Conflict Alerts # 186, 12 November 2020
In the news
On 9 November, Russia brokered a peace agreement to end months of conflict and violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. Following the peace, Russian peacekeeping troops have been stationed along the frontlines of Nagorno-Karabakh and the corridor between the region and Armenia. They will be there for five years.
According to the agreement, there would be an exchange of prisoners, unblocking of all economic and transport contacts. Besides, territories of Agdam, Kelbajar, Lachin and Gazakh would be returned to Azerbaijan.
Finally, the peace agreement also states that the internally displaced persons and refugees will return to Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent areas under the control of the United Nations of High Commissioner of Refugees.
Issues at large
First, questions relating to the autonomy of the region. The peace agreement is likely to challenge the leadership of the President of Nagorno-Karabakh who used to oversee the administration in its capital Stepanakert. As many territories come under the control of Azerbaijan, questions have returned on the autonomy of the enclaves. The functioning and the rationale of enclaves seek to be restructured through the peace agreement. The agreement did not follow a process which should otherwise ensure adequate allocation of autonomy and resources among the territories within the enclaves.
Second, a face loss for Armenia, but territorial gains for Azerbaijan. With a territorial loss to Azerbaijan, Armenia stands to lose a part of its autonomy within the enclaves. The territorial loss also means a setback on the collective historical imagining of the Armenians who have held the region as part of its Greater Armenia idea. Besides, the Armenian leadership, particularly under Nicol Pashinyan, has weakened as he faces protests in Armenia. The political opposition has also claimed an advantage and sought his resignation.
Third, the role of Russia in mediating and bringing peace. Russia, with its involvement, re-establishes its influence over the region. Russia managed to uphold its neutral stance in the conflict, thus maintaining its good relations with both countries. Russia sees both as important members of its neighbourhood; with its troops, Moscow will have a direct say in maintaining peace while creating its space of influence within the domestic politics of the neighbourhood.
Fourth, Turkey signs its own victory. Turkey sees Azerbaijan success as its own, with its constant support as it shapes the geopolitics of the region. Turkey's influence in the conflict was well documented. With the peace agreement and territorial gains to Azerbaijan, it would be seen as a moral victory for Erdogan bordering on ethnic connectedness. Besides, the support to the political leadership of Azerbaijan has also borne well for Turkey; it now looks to maintain a direct connection to the Azeri energy resources, thereby reducing its dependency on the West.
As the peace agreement looks to end violence; however, the deep-rooted conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia is unlikely to reduce.
With a sense of being undone for Armenia and substantial gains for Azerbaijan, it would take time before the peace returns to the region. Also, the presence of the temporary Russian troops makes any possible reconciliation between the warring parties at the grassroots difficult as the civilian casualties remain high and with generations being exposed to the scars of violence and war.