Opinion: The people of the South Caucasus deserve a better and more peaceful future

Ahmad Alili and Stepan Grigoryan are members of a Joint Liaison Group of Armenian and Azerbaijani experts currently finalising a report on how confidence-building measures can support lasting peace in the South Caucasus. In this jointly written paper they say that the crisis in Ukraine has reminded the people of the South Caucasus of the horrors of war. “In the South Caucasus people have suffered enough from violent conflict. They deserve a better and more peaceful future, and all of us should contribute to that objective”, they write in this opinion paper.

In Armenia and Azerbaijan people watch in horror and dismay images of the war in Ukraine. Our two countries have had their fair share of conflict over the last thirty years. The conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis left tens of thousands dead, and created great suffering for many more. Yet the pictures from Mariupol and Kharkiv, Kyiv and  Kherson still shock us.

The images from Ukraine serve to remind us of the horrors of war. Many of our compatriots have experienced these horrors at first hand. They should strengthen our resolve to do everything possible to ensure that war does not return to the South Caucasus.  Ensuring peace in the South Caucasus is a task for all – from the leaders to the citizens at the grassroots. The international community needs to share in this burden also.

The journey towards peace in the South Caucasus is moving too slowly

Many are disappointed that the period since the end of the 2020 Karabakh War and the signing of the 10 November trilateral declaration has not seen enough progress in the journey towards lasting peace in the region. Daily incidents and outstanding issues mar the atmosphere and hamper progress towards building  the future peace in the region. Building this peace must remain the main and ultimate objective.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan need to avoid entanglement in localised disputes that are in themselves of little significance to the big picture, but that can quickly become obstacles for serious progress towards sustainable peace. The two sides need to identify and resolve issues that have emerged since 10 November that are creating mistrust. Whilst the 10 November trilateral declaration is not fully to the satisfaction of either Armenia or Azerbaijan it remains for the moment the best basis from which to move forward. Compliance in good faith with the 10 November statement is therefore necessary.

Ukraine is an eye opener

The Russian invasion of Ukraine should be an eye opener for the people of the South Caucasus. The region has no choice but to learn fast the lessons from this unjust war. It is not only the ferocity and inhumanity of the unprovoked Russian action that causes concern, but also the arguments behind it. This increases the questions and concerns about the role of the Russian forces deployed in and around Nagorno-Karabakh after 10 November 2020. Armenia and Azerbaijan need to move quickly to a situation where they do not need external armies to be between them to keep the peace, but as long as this remains necessary such forces should operate under a clear international mandate, and their composition should not come from one country but reflect the broader international community.

In the interim, until such new arrangements are put into place, informal mechanisms involving experts and civil society can provide a constant, focused, and professional monitoring mechanism, including through the publication of monthly monitoring reports. This should help broader Armenian and Azerbaijani society and the international community to be aware of incidents and concerns and provide early warning of problematic issues. A situation where truth is confirmed or denied based only on the facts established by Russian military forces needs to be avoided at all costs.

A better international engagement is necessary

The international engagement with the Karabakh conflict situation has not been as it should. The governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan appear both to be very wary of introducing new frameworks and mechanisms since they are unsure of the wider implications in the short and long term, and there are risks for both sides. However the risk of doing nothing and letting the status quo fester is even higher, and may lead to incidents spiralling into crisis, and even into another war.

It is therefore important that institutions like the UN, the OSCE and the EU come up with credible and creative proposals for moving the process forward. The increased EU engagement with the situation in the South Caucasus is vital for sustainable development and lasting peace in the region. It is highly important to translate words into action in a timely manner.

Independence and sovereignty of Armenia and Azerbaijan must remain the paramount objective.

Armenia and Azerbaijan managed to regain their independence in 1991. For both countries securing this independence and sovereignty is a paramount objective. The conflict between them has been an obstacle for their full development and that is one of the reasons why it must be eliminated. There are still serious issues that remain unresolved in the relationship between the two countries, including issues related to humanitarian concerns and border demarcation and delimitation. These issues must be resolved speedily through negotiation.

related content:
Benyamin Poghosyan and Anar Valiyev "In the South Caucasus, one year after a costly war, a glimmer of hope for peace"
Ramazan Samadov and Johnny Melikian "Armenia-Azerbaijan connectivity is crucial for the future of the South Caucasus, and important also for partners beyond"
A Joint Armenian-Azerbaijani expert Liaison Group is currently finalising its report "The South Caucasus from war to peace: thirty measures between now and 2030". The report is expected to be presented at an event in Brussels on 7 April.


Working with Georgia for a stronger, peaceful and more prosperous region

Despite the lingering problems, the changed regional dynamic offers prospects for a better future if both sides have the wisdom to move forward with a peace agenda. Armenia and Azerbaijan should therefore engage with Georgia so that all three countries can together develop a roadmap for a stronger, peaceful and more prosperous South Caucasus region.

The people of our region have suffered enough. They deserve a better and more peaceful future, and all of us should contribute to that objective.

This joint opinion paper was prepared by Ahmad Alili, Director of the Caucasus Policy Analysis Centre (CPAC) in Baku, Azerbaijan, and Stepan Grigoryan, Director of the Analytical Centre on Globalisation and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC) in Yerevan Armenia , as part of the work of the Joint Liaison Group on Confidence Building Measures in Support of lasting peace in the South Caucasus – an initiative co-ordinated by LINKS Europe, with the support of the European Union.

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