OPINION: Why Pax Caucasia is the only way forward in the South Caucasus

Four months have passed since the Second Karabakh War ended with the signing of the November 10, 2020, trilateral agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Russian Federation.

When the war entered its decisive phase on September 27, 2020, the intensity of military hostilities caught everyone unawares, with speculation rising as to whether this round of military clashes between the two conflicting armies could be any different from the typical intermittent, but regular, violations of the ceasefire along the Line of Contact.

Azerbaijan, however, declared from the very outset that that this was the nation’s “Patriotic War” and was, apparently, fed up with the stalemate in the OSCE-led peace negotiations that had not brought any tangible solution to the three-decades-long territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Political and military provocations staged by the incumbent leadership in Armenia since 2018 had made matters even worse by effectively ending the peace negotiations and thereby warranting Azerbaijan’s recourse to military means in exercising its right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.

The military superiority of Azerbaijan was immediately obvious from the very early days of the 44-day-long war. Moreover, despite this obvious military upper hand on the battlefield, one message vividly stood out in the regular addresses delivered by the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev:

Azerbaijan was ready to stop military operations at any time provided that Armenia suspended its illegal occupation of Azerbaijani territories, agreed to abide by the UN Security Council resolutions (822, 853, 874, and 884) calling for complete and unconditional de-occupation of Azerbaijani territories and, in accordance with Resolution 853, presented a timetable for the withdrawal of its armed forces from the occupied Azerbaijani lands.

This message that “Azerbaijan is ready to stop at any time” if “Armenia presents a timetable of withdrawal” was not heard, despite it being repeated almost at every occasion by President Aliyev. Armenia did not stop; nor did it provide a timetable of withdrawal.

Azerbaijan continued its counteroffensive and liberated new territories as Armenia overestimated its own military might and underestimated that of Azerbaijan.

It was only after the recapture of Shusha – the fortress city on a mountain cliff with immense cultural significance for Azerbaijan, the liberation of which seemed to be a nearly impossible feat – that Armenia laid down its guns. “Never underestimate your opponent,” they say, but unfortunately Armenia did just that, thereby consigning the region to this most rampant conflagration since the First Karabakh War in the mid-1990s.

The November 10, 2020, agreement contain many important provisions that, in addition to ending the war, have also introduced new realities into the South Caucasus region.

Article 9 of the agreement aims to unblock all economic and transport communications in the region, thus effectively opening the way for building mutually beneficial cooperation among the regional states, including Armenia.

The “Zangezur corridor,” as dubbed by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, aims to open transport connections from Russia, through mainland Azerbaijan via the Mehri region in Armenia and Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan enclave, and on to Turkey.

The parties have already had working meetings at the level of the deputy prime ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Azerbaijan is delivering consistent messages of peace and cooperation and says it “wants to achieve sustainable peace.”

The six-party platform that was initiated at the end of December 2020 also embeds the idea of all-encompassing regional cooperation involving Armenia, which so far has been sidelined from all regional energy and infrastructure projects owing to its unlawful occupation of Azerbaijan’s territory. However, Azerbaijan’s calls for cooperation should be reciprocated in order to forever “turn the page of enmity” in the region.

These ideas were specifically highlighted by President Ilham Aliyev during his extensive press conference with representatives of local and foreign media on 26 February, 2021.

These are truly momentous times in the history of the South Caucasus and all parties should be invested in saying “never again” to war and the destitution and violation of so many lives that result.

Azerbaijan is now busy with plans to restore and reintegrate its liberated territories that suffered immense environmental damage and destruction of cultural heritage and infrastructure during the occupation.

An assessment of the damage done is being carried out and demands for reparations from Armenia are on the agenda.

However, none of this justifies the recurring radicalistic and revanchist slogans in Armenian society stating that “Armenia should always be ready for war.”

Nor does it justify using the Lachin Corridor for military purposes after the November 10 agreement and transferring armed militias into the liberated Azerbaijani territories to carry out acts of sabotage—and later demanding their release as prisoner of war (POW); refusal to give Azerbaijan the map of the mined areas in the liberated territories; sending out mixed signals about Armenia’s intent to fulfill the November 10 declaration; or many other acts aimed at disrupting the implementation of the Trilateral Declaration.

Such actions create a sense of insecurity around the already tenuous prospects of peace in the region. On the issue of POWs, it should be underscored that Azerbaijan’s Minster of Foreign Affairs, Jehyun Bayramov, also clearly stated during his meeting with the OSCE Chair-in-Office, Ann Linde, in mid-March that Azerbaijan has already returned all POWs and exchanged bodies, and that those captured in the liberated Azerbaijani territories after the November 10 declaration was signed do not count as POWs, but are terrorists.

Nor does it justify using the Lachin Corridor for military purposes after the November 10 agreement and transferring armed militias into the liberated Azerbaijani territories to carry out acts of sabotage—and later demanding their release as prisoner of war (POW); sending out mixed signals about Armenia’s intent to fulfill the November 10 declaration; or many other acts aimed at disrupting the implementation of the Trilateral Declaration.

Such actions create a sense of insecurity around the already tenuous prospects of peace in the region. On the issue of POWs, it should be underscored that Azerbaijan’s Minster of Foreign Affairs, Jehyun Bayramov, also clearly stated during his meeting with the OSCE Chair-in-Office, Ann Linde, in mid-March that Azerbaijan has already returned all POWs and exchanged bodies, and that those captured in the liberated Azerbaijani territories after the November 10 declaration was signed do not count as POWs, but are terrorists.

The current state of internal turmoil engulfing Armenia’s political strata in the aftermath of its dramatic defeat in the Second Karabakh War is no doubt causing a sense of confusion in the country’s society.

However, the current revival of revanchism and an expansionist ideology and rejection of the opportunities for cooperation do not bode well, either for Armenia itself or for the prospects of peace and cooperation—a Pax Caucasia—that, so far, has never really been even a remote probability.

There were no winners from the thirty-year-long occupation of Azerbaijani territories; however, everyone in the South Caucasus region suffered the dire consequences of the Armenia–Azerbaijan conflict.

Now, in hindsight, the lost opportunities and ruined lives caused by the unlawful occupation of Azerbaijani territories tell the tale of how unjustifiably unfair things have been for everyone affected, including Armenia itself.

Henceforth, there is no alternative to peace in the South Caucasus, and this is why Pax Caucasia is the only way forward. It is to be hoped that more sober minds in Armenian society will raise their voices to ensure that this very message percolates through, with ever greater resonance, in the best interests of everyone involved.

https://www.thetribune.com/opinion-why-pax-caucasia-is-the-only-way-forward-in-the-south-caucasus/