Azerbaijan's destruction by force of the self-declared Nagorno Karabakh Republic is seen by some as removing one of the key obstacles in the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, that will resume in the next days in Granada, Spain. Others however see the elimination of the Karabakh factor as opening the way for Azerbaijan to make even more demands on Armenia, writes Benyamin Poghosyan in this op-ed for commonspace.eu. "It is challenging to assess whether peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan is within reach. However, one thing is clear: the second humiliation of Armenia within three years has already triggered significant backlash among Armenians. Many are still in shock, which is why Yerevan witnessed only small protests recently. However, many Armenians are fed up with permanent losses, and there is a growing feeling that Armenia, in the long–term perspective, should become stronger to reclaim its position in the region. In the current environment, any attack of Azerbaijan against Armenia, regardless of pretexts or reasons, will only strengthen this feeling among Armenians and will be a direct path to long-term instability and conflicts in the South Caucasus", he argues.
Azerbaijan destroyed the self-declared Nagorno Karabakh Republic by force. The first phase of the operation was the 2020 Nagorno Karabakh War, the second phase started by imposing a blockade on the Lachin corridor, and the third phase was the Azerbaijani offensive on September 19, 2023. Abandoned by all, authorities of the Republic were forced to accept Azerbaijani demands, starting the dissolution of the self-defense army and, on September 28, declaring that the Republic would cease to exist by the end of 2023. The destruction of the self-declared Nagorno Karabakh Republic triggered a massive forced displacement of Armenians from their homeland. As of September 29, almost 90000 Armenians left Nagorno Karabakh and entered Armenia. In the upcoming days, all remaining Armenians will leave. Azerbaijani officials seek to reject the claims of forced displacement, stating that this is a personal decision of Armenians and that Azerbaijan is ready to provide necessary rights to Armenians within Azerbaijan's constitutional framework. However, given the 35 years of the conflict history, which was full of violations of international humanitarian law, war crimes, and hate speech, no one with a basic understanding of the regional context may take Azerbaijani statements seriously.
The influx of refugees will put an enormous economic burden on Armenia, a less than three million country. Armenia registered strong economic growth in 2022 and the first half of 2023, but it cannot cope with the problems without massive international assistance. The promised support from the EU, the US, and a handful of other countries must be significantly increased.
While the last Armenians are fleeing their homeland, many seek to understand the future of peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The process started immediately after the end of the first Karabakh War in 1994, was paused during the 2020 war, and resumed in 2021. In 2022, three platforms were established – Moscow, Brussels, and Washington, and the war in Ukraine prevented any potential cooperation between Russia and the West. There were moments in 2022 and 2023 when many hoped that the peace agreement was within reach, but escalations followed rounds of negotiations. In 2023, Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers met twice in Washington, while several rounds of negotiations took place in Russia, Brussels, and Chisinau.
Before the Azerbaijani latest attack, there was an agreement to have another meeting in Granada on October 5, during the third European Political Community summit, with the participation of the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders, as well as the President of France, the German chancellor, and the President of the European Council. On September 26, the secretary of the Armenian Security Council, Armen Grigoryan, met with foreign policy aide to President Aliyev Hikmet Hajiyev to prepare the Granada meeting, despite recent developments in Nagorno Karabakh. The meeting will probably take place, but the prospects of the Armenia - Azerbaijan peace agreement are still vague.
In general, there are two visions concerning the impact of the destruction of the self-declared Nagorno Karabakh Republic on the negotiations. According to the first narrative, the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh was one of the main obstacles on the road to peace. Armenia recognized Nagorno Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. Still, it demanded the international mechanism for the Baku – Stepanakert dialogue, international presence in Nagorno Karabakh, and special guarantees to ensure the rights and security of Armenians. Azerbaijan rejected all these claims, thus creating some impasse in the negotiations. Now, as the self-declared Nagorno Karabakh Republic will cease to exist in a few months, this may facilitate the peace process, making it easier for Armenia and Azerbaijan to reach a deal. The supporters of this narrative believe that the international community should assist Armenia in coping with refugees and use this momentum to push forward for the signature of the Armenia – Azerbaijan peace agreement by the end of 2023 or early 2024. According to this scenario, recent events in Nagorno Karabakh may also significantly weaken Russia's position in the region. After the exodus of Armenians, it will be challenging for Russia to secure the extension of the peacekeepers' mandate beyond November 2025, while the Armenia – Azerbaijan peace agreement and normalization of Armenia – Turkey relations may facilitate the further drift of Armenia away from Russia, especially as the inaction of Russian peacekeepers triggered more anti-Russian sentiments among Armenians.
According to the second vision, Nagorno Karabakh was not the only thorny issue in Armenia–Azerbaijan relations. The enclaves, the "Zangezur corridor", and the recently emerged concept of "Western Azerbaijan" and Azerbaijani demands that tens if not hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis should settle in Armenia remain challenging barriers on the road to any agreement. The destruction of Nagorno Karabakh will allow Azerbaijan to focus all its resources on Armenia, seeking to force Yerevan to accept these demands. The lack of action by any international actor regarding the Azerbaijani attack on Nagorno Karabakh may create a temptation in Azerbaijan to launch additional attacks against Armenia, similar to incursions that happened in May, November 2021, and September 2022; while these attacks may or may not be preliminary agreed with external players. In this scenario, the end of Nagorno Karabakh will mark the beginning of a new phase of the Armenia – Azerbaijan conflict, this time focused on Armenia.
It is challenging to assess whether peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan is within reach. However, one thing is clear: the second humiliation of Armenia within three years has already triggered significant backlash among Armenians. Many are still in shock, which is why Yerevan witnessed only small protests recently. However, many Armenians are fed up with permanent losses, and there is a growing feeling that Armenia, in the long–term perspective, should become stronger to reclaim its position in the region. In the current environment, any attack of Azerbaijan against Armenia, regardless of pretexts or reasons, will only strengthen this feeling among Armenians and will be a direct path to long-term instability and conflicts in the South Caucasus.