If Armenia has declared the inclusion of Artsakh in the 86.6 thousand square kilometers of Azerbaijan, what mediating party will commit troops to keep peace in an area already ceded? With a belligerent Azerbaijan, Armenia needs to make it easier for third party intervention. This sequence complicates that move.
The current negotiating environment is very unstable despite the public relations statements by the mediating parties. The parallel process between Moscow sponsored, EU sponsored and US sponsored diplomatic activity seems like an endless game of musical chairs. Armenia may have an opportunity to reset the parameters with Azerbaijan rejecting everything. Armenia needs to position them as the bad guys in a process that at least three outside parties are invested in. If the mediators sincerely believe this process has possibilities, then the party consistently blocking progress should be exposed. This is logical, but when layering in the political implications, it is uncertain. Regardless, Armenia must do something to use Aliyev’s lack of commitment to their advantage. Perhaps Pashinyan’s recent statement about Aliyev is that opportunity. If we simply leave this as a static dialogue of unilateral concessions, the inevitable military intervention by the Azeris will create intolerable risk for Artsakh’s “rights and security.” With Russia’s duplicitous adventures in the region and essentially ignoring Armenia, they would love to see the western mediating efforts fail. The ball is in the court of the Armenians to adjust since we have the most to lose. If Aliyev keeps reacting with more racist and threatening responses, the Armenians need to be in a position to exploit their barbarism with actions from the mediating parties. Enough of trying to be good faith compromisers. Armenia and Artsakh are in danger. Self-interest is the priority.