The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory between Azerbaijan and Armenia, has taken a new turn as ethnic Armenian forces agreed to a ceasefire proposal made by Russian peacekeepers on Wednesday, September 20, 2023. The ceasefire came after Azerbaijan launched a military operation on Tuesday, September 19, 2023, to take control of the region and demanded a full surrender of the Armenian forces.
Azerbaijan’s offensive sparks international concern
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev announced on Tuesday that his country’s armed forces had started a “decisive operation” to “liberate” Nagorno-Karabakh from the Armenian occupation. He claimed that Azerbaijan had captured several strategic positions and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy.
Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan’s borders, but it has been under the control of Armenian separatists since a war in the early 1990s that killed about 30,000 people. A ceasefire was signed in 1994, but it was frequently violated by both sides. In 2020, a 44-day war erupted in the region, which ended with a Russian-brokered truce that saw Azerbaijan regain some of the territories it had lost.
The latest escalation of the conflict raised alarm among the international community, especially among the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, which has been mediating the peace process since 1992. The co-chairs – France, Russia and the United States – called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and urged both sides to respect the 2020 ceasefire agreement.
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed his deep concern over the situation and called for restraint and dialogue. He reiterated his full support for the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group and the personal representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office.
Russia’s role as a peacekeeper and a mediator
Russia has been playing a key role in maintaining peace and stability in Nagorno-Karabakh, as it has deployed about 2,000 peacekeepers in the region since the end of the 2020 war. Russia also has close ties with both Azerbaijan and Armenia, as they are both former Soviet republics and members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
On Wednesday, Russia’s Ministry of Defence announced that it had proposed a ceasefire plan to both sides, which was accepted by the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to Russia’s Interfax news agency, the plan stipulated that the remaining units of the Armenian army would be withdrawn from Nagorno-Karabakh and that Karabakh fighters would surrender their weapons.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also confirmed that he had held talks with his Azerbaijani and Armenian counterparts on Wednesday and that they had agreed to meet in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the details of the ceasefire and the political settlement of the conflict.
Lavrov said that Russia was acting in accordance with its obligations as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group and as a guarantor of the 2020 ceasefire agreement. He also said that Russia was interested in ensuring peace and security in Nagorno-Karabakh and in preserving its historical and cultural heritage.
Armenia’s position and reaction
Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Wednesday that he was not involved in drafting or agreeing to the ceasefire plan proposed by Russia. He said that Armenia did not have any troops in Nagorno-Karabakh since August 2021 and that he did not know which Armenian armed forces were referred to in the plan.
Pashinyan also said that he had not received any official confirmation from Azerbaijan or Russia about the cessation of hostilities and that he was waiting for more information from Nagorno-Karabakh. He said that it was very important for the ceasefire to hold and that he was ready to engage in constructive dialogue with Azerbaijan.
Pashinyan faced criticism and protests from some segments of the Armenian society for his handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Many Armenians accused him of betraying their national interests and ceding their ancestral lands to Azerbaijan. Pashinyan survived an attempted coup in February 2021, but he lost his parliamentary majority in snap elections in June 2021.
The future of Nagorno-Karabakh
The fate of Nagorno-Karabakh remains uncertain, as both Azerbaijan and Armenia claim sovereignty over it. The ethnic Armenians who live there consider it their homeland and want to secede from Azerbaijan. The ethnic Azeris who were displaced from there during the war want to return to their homes and restore their rights.
The OSCE Minsk Group has been trying to find a peaceful solution to the conflict based on three principles: non-use of force or threat of force, territorial integrity of states, and equal rights and self-determination of peoples. However, the negotiations have been stalled for years due to the lack of trust and compromise between the parties.
The 2020 war and the 2023 offensive have shown that the status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh is fragile and unsustainable. The ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia may provide a temporary relief, but it does not address the root causes of the conflict or the aspirations of the people. A lasting peace and stability in Nagorno-Karabakh will require a comprehensive and inclusive political process that respects the rights and interests of all stakeholders.