The Folly and Perils of an Armenia-Azerbaijan “Peace Agreement”

Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov met in Arlington, VA from June 27-29, 2023 (Republic of Azerbaijan Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Last month, the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Ararat Mirzoyan and Jeyhun Bayramov, descended on Arlington, VA for U.S.-mediated marathon peace talks. The three-day negotiation session aimed to register progress around various thorny issues (i.e., border demarcation, unblocking transportation links and the final status of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh) and lay the groundwork for an eventual normalization accord between the archrivals. Despite ups and downs, Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations have recently gathered pace with an uptick in summits across Washington D.C., Brussels and Moscow. (Russia—the longtime regional hegemon—maintains a dueling diplomatic track and routinely blasts the mediation efforts of its Western counterparts.) The United States appears resolved to shepherd through a peace deal, eager to expand its clout along Russia’s southern flank. But in their current form, these negotiations are poised to exacerbate the region’s geopolitical fault lines and foster future rounds of armed conflict while entrenching Russian interests.

Essentially Appeasement: Perpetuating Cycles of Violence

Since a catastrophic defeat in the 2020 Artsakh War, Armenia has been embroiled in a protracted security-cum-political crisis. (The Armenian government, helmed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, has failed to chart a fresh security strategy to extract the country from its existential imbroglio.) Taking advantage of disorientation in Yerevan, Azerbaijan has launched a multi-pronged pressure campaign—marked by a series of armed assaults and hybrid warfareto extract further concessions and consolidate its recent geopolitical gains via a negotiated settlement. The international community, bereft of policy alternatives, has championed such a process, casting a peace agreement as the region’s best bet for stability and prosperity. Amid Moscow’s preoccupation with its botched invasion of Ukraine—and its flagging credibility as a neutral arbitrator—Washington also sees an opportunity to curtail Russian clout in the Caucasus. 

These prospective accords—products of rushed negotiations and misguided assumptions—are poised to backfire, failing to deliver the intended benefits envisioned by Washington and setting the stage for future bouts of regional conflagration. Recent negotiations— supported by the United States, European Union and Russia alike—are the culmination of a long-running policy of appeasement towards Azerbaijan. Baku’s conduct—including armed incursions and hostage diplomacy—is routinely met with meek condemnation in global capitals. (In recent statements, the United States has also disavowed sanctions as a tool to check Azeri aggression, a further boon to Baku’s designs.) These accords, crafted in the same tepid spirit, are set to handsomely reward Azerbaijan’s insidious pressure campaign, conducted in partnership with Russia and Turkey, at the expense of regional security.

Should this so-called peace agreement—better characterized as a stop-gap measure—materialize, it will almost certainly fail to usher in genuine normalization or stem violence. The arrangement will shift the region’s geopolitical balance firmly in favor of Azerbaijan and expose an enfeebled Armenia to fresh security risks from Azerbaijan and continued assaults on its sovereignty from Russia. An emboldened Baku, eager to reap additional geopolitical gains—and acutely aware of Yerevan’s much-reduced post-war military capabilities—is likely to ratchet up tensions at will, without fear of consequence. (Nationalist militarism is a core ideological plank of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s autocratic regime. Aliyev regularly engages in saber-rattling and spews irredentist remarks, claiming vast swathes of Armenia as Azerbaijani territory.) Premature declarations of Azerbaijan’s reliability and appetite for peace will ring hollow. Azerbaijan often launches incursions into Armenian territory and violates the ceasefire regime in Artsakh. (Baku is also a seasoned practitioner of disinformation, distorting the facts around its aggression via a narrative of false parity.) So instead of its purported goals, the accords are likely to perpetuate—if not, exacerbate—the current cycle of escalation, presaging future rounds of Azeri belligerence and increasing reliance on Russia while prompting criticism of the United States for its facilitating role. As such, the accords will also provide fodder for the next disinformation campaign against American interests and Western norms. Avoiding this trap requires the rejection (and non-legitimization) of territorial gains achieved via wars of aggression in Artsakh—and Ukraine. 

From Pacification to Eradication

The most contentious—and consequential—negotiation portfolio is the final status of Artsakh, the Armenian-majority enclave at the center of the Armenia-Azerbaijan rivalry. The region—artificially integrated into Azerbaijan in 1921 via the whims of Joseph Stalin—has enjoyed self-governance since Armenian forces prevailed in the First Artsakh War (1988-1994). This precarious, yet relatively stable, existence came to a crashing halt amid the 2020 Artsakh War. The conflict saw Azerbaijan capture vast swathes of Artsakh and adjoining territories—including all-important land bridges to Armenia—eroding the viability of the Armenian statelet. In the aftermath of the war—which ended via a woefully enforced Moscow-designed ceasefire—Baku has conducted a creeping takeover of Artsakh, seizing villages, crippling utility networks and kidnapping civilians. (Since December, Azerbaijan has also subjected Artsakh to a wholesale blockade, precipitating a humanitarian crisis.) Azerbaijan’s relentless pacification campaign—compounded by continued international intransigence and a lack of security guarantees—is pushing the beleaguered region toward the precipice, with grim prospects for relief.

Deliberations around Artsakh’s final status remain murky. But concerns abound that Armenia’s leadership—short on capacity and vision—will acquiesce to the absorption of Artsakh into Azerbaijan as the price to seal a peace agreement. The local population views integration with Baku as an existential risk, citing Azerbaijan’s recent conduct: terrorizing civilians, extrajudicial killings of POWs and the demolition of religious monuments. (The Aliyev regime has also embraced Armenophobia as state policy.) In the event of a negotiated takeover, Azerbaijan will continue to chip away at remaining trappings of modern life, rendering the enclave uninhabitable—and precipitating an exodus of its Armenians. (Baku may also opt to pacify the region by force.) Vague security guarantees will fail to assuage a petrified population. (The Russian peacekeeping mission in Artsakh—ostensibly tasked with protecting the region’s Armenian denizens—has actively abetted Azerbaijan’s creeping takeover.) Given Azerbaijan’s violent proclivities and maximalist geopolitical ambitions, a grand bargain around Artsakh will condemn the region’s millennia-old Armenian community to exile—or possible carnage.

Peace Treaty or Trojan Horse

The United States has recently eclipsed Russia, the longtime regional powerbroker, as the chief focal point of Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations. Washington’s increased engagement is animated in part by a desire to curtail the Kremlin’s regional clout amid Russian entanglement in Ukraine. The United States has stepped up diplomatic activities across the Caucasus and Central Asia, reaching out to counterparts unnerved by an increasingly unhinged and bellicose Russia. (In recent months, a stream of American officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have traversed the former Soviet bloc, burnishing relationships and exploring areas of mutual interest. Enforcing sanction regimes, imposed on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, is also high on Washington’s regional agenda.) However, these accords, contrary to Washington’s thinking, will perpetuate Moscow’s grip on its near abroad, while rewarding Baku, a Russian ally masquerading as a neutral partner-to-all. 

The prevailing logic around the negotiations—that a normalization deal will foster regional security and narrow Russia’s margin to meddle—ignores the geopolitical realignment roiling the region, including the growing partnership between Azerbaijan and Russia. (Turkey is also a member of this emerging axis. Aliyev and Russian President Vladimir Putin are firm champions of fellow authoritarian, recently reelected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.) In recent years, Moscow—driven by political and economic interests including its premeditated confrontation with the West—has cultivated closer ties to an ascendant Baku. (Azerbaijan and Russia cemented their blossoming relationship via an alliance agreement signed days before the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.) And as the Ukraine conflict drags on, Moscow’s dealings with Baku are assuming greater strategic importance.

With the Russian economy languishing, Moscow is growing increasingly reliant on its regional relations to access markets—and skirt sanctions. Russia is building out alternative logistics channels, beyond the reach of the West, to expand trade flows with economic partners. Baku is a critical node in these burgeoning commercial and sanctions-busting networks. (Following the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow reportedly bypassed oil sanctions via Azerbaijan.) Baku hosts a leg of the International North-South Transport Corridor, a new trade route connecting Russia to the Indian Ocean. The corridor, while serving to facilitate Russian access to Asian markets, will also establish a secure channel between Moscow and Tehran, global pariahs turned security partners. Azerbaijan and Russia also aim to carve out the “Zangezur” Corridor—an envisioned extraterritorial, Moscow-managed corridor to Turkey via Armenia’s southern Syunik region. (Yerevan is violently opposed to this proposed scheme, which would involve the expropriation of Armenian territory.) Russia is poised to leverage these links to weather the economic fallout of the Ukraine conflict and circumvent tightening international sanctions regimes. With its stock rising vis-à-vis Moscow, an emboldened Azerbaijan is forging ahead with its geopolitical agenda. 

Amid advantageous conditions, Baku, in alignment with Moscow, is shaping the postwar order in its favor, strong-arming Yerevan into acquiescing to a heavily skewed normalization agreement. The accords, devoid of security guarantees, will thrust Armenia further into the geopolitical wilderness. (And amid sustained Russian pressure, and the specter of Azeri aggression, an already reeling Armenian government will at best struggle in vain to chart the foreign policies and build the alternative security partnerships necessary to foster defense capabilities and deterrence.) In this hostile environment, a beleaguered Armenia will likely seek the familiar embrace of its erstwhile ally Russia, with hollow hopes of security assistance, ensnaring Yerevan in the Russian orbit. 

These normalization accords will also fail to achieve American objectives vis-à-vis Azerbaijan. The argument that ceding Artsakh will steer Baku away from Moscow’s orbit is a hollow gambit, prone to risks and conjecture. In fact, this ploy has already been exhausted. Moscow greenlit—and helped coordinate—the incremental Azerbaijani takeover of Artsakh in exchange for Baku’s strategic cooperation. This arrangement involves Azerbaijan serving as a custodian of Russian interests in the Caucasus—chief among them precluding an expanded Western presence in the region.

Baku is also firmly ensconced in an emerging authoritarian axis along with Ankara and Moscow. This regional triumvirate is linked by common geopolitical interests and shared contempt for Western values. (Aliyev and Putin intervened in the recent Turkish presidential elections in favor of Erdogan.) Therefore, forfeiting Artsakh to coax Azerbaijan out of this strategic bloc will fail to precipitate Washington’s desired geopolitical realignment and counter Russian, or perhaps even Iranian, influence. 

New Path to Normalization

The United States has a historic opportunity to help establish stability and prosperity in the Caucasus. The region—a potential buttress against Russian influence—is at a geopolitical crossroads. Sustained engagement, underpinned by sober policymaking, can swing the pendulum in favor of the United States and its European allies. But the current trajectory of Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization is poised to diminish such prospects. In their present form, Washington-mediated negotiations will buoy a creeping pro-Moscow authoritarian currently stalking the region (i.e., Georgia). They will also compromise the sovereignty of Armenia, foiling the aspiring democracy’s attempt to flee Moscow’s grip. To escape this geopolitical trap, a reset in Yerevan-Baku negotiations is necessary. A fresh approach, one that embraces gradual normalization, is better suited to fostering a more sustainable peace between the archrivals, while checking Moscow’s local sway. 

A real reset would begin with the United States and European Union restoring a modicum of parity between the two opposing parties. Currently, Azerbaijan wields an armed veto over the negotiations. (Gunpoint negotiations rarely foster lasting peace. And Aliyev’s geopolitical gains, achieved via a mix of conventional military might and hybrid warfare, will inspire like-minded tyrants to embrace similar tactics.) To mitigate Azerbaijan’s armed advantage and level the playing field, Washington and its European counterparts should extend security assistance to Armenia. (A potential security package could include professional military education, capability development and defense sector reform initiatives.) This would help Yerevan rebuild its battered armed forces and deterrence capacity. Meanwhile, the international community should support security stabilization measures, including the European Union border monitoring mission and the demilitarization of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. (Washington should also condition further talks on confidence-building measures from Baku: the release of Armenian POWs and lifting the siege on Artsakh.) With a more level playing field, Armenia and Azerbaijan could build consensus around less contentious issues (i.e., the resumption of economic links), before tackling heftier portfolios. Under these modified conditions, normalization, while difficult to achieve, will be possible. Establishing and nurturing a just peace is the best way to preclude a relapse into conflict and a resurgence of Russian influence. To induce Baku’s cooperation, the United States may also choose to examine Azerbaijan’s prima facie claim of territorial integrity more closely. It may conclude that, unlike other territorial disputes afflicting the former Soviet bloc, Artsakh is more like Kosovo—the majority Albanian enclave that exercised self-determination vis-à-vis Serbia amid mass discrimination and the specter of ethnic cleansing—than previously reckoned.

Sevan Araz

Sevan Araz

Sevan Araz is a defense analyst. He has conducted research with the Center for Strategic & International Studies and Middle East Institute. He graduated from George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs with a focus on security policy in 2018.


  1. Mr Sevan you have made a list of postulates all of them plausible and none of them with any strong enough validity and you come to very strong conclusion. ie todays Armenian government policy is very likely to be doomed. A conclusion that has it’s roots, in an biblical feeling that there exist an better alternative policy/solution waiting for Armenian somewhere up in the clouds

  2. His entire life, Nikol dreamed of abandoning Artsakh, forgetting the Armenian Genocide, unconditionally opening Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey and, last but not least, bringing Armenia out of Russia’s orbit.

    Naturally, these unique characteristics exhibited by Nikol did not escape the attention of various intelligence services around the world. This is why Western and Turkish interests helped place Nikol into power in 2018. This is not mere speculation. This can actually be proved in court. Follow the money trail that paved the way to Nikol’s “New Armenia” (e.g. Soros’ Open Society, NED, USAID, British Council, European Council, large numbers of western financed NGOs, large numbers of western financed news outlets, money transfers from Baku to Armenia just prior to the “velvet revolution”, etc) and you will end up in Washington, London, Brussels, Ankara, Baku and perhaps Tel Aviv. To it’s utter shame and disgrace, the Armenian world, both native and diasporan, preferred to keep Nikol and gang in power not once but twice, the second time being after the embarrassing defeat Armenia suffered in 2020.

    Faced with Armenian-style political instability and incompetence, and having much bigger matters to prepare for in Ukraine, 2018 was also when Russia, which had been Armenia’s only lifeline since 1992, began pulling its protective hand away from both Armenia and Artsakh, but did so only slightly so that the two wouldn’t disappear completely from the map.

    In other words, seeing that the Armenian world was desperately seeking to embrace Western powers to off-set Russia’s perceived over-influence in Armenia, protecting Armenian interests in Artsakh, as Moscow had done since 1992 at the expense of alienating Turks and Azeris, no longer served Russia’s strategic interests. Seeing that Armenians were persistently seeking western integration, Moscow began cooperating with Ankara and Baku because it needed to pacify its southern flank on the eve of its historic conflagration against Ukraine and NATO. It worked, as both Ankara and Baku have not taken sides against Russia in the war in Ukraine. As such, as a major world crisis was approaching the region, instead of moving closer to the Russian Federation for security reasons (similar to what Belarus, Ossetia, Abkhazia and Crimea had done), by 2018 the Armenian world had effectively maneuvered Armenia into geopolitical isolation and a dead-end.

    In 2018, we got what we wished for. In 2020, we got what we deserved.

    Just like how Moscow punished Baku in 1992, Tbilisi in 2008 and Kiev from 2014-present, Moscow also punished Yerevan in 2020. But, unlike what the Kremlin will do to Ukraine (i.e. Ukraine will cease to exist when this war ends), the Kremlin will make sure that an Armenia and an Artsak survives in some form, as Russians still need Armenians in the south Caucasus as a geostrategic buffer against Turks and Muslims.

    In a nutshell, what I described above is how Armenians lost Artsakh. This is also why Armenia today is like a rudderless boat on a stormy sea with an utterly incompetent captain. All in all, the last 5 years in Armenia has been a nightmare, and a toxic by-product of western-style democracy, Armenian-style political illiteracy and the self-destructive efforts of Armenians worldwide to use the West as a leverage against Russia. Consequently, Armenians today have no right to complain, as they were again the main authors of the country’s latest tragedy.

    • You and Putin are probably fine with former Soviet Country Azerbaijan forming a decades long alliance with NATO Turkey. That’s right: Azerbaijan in bed with NATO. Armenia and Russia have signed alliance agreements, the same goes for the CSTO and Armenia; in 2022, those alliance agreements were dishonored and trashed by both Putin and the CSTO, after Azerbaijan invaded UN recognized Armenian territory; now, in 2023, Azerbaijan still there, but not even a word of condemnation.

      I was an outspoken supporter of Putin, until he looks the other way, as Azerbaijan’s 21st Century Armenian Genocide Project escalates in 2023, and has been unfolding since 2020. You’re so eager to blame Armenia for everything under the sun, and you never hold Russia accountable for anything. I don’t buy it.

  3. You are one of those who has the serious need to study history and politics, that is if you are not working for some Western or Turkish psyops center tasked with misleading Armenians. No one here is trying to sell anything to you. Some of us here are only trying to inform Armenians so that they are not led to the slaughter again. And holding and Armenian flag does not make one Armenian or even pro-Armenia.

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