Strategic impasse in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process
    Tensions highlight need for a peace deal

    ANALYTICS  25 June 2024 - 17:40

    Fuad Muxtar-Agbabali

    The aftermath of the Second Karabakh War in 2020, coupled with subsequent military operations in the former separatist region of Karabakh, underscores the critical need for a peace agreement between Baku and Yerevan. Unfortunately, recent developments indicate that Armenia-Azerbaijan relations have reached a stalemate, with both sides adopting increasingly entrenched positions.

    Armenian indolence amidst Azerbaijani expectations

    Within Armenia, there are observable signs of reluctance to expedite peace negotiations. Both government and opposition factions seem to believe that Azerbaijan will refrain from taking decisive action due to upcoming international events, such as COP29, scheduled for November 2024 in Baku. This belief is rooted in the expectation that Azerbaijan would avoid international condemnation by maintaining a facade of stability during high-profile global events.

    However, Azerbaijan's leadership has repeatedly warned that a lack of peace in the South Caucasus could lead to renewed conflict. President Ilham Aliyev has emphasized that the results of the 2020 war must be respected. This includes the delimitation and demarcation of borders and the reopening of regional communications, which are essential for the development and stability of the entire region. Azerbaijan insists that any delay in these processes is unacceptable and a potential trigger for further hostilities.

    Azerbaijan’s reconstruction and military readiness

    In the wake of the conflict, Azerbaijan is actively engaged in reconstruction efforts, rebuilding towns and infrastructure from scratch to ensure the safety and prosperity of its citizens. This includes the implementation of advanced technologies and the development of so-called smart villages. Alongside these reconstruction efforts, Azerbaijan is also upgrading its military capabilities to prevent any potential threats to its sovereignty. The message from Baku is clear: any overt or covert threat from Armenia will be met with immediate and decisive action, driven by the principle that an effective defense is predicated on a robust and proactive offense.

    International & domestic peace enforcement

    Armenia’s recent procurement of arms from countries such as France, India, Greece, and others indicates a departure from peace rhetoric. Azerbaijan views these actions, alongside Armenia's attempts to avoid constitutional changes, as moves to delay the signing of a peace agreement. France, in particular, is seen as a significant adversary, allegedly pushing Armenia towards further conflict. Meanwhile, segments of the Armenian diaspora are believed to be financially supporting such initiatives, despite the potential for significant loss of life.

    Azerbaijan remains committed to achieving peace, having paid a heavy price in human lives. The Azerbaijani government is determined to prevent another war on its territory and will respond to any attacks on its smart villages or infrastructure with full force. Azerbaijan views Armenia’s strategic importance as minimal, often referring to it as the "country of stones" due to its lack of natural resources and logistical significance.

    French ambitions & Armenian provocations

    France is perceived as attempting to establish dominance in the region using Armenia as a foothold. Historical lessons seem to be ignored by the current French leadership, which appears to be driven by ambitions akin to those of the Napoleonic era. Armenia's recent ceasefire violations and subsequent proposals for a bilateral mechanism to investigate these incidents are seen as attempts to create international oversight and potentially freeze the current borders, to Azerbaijan's disadvantage.

    The proposed mechanism by Armenia is reminiscent of past initiatives aimed at maintaining the status quo. For instance, in 2016, Armenia proposed a similar mechanism when Serzh Sargsyan was in power, aimed at controlling the ceasefire line in Karabakh. This proposal, known as the "Royce-Engel proposal," was backed and funded by members of the American Armenian National Committee (ANCA) and sought to involve international oversight to prevent Azerbaijan from reclaiming its occupied territories.

    Geopolitical maneuvering and international influence

    There is speculation that the United States might support Armenia's plan to strengthen its regional influence. Armenia’s continued border provocations appear to be aimed at keeping this proposal on the international agenda. The recent violation of the ceasefire and the subsequent proposal by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for a bilateral mechanism seem to be strategic moves to garner international attention and support.

    The West has historically benefited from maintaining a conflict phase in the region. However, Azerbaijan's recent actions have created new and unexpected realities in the South Caucasus. This has led to increased pressure from both the US and France on Baku. While the US aims for a reliable security and partnership model with Azerbaijan, France seeks to reassert its influence, often clashing with both Russian and American interests.

    Azerbaijan’s strategic diplomacy

    Azerbaijan is maneuvering between US and Russian interests, attempting to expand its diplomatic options against French ambitions. The country remains open to genuine peace initiatives but rejects efforts to revive the OSCE Minsk Group's co-chairmanship model, which it sees as ineffective. The Azerbaijani government is focused on ensuring that any peace process is fair and unbiased, without the influence of countries that have shown partiality in the past.

    The geopolitical landscape in the South Caucasus is further complicated by the involvement of Russia. Unlike its aggressive stance during the Karabakh conflict, Moscow is now seeking ways to exert control over Armenia without directly antagonizing Azerbaijan. This shift in Russian strategy has created an opening for Azerbaijan to engage more actively with both Western and Russian actors, leveraging its position to secure a favorable outcome.

    Conclusion

    The region faces a critical juncture where Armenia must choose between war and peace. Azerbaijan has chosen peace but is prepared for conflict if necessary. The international community's involvement, particularly that of France, the US, and Russia, will significantly influence the future of Armenia-Azerbaijan relations. For true peace to be achieved, all parties must engage in sincere and unbiased negotiations, avoiding any form of biased mediation.

    In summary, Azerbaijan remains steadfast in its commitment to peace but is ready to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity against any threat. The actions of Armenia, influenced by internal politics and external alliances, will determine the next phase of this long-standing conflict. The international community must act responsibly, ensuring that their involvement fosters genuine peace rather than exacerbating existing tensions. Only through honest and balanced diplomacy can lasting peace be achieved in the South Caucasus.

    Caliber.Az

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