The Peace Deal
The Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal after a six-week-long battle in the South Caucasus region is an example of a shift in the geopolitics of the region. Brokered by the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, a peace deal was struck on 10th November between Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, and Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev. The agreement to halt fighting by both Armenia and Azerbaijan is taken as a win for the two key regional players in the conflict.
Turkey and Russia opened diplomatic channels at the highest level to contain the conflict that has taken the lives of more than 5,000 people and displaced tens of thousands. Mediators from the OSCE Minsk Group, mainly France, the U.S., and Russia, also urged the two sides to cater to the previously agreed ceasefire. To resolve this conflict, the Azerbaijani leader clearly followed the UN Resolutions that were passed to optimize the peace of the disputed region.
Where It All Started
The ethnic Armenian enclave of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, broke from its country’s control back in the 1990s, when USSR was crippling away. The assembly of Karabakh declared independence when the republics of the Soviet Union faced an identity crisis in the wake of its demise in 1991. The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s ended with Armenia taking control of 13% of Azerbaijan land with a Russian-brokered truce in 1994 while taking the lives of more than 30,000 individuals.
Even after the declaration of its independence, Karabakh had not been recognized by any international state, not even Armenia whose ethnic population was the majority there; however, the international community has recognized it as a part of Azerbaijan. The recent skirmish started on 27th September when a full-blown offensive was initiated by Azerbaijan to take back its control over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The Mediators: Russia and Turkey
Since the start of this fight, intense diplomatic efforts had been underway between Turkey and Russia, the two key giants in the power play of the South Caucasus region. It is due to the trilateral efforts of Russia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan that an amicable settlement has been possible. Azerbaijan’s firm ally, Turkey, has been a constant support in the recapture of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, assisting its Azerbaijani counterpart with both diplomatic and military support.
Azerbaijan’s key strategic position in the region played a major role in luring support from both Russia and Turkey. Despite the Russian military base and its military pact with Armenia, the former supported both sides with arms and ammunition besides pressurizing the Armenian Prime Minister to concede in favor of the peace deal.
Nevertheless, Russia warned that any military escalation towards Armenia would automatically activate the CSTO mutual defense clause, according to which Russia would have to engage itself militarily to contain the fight, since it would be a national threat to Armenia. Since there were no such intentions generated by the Azerbaijani side, it was more of a reminder for the Armenians to not depend upon Russia for its illegal occupation of Azerbaijan’s territory.
If Russia had stopped being neutral, Turkey would have had to intervene in the conflict to counter Russia which would have then flared up tensions on a much larger scale. It was feared that Armenia would try to engage the two great powers of the region in this dispute by using the “clash of civilizations” rhetoric, but the intentions of the Armenian PM became visible to Moscow which was already wary of Pashinyan’s power garb in the 2018 color revolution of Armenia or as Pashinyan describes it as the “Velvet revolution”.
For Moscow, the color revolution is rather a dirty word that depicts the installation of a pro-west leader in the neighborhood of Russia which primarily deems to derail Russia’s interests in the region. Mr. Pashinyan received bad taste from Russia when Putin’s friend and the former Armenian President, Robert Kocharyan, was imprisoned and disallowed to meet Putin on his visit to Armenia in 2019.
Has it Ended?
The assertiveness of Turkey in backing Azerbaijani forces through the provision of necessary arms, drones, and use of Syrian mercenaries, and the tenuous Russian relationship with Armenia, brought Armenia to its defeat. In a sad Facebook post by Armenian PM, Pashinyan, while describing it as “unspeakably painful”, refused to call it a defeat and rather called it a “rebirth era” for Armenians.
On the other hand, Aliyev televised this deal as Baku’s “iron fist” and victory of Azerbaijani soldiers who had been hustling against the enemies for 25 years. The deal became inevitable for Armenia after Azerbaijan’s capture of Shusha, the second-largest city of Nagorno-Karabakh on 8th November, the eve of Azerbaijan’s Flag Day.
This city of Shusha is of both cultural and strategic importance to both sides as it is on a higher elevation than Stepanakert, which is located 15 km (9 miles) north of Shusha. Shusha’s Armenian Orthodox Cathedral was hit by Azerbaijan’s shelling in October, whereas Yukhari Govhar Agha Mosque of Shusha, a sacred mosque for Azeris, which had been barred access for 30 years, was also damaged.
During the six weeks of the intense tussle between the two former USSR states, Stepanakert was heavily attacked by Azerbaijani forces, whereas Armenia carried out heavy shelling that targeted over at least five populated districts of Azerbaijan. Under the agreement, refugees in the region will be able to return under the UN Refugee Agency. Both sides have on multiple occasions denied the deliberated targeting of civilian areas and the use of banned cluster bomb munitions, but the conflicting sides have never cared for collateral damages.
Celebrations and Mourning
Under the agreements set forth in this truce, Armenia is to lay down its arms and retreat its forces from the districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh in return for Azeri forces to halt their advance into Stepanakert, the disputed region’s largest city. Apart from that, under the military pact of Armenia with Russia, 1,960 fully armed personnel and peacekeepers of Russia will be deployed for at least five years in the Lachin region, where the famous road, the Lachin corridor, links Stepanakert to Armenia.
Against the backdrop, Moscow’s disregard for the forcible settlement of this crisis has also been reciprocated by Aliyev, who has been apprehensive of Russia’s peacekeeping way and had no desire to attract its peacekeeping forces in the region because Russia had used the same method in Georgia in 2008 which did not receive favorable consequences for the country.
A Russian Mi-24 military helicopter was shot down by a surface-to-air missile whose responsibility was accepted by Azerbaijani forces and necessary compensation had been already offered. To secure this end, Aliyev stipulated that the peacekeeping soldiers from Turkey will also be reinstated in the region, which was denied by the Russian administration. The peacekeeping forces may extend their five-year period on the approval of both sides unless the two decide to terminate the agreement within six months of its expiry.
This agreement espoused contrasting results: jubilations in Azerbaijan as a number of Azeris supported this move by chanting slogans, waving the Azeri flag, and honking car horns all over the streets, whereas the deal faced backlash in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, where a number of patriots came out demonstrating against this deal and demanding Prime Minister’s resignation. Calling Pashinyan a “traitor”, protestors vandalized the PM office and stormed the national parliament amid strict Covid-19 curfews.
The Perquisites for Turkey
Turkey played an immense role in persuading Azerbaijan to accept the deal because of the importance of the region as it is in the crosshairs of Europe and Asia. It is the strategic region for geo-economics to play as on all the four sides; it connects the main continents of the world that would help the key players of the region, mainly Russia, Iran, and Turkey, to get the indirect advantage. With Azerbaijan rich in oil and gas resources, it receives more favor from regional powers.
Under the peace agreement, Turkey will enjoy the benefit of a peaceful direct transport corridor through Armenian land to the mainland of Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea, in effect getting a direct link to Central Asia and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This is due to the building of a road from Azerbaijan to Nakhchivan, an exclave bordering Armenia, Turkey, and Iran. Although it will be controlled by Russian forces, Turkish goods can travel along with Chinese goods, making it strategically important for Turkey to keep peace in the region.
A Hopeful Beginning
This major breakthrough also came in the wake of global disengagement of the U.S. coupled with Europe’s continued struggle against the containment of the Covid-19 pandemic. It also came when nobody batted an eye on this region and everyone was keen on finding out the winner of the U.S. presidential elections. Nonetheless, the balancing act of Russia and Azerbaijan’s demonstration of implementing UN Resolutions have concluded the bloody war.
This deal has reiterated that the people of the South Caucasus await numerous benefits, for this agreement will open up the region to exponential progress once it becomes a crucial node in connecting North-South and East-West trade across Eurasia. This will bring promising reconstruction of Nagorno-Karabakh too unless both sides adhere to what deems fit for their people and not for their power-grabbing motives.
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