Does Armenia Really Want Peace With Azerbaijan?
The South Caucasus is the crossroads between resource-rich Central Asia and the resource-hungry European economy. Peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan will foster the prosperity not just of the Armenians and Azerbaijanis but of all of Eurasia. The resounding victory of Azerbaijan in the Second Karabakh War of 2020 created a historic opportunity to turn the page, to leave hostilities behind and normalize relations based on international law.
To seize this opportunity, the West must acquire a better awareness of the irrefutable facts on which the Azerbaijani views are based. Unfortunately, Armenia, its diaspora and foreign supporters have recently launched a propaganda campaign designed to obscure these facts from view. The immediate goal of the campaign is to bring American and European pressure to bear on Baku. The longer-term goal is to scuttle the peace process that began in November 2020, when Armenia acknowledged its defeat in the war.
The disinformation campaign focuses on events along the Lachin Road, linking Armenia with the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, and it advances two main claims. First, that “blockade” of the road, which began on Dec. 12 by Azerbaijani environmental activists created a humanitarian disaster, endangering the lives of ethnic Armenians in Karabakh. Second, that it is part of a wider effort by Azerbaijan to deny the Karabakh Armenians their rights and security.
Let’s take these misleading claims in turn, starting with the alleged humanitarian crisis. Humanitarian shipments, including medicines, food, and other essential goods, move easily into Karabakh. Local civilians facing urgent medical and other essential needs can leave for Armenia and return along the road.
To prevent any humanitarian crisis, Baku gives the International Red Cross unimpeded access to the road. It also allows free movement to Russian peacekeepers. Soldiers of Russia, Armenia’s greatest ally, are better placed than any other international actor to reassure Yerevan regarding the physical security of Karabakh Armenians.
Which brings us to the second spurious claim, namely, that Azerbaijan is denying ethnic Armenians in Karabakh their rights. Understanding why this is a blatant falsehood requires historical context, though it is quickly told. During the First Karabakh War, which ended in 1994, Armenian forces occupied and ethnically cleansed Karabakh and other surrounding Azerbaijani territories of ethnic Azerbaijanis. They killed, raped, and tortured many hundreds of innocent civilians, driving over 800,000 people from their homes, often in the dead of winter, with the Khojaly massacre being the peak of this barbarity.
These crimes, committed with impunity and still awaiting justice, were well documented while they happened. In the wake of this, international law and every major power in the world reaffirms Karabakh as sovereign Azerbaijani territory, and full restoration of effective Azerbaijani control of Karabakh is seen as the basis for a just and lasting peace. For this reason, UN Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 all demand the “complete, immediate and unconditional withdrawal” of Armenian forces from the territory of Azerbaijan. (Even now, 10,000 Armenia’s troops remain in Karabakh—a time bomb threatening peace and stability).
The UN issued those orders in 1993. For nearly three decades Azerbaijanis waited patiently for the international community to implement them. Meanwhile, Armenia played for time, just as it is doing now: talking about peace, preparing for war, and spreading misinformation. Its forces looted Azerbaijani towns and villages, erasing every sign of Azerbaijani cultural heritage, and plundered its mineral resources.
By 2020, Azerbaijan’s patience had worn thin. In the Second Karabakh War, it demonstrated its resolute determination to reclaim its stolen land.
In the Trilateral Statement of Nov. 10, 2020 (the agreement signed by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia that brought the Second Karabakh to an end), Armenia agreed to accept new reality on the ground and build peace. Ever since, however, Armenia has misused the Lachin road to export from Karabakh to Armenia plundered Azerbaijani mineral resources; build up its military forces in Karabakh; infiltrate third-country nationals to erect new fortifications; and smuggle in landmines to continue its terror against Azerbaijanis.
These are not the actions of a country preparing for peace—and Azerbaijan is all too familiar with these tactics. It will not permit Armenia, once again, to ensnare it in interminable negotiations all the while preparing for war. As to the Lachin road, transparency of any movement along it must be immediately guaranteed.
Time is of essence. Sane policy grounded in reality can still prevent new tragedies. Yerevan must stop relying on dreams and fantasies and deal with hard facts. Armenia and its allies must stop using the Armenians of Karabakh as pawns in a cynical game of power politics. If those involved in facilitating the peace process will read the realities accurately, they can help Armenia avoid the mistakes of the past and make the peace of the brave.
Elchin Amirbayov, assistant to the First Vice-President of Azerbaijan, also served as Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United Nations office in Geneva, France and the Holy See.
This article was originally published in Newsweek on 31 January 2023.