Azerbaijan’s new shopping list

Since the launch of the first Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) war in the 1990s, the region’s status has been at the core of the conflict. This issue was the primary focus of negotiations and different settlement options put forward by the OSCE Minsk Group—package solution, phased approach, Common State, Key West, Kazan document, Lavrov plan—which all tried to find a mutually acceptable solution for the status of Artsakh. At the end of the day, Azerbaijan decided to solve this issue by military force. Azerbaijan probably came to this decision in the early 2000s, hoping it could get more by deploying military force than by any negotiated solutions. Azerbaijan was cautiously waiting for the geopolitical window of opportunity, which appeared in 2020 as a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, elections in the U.S. and growing misperceptions of Armenia-Russia relations after the 2018 Velvet Revolution. 

The 2020 Artsakh War has significantly changed the balance of power in the region. It underscored Turkey’s growing role and influence and simultaneously resulted in the deployment of Russian peacekeepers to Artsakh. However, it did not solve the issue of status, as despite losing a significant part of its territory, the self-proclaimed Artsakh Republic continued its existence. Azerbaijan was clear that it would not tolerate the existence of the Artsakh Republic and would use force, if necessary, to finish with it. Baku was waiting for another window of opportunity, and it soon arrived, first in the form of the Russia-Ukraine war and then through Armenia’s recognition of Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan in October 2022, May and July 2023. In September 2023, Azerbaijan launched a new offensive against Artsakh and, within 10 days, forced the entire Armenian population to leave the area. The President of the Republic of Artsakh signed a decree on the dissolution of the republic by the end of 2023, albeit the legal aspects of that decree can be debated, and President Samvel Shahramanyan himself stated that no decree could dissolve the state established by the people.

In any case, Azerbaijan did not face any tangible consequences from anyone for forcefully displacing all Armenians from Artsakh. There were standard statements of concern from several capitals, promises to provide humanitarian aid to Armenian refugees from Artsakh and calls on Azerbaijan to ensure the rights of those Armenians who would wish to return to Artsakh, as was mentioned in the recent joint U.S.-EU statement. 

Some may believe that the destruction of the Republic of Artsakh and the forced displacement of Armenians from the region may pave the way for lasting peace and stability between Armenia and Azerbaijan. According to this logic, if the status of Artsakh was the primary obstacle to Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization, then nothing stands in the way of Armenia-Azerbaijan peace after all the Armenians were forced to leave Artsakh. 

However, the reality is much more complex. After the 2020 Artsakh War, Azerbaijan increased its demands from Armenia, adding three additional items. Item number one is the so-called enclaves, territories within Soviet Azerbaijan administrative borders, which were within Soviet Armenia. There is much confusion on the legal aspects of the appearance of those enclaves, as well as on numbers and area, and Soviet Armenia has its enclave within Soviet Azerbaijan. However, after the 2020 Artsakh War, Azerbaijan put this issue on the agenda, also using the recognition of Azerbaijani territorial integrity under the Alma-Ata declaration (86,600 square km) by Armenia. Now Azerbaijan speaks about eight occupied villages of Azerbaijan by Armenia with an overall 109 square kilometers of territory and uses the word “liberation” if Armenia fails to give back those territories via negotiations.  

Item two is the “Zangezur corridor,” which would connect Azerbaijan with its exclave Nakhichevan and Turkey via Armenia. The issue of restoration of communications was part of the November 10, 2020 trilateral statement, including the routes from western regions of Azerbaijan to Nakhichevan and the role of Russian border troops. The term “corridor” was not mentioned in article nine. However, Azerbaijan connected this issue with the functioning of the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor, arguing that as Armenians did not see any Azerbaijani officials while traveling from Armenia to Artsakh via Berdzor, Azerbaijanis should not see any Armenian officials while traveling from Azerbaijan proper to Nakhichevan via Syunik. This argument lost relevance after April 2023, when Azerbaijan established a checkpoint along the Berdzor Corridor, and became absolute nonsense after the forced displacement of all Armenians from Artsakh. However, while verbally recognizing Armenian sovereignty over Syunik, Azerbaijan now insists that Armenia should provide special guarantees to ensure the safety of those Azerbaijanis who will travel from Azerbaijan to Nakhichevan via Armenia, without any talk about the safety of Armenians who may travel from Armenia to Iran via Nakhichevan. The concept of special guarantees is vague and can be further manipulated by Azerbaijan.

The so-called “Zangezur corridor” marked by the red arrow (Wikimedia Commons)

Item number three relates to the concept of “Western Azerbaijan.” This concept received prominence in Azerbaijan after the 2020 Artsakh War, as Azerbaijani authorities implied that part of Armenian territories are historical Azerbaijani lands, and Azerbaijanis were forcefully displaced from their homeland. According to this narrative, Azerbaijanis should come to Armenia, and Armenia should ensure their security, safety, educational and religious rights. Initially, many thought Azerbaijan created this concept to force Armenia to accept the loss of Artsakh, telling Armenians that if they continued to speak about Artsakh, Azeris would speak about Western Azerbaijan. However, even after the destruction of the Artsakh Republic, Azerbaijan has not dropped this concept. It means that the concept is part of the long-term Azerbaijani strategy to weaken Armenia to make it a de facto failed state.

Will Azerbaijan use military force to compel Armenia to accept its demands on these three issues? In the short-term perspective, the most likely area for military aggression against Armenia could be the issue of enclaves. Azerbaijan may tell the international community that it is not attacking Armenia or annexing Armenian territory; it is simply liberating its territories occupied by Armenia, with the defense that the Armenian government has accepted that the enclaves are part of Azerbaijan. 

It will be much more challenging for Azerbaijan to justify using military force to open the “Zangezur corridor” or compel Armenia to accept the “Western Azerbaijan” concept. However, Azerbaijan will continue to use these demands to pressure Armenia and postpone the signature of any agreement with Armenia. Azerbaijan will probably wait for another geopolitical window of opportunity to use force to reach its goals.    

Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan
Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan is the founder and chairman of the Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies and a senior research fellow at APRI – Armenia. He was the former vice president for research – head of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense Research University in Armenia. In March 2009, he joined the Institute for National Strategic Studies as a research Fellow and was appointed as INSS Deputy Director for research in November 2010. Dr. Poghosyan has prepared and managed the elaboration of more than 100 policy papers which were presented to the political-military leadership of Armenia, including the president, the prime minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Dr. Poghosyan has participated in more than 50 international conferences and workshops on regional and international security dynamics. His research focuses on the geopolitics of the South Caucasus and the Middle East, US – Russian relations and their implications for the region, as well as the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. He is the author of more than 200 academic papers and articles in different leading Armenian and international journals. In 2013, Dr. Poghosyan was a Distinguished Research Fellow at the US National Defense University College of International Security Affairs. He is a graduate from the US State Department Study of the US Institutes for Scholars 2012 Program on US National Security Policy Making. He holds a PhD in history and is a graduate from the 2006 Tavitian Program on International Relations at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.


  1. Yet how can Azerbaijan even use the excuse of territorial integrity to justify an attack on the enclaves, as it both occupies a nearby Armenian enclave and would be violating Armenia’s territorial integrity by sending its military through to capture the enclaves. Of course it will try to do both these things, but in these cases it has absolutely no way of appealing to “international law” and “territorial integrity” as it usually does. It just wants to have its cake and eat it too.

  2. My impression is that if Azerbaijan gets anywhere near those eight enclaves, it will mean the end of Armenia as we know it. Armenia will then resemble the swiss cheese that is now the West Bank of Palestine. Therefore I think that Armenia should do two things a) shut down any talk about enclaves- it’s a redline for Armenia and off the table and b) accelerate the build up of Armenian defense forces and Armenian economy/society. It is also clear that Azerbaijan has no intention of signing a peace treaty, nor Turkey has any intention of opening the border anytime soon. As an aside, I am frustrated with Pashinyan’s “peace agenda” when he obviously has no peace partner. Everytime he talks about peace and recognizing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, he is merely reinforcing the view that Armenia is weak. The movement of the scrap metal smelter plant from the border region of Yeraskh because Armenia could not ensure its security proves the point. It would be much better if he focused on rallying the people of Armenia and diaspora.

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