By Edmond Y. Azadian
The drums of war are beating louder and louder for anyone willing to listen. The 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan did not end on November 9, 2020. Hostilities were only stopped by a declaration which can amount to a precarious ceasefire at best. Hostilities may resume at any time, under any pretext.
Whatever Armenia failed to achieve in the 1994 ceasefire, Azerbaijan is now trying to achieve. The ceasefire at the end of the first war for Karabakh (Artsakh), which was brokered by Moscow at that time, proved to be inconsequential. Armenia’s inexperienced rulers at that time believed that the ceasefire, which Azerbaijan had signed under duress, was enough to guarantee the future of Nagorno Karabakh, particularly with the argument that the Armenian control of seven regions adjacent to Karabakh in Azerbaijan proper presented a strategic buffer which would prepare Armenia and Karabakh for any eventuality.
No one at that time tried to push the ante further to force the Baku government to sign a definitive agreement recognizing Karabakh’s independence for perpetuity, when that country was on its knees.
Because of that failure, defeat returned to Armenia 25 years later with a vengeance.
In that quarter century, Azerbaijani dictator Ilham Aliyev seems to have learned the lessons of history imposed on his father, Heydar, with a little help from his big brother, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Now that Armenia is down, with its army shattered by the coordinated attacks by Azerbaijani, Turkish and freelance Jihadi armies, Aliyev is pushing to extract maximum concessions from Yerevan. He already has warned Armenia not to rearm or seek revenge.
Azerbaijan is building up pressure on Armenia gradually, to the point of rekindling a war once again. Before the latest war, he had promised “the highest level of autonomy” for Karabakh in return for the occupied territories. Today, a victorious Aliyev claims that there is no issue to discuss regarding Karabakh, no case for its status, and that even a geographic area named Nagorno Karabakh does not exist, instead renaming part of it as eastern Zangezur as part of the recent Shushi declaration made jointly with Turkey.
Not only is he asking for Armenia to forget Karabakh, but he is warning that he will take over the sovereign territory of Armenia itself and still there is no protest from the international community, nor from Armenia’s strategic partner, Russia.
Just recently, President Aliyev visited President Vladimir Putin in Moscow; the only talk emanating from the Russian capital was about strengthening the strategic ties between Russia and Azerbaijan, after some lip service to the implementation of the November 9 tripartite declaration.
While expressing satisfaction that the terms of that declaration are being implemented, Moscow conveniently is overlooking the release of Armenian prisoners of war in Azerbaijan, even though the November 9 declaration seeks the return of all prisoners.
Moscow, despite its treaty obligations to Armenia, has assumed the role of intermediary between its ally and enemy. Further concessions are demanded from Armenia, in terms of maps of minefields, rather than offers of help.
Adding muscle to its rhetoric, Azerbaijan has advanced its armed forces into Armenian territory, triggering another farcical situation, this time with the leadership of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Indeed, Armenia appealed to the CSTO to live up to its treaty obligations by forcing out the 1,000 or so Azerbaijani soldiers crossing into Armenia. The reply was that the aggression amounted to nothing but a border incident since “there are no casualties.”
In fact, there were casualties; Armenian soldiers were killed and others were captured from the very soil of Armenia, which should trigger Section 4 of the CSTO agreement.
Contrary to Aliyev’s statement, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairs insist there is still unfinished business in Karabakh to determine the status issue.
On April 13, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs called on the parties to resume their high-level dialog to achieve a final, comprehensive lasting settlement of the Karabakh conflict under the auspices of the co-chairs. However, no action has been taken as of yet.
On the other hand, Europe has been taking subtle steps to return to the region. Europe’s approach is through economic help and development, so as not to alert or upset Moscow. But steps are being taken towards sustainable economic growth which may lead to future political cooperation.
First we saw a visit by a delegation led by the European Union (EU) Commissioner for Neighborhood Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi, who broke the news that the EU had decided to contribute 2.6 billion euros for development programs in Armenia, particularly in the region of Syunik, which is vulnerable economically and politically. The EU is providing more than 3 billion euros to Georgia and 900 million to Azerbaijan. We don’t know if these figures calibrate the EU’s level of friendship to these three countries.
Next to visit the region was European Council President Charles Michel to further implement those grants.
It is hard to imagine any private investment at this point in war-torn Armenia, where stability is precarious at best. These investments are welcome and reassuring, along with the commitments of Armenian benefactors from the diaspora.
The next major event to happen is President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Armenia, which may have political implications.
It is interesting that during the first two visits from the EU, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan expressed his profuse gratitude while touching on some very topical issues, like the return of prisoners, Azerbaijan’s bellicose statements and a call for the resumption of negotiations, under the auspices of the OSCE.
However, both European officials stuck to their prepared texts and were non-responsive to Pashinyan’s pleas. That attitude is encouraging President Aliyev to make threatening remarks to Armenia, with the confidence that the international community will not react when in fact there is an urgent need to do so.
Nikol Pashinyan has been reassuring the public that there is no Zangezur Corridor. The implementation of the November 9 declaration is being carried out by the deputy prime ministers of the three signatory countries and the Armenian authorities categorically deny that the issue of the corridor has come up on their agenda and furthermore say it never will. However, Aliyev insists that Azerbaijan will forcefully take that corridor if Armenia refuses to do so voluntarily.
Azerbaijan has also been trying to internationalize the corridor issue, which basically is a component of Turkey’s pan-Turanist agenda. But Azerbaijan, at a recent conference in Tashkent, had touted the idea that the Zangezur Corridor is part of China’s Road and Belt Project. On the other hand, the idea was also discussed when Azerbaijan invited foreign ambassadors to Shushi last week.
Until recently, President Erdogan’s rhetoric was taken as bluster by the international community. No more. In recent years, he has expanded his plans and he has taught the same to Aliyev. We no longer can afford to take their threats as a bluff.
Recently, President Aliyev’s threats have become more and more ominous. He has been claiming the entire territory of Armenia.
On July 14, he issued the following threats: “We will return there and we are returning there. Nobody can stop us. We will definitely return because there is no other way. After the opening of all transport links, we will, of course return there and the Azerbaijani population will return to the lands of their ancestors. A tripartite agreement of November 10 says that all refugees must return to their homeland. Our native land is Zangezur. Our native land is Goycha (Sevan) and Irevan (Yerevan).”
In his turn, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Col. Gen. Zakir Hasanov amplified Aliyev’s threat by stating: “We are the winning country. We have destroyed Armenia.”
He further developed this theme by adding: “President Ilham Aliyev, the Victorious Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, recently threatened that ‘the war is over but despite this, we are ready and must be ready for war at any moment.’”
In line with its threats, Azerbaijani forces have been escalating serious military actions; after crossing into Armenian territories in Syunik and Gegharkyunik, they recently moved closer to Yeraskh, causing causalities within view of Yerevan. These actions warrant immediate responses from the CSTO and the UN Security Council.
These are not empty threats. They are real. In fact, Aliyev and Hasanov are declaring war; not a virtual war, but an actual one. Aliyev had been making similar threats for the few years before September 27, 2019. Armenia ignored it at its peril.
Is anyone listening?