Following last year’s deadly clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia that lasted 44 days, a trilateral agreement was signed with the mediation of Russia; however, the dust has not settled yet in Karabakh. The 44-day war was a turning point not only for Azerbaijan, but also the whole region where various geopolitical interests overlap or compete. Although the agreement signed in consequence of the war was evaluated as a possible settlement of the conflict which has been a threat to regional security and development, there are still some barriers on the way to make a firm and final resolution. Unwilling to accept new realities and consider practical options for the region’s long-term prosperity, Armenia delays fulfillment of Article 4 and Article 9 of the agreement. Nationalistic appeals by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and overconfidence of the Armenian government which brought the possibility of peaceful negotiations into question have become a costly trap for Armenia itself. In this respect, the role of Armenian diaspora and ambivalence dominating structures of the country are undeniable factors. Communities who salute ex-presidents for their harsher attitudes towards cooperation and establishment of a new future in the region halt and delay implementation of articles.
According to Article 4 in the trilateral agreement, the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces should have been completed in parallel with the deployment of the Russian peacekeeping contingent. Until this day, illegal Armenian armed detachments occasionally try to commit provocations and affect the demarcation process. In addition to revengeful motives of Armenian forces, misguided activities of the Russian peacekeeping troops impose another barrier to the successful implementation of the clause. Deviating from its core mission, the peacekeepers were recorded to hold military drills and training, as well as allow entrance of vehicles carrying illegal Armenian soldiers through the Lachin corridor. Following numerous cases of shootings and provocations along the border, Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence sent an official letter of discontent, stating the need to comply with requirements, to the Russian Ministry of Defence and the Command of the Peacekeeping Forces on September 12, 2021, leaving tensions at higher levels.
By the same token, several problems are noticed in the implementation of Article 9 emphasizing the restoration of all economic and transport links in the region. Deriving from the acrimonious attitude towards Turkey and Azerbaijan and the fear of being dependent on two Turkic states, the Armenian government strives to prevent the establishment of the Zangezur corridor necessary for connecting the western regions of Azerbaijan with its Nakhchivan exclave and Turkey. Failing to adequately evaluate the importance of the corridor and transport routes for the development and security of the region, Armenia demonstrates more of an obstructing perspective. In this regard, it ignores the opportunity of leaving the blockade as proposed by Turkey and applauded by neighbouring countries after years of encountering economic difficulties.
Confrontations inside the government of Armenia and snap elections of June 20 substantially affected the implementation of clauses of the agreement which Armenians find humiliating. The negative reputation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan after the defeat in the war compelled him to demonstrate a more rigorous attitude in his approach to the process to diminish risks of being overhauled by his rivals gaining popularity at the time. It is worth noting that much of the disinformation spread over the media about Azerbaijan’s advance over the borders by his main opponent Robert Kocharyan on the eve of elections was mostly popular in provinces where Pashinyan was not favored; like Zangezur (Syunik) region through which the proposed railways and roads are planned to pass through. The effect of the Armenian diaspora calling for the resignation of Pashinyan was undeniable, too.
Nevertheless, an upward trend is being noticed in the process. After the victory in June elections, Pashinyan conveyed more positive messages with regard to bringing peace in the region and stability for people. On October 15, he voiced interest in building peaceful relations and (re)opening transport routes in his speech during the meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States, even though in June he voiced his absolute rejection of the idea. Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also confirmed these messages and reiterated the need for practical steps. A similar approach was made by Russia, too. Recently, on 28 October, the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova stated in a briefing that Russia “would consider it correct to adhere to statements and steps that contribute to the implementation of trilateral agreements on unblocking all economic and transport ties in the South Caucasus”.
During his speech at Global Baku Forum President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev reiterated Azerbaijan’s peaceful stance and intention for opening all transportation links in the region. Although back in spring he stressed the necessity of opening the Zangezur corridor regardless of Armenia’s position on the issue, changing dynamics implies possibility of a peaceful resolution. With respect to the demarcation process remaining as an unresolved issue, he emphasized that a proposal has already been made from Azerbaijan’s side to start working on the delimitation and demarcation of state borders with the recognition of the territorial integrity of both countries. Similar points were expressed by Prime Minister Pashinyan as well, sparking rumors that some achievement in this regard is expected in the anniversary of the agreement. On the other hand, the messages were to no avail, since there has been a growing number of cases of provocation during the last months; in particular, following the Victory Day celebrations on November 8 in Azerbaijan. More frequent clashes between the two sides have become a new normal in Karabakh and along the state borders.
To conclude, the failure to resolve the conflict dating back 30 years peacefully in such a geopolitically volatile and important region jeopardizes stability and economic development for the next few years. By demonstrating harsh attitude and hostile policies towards each other, both Azerbaijan and Armenia make a new round of war inevitable, hence canceling out plans for future cooperation. In this context, most will depend on Armenia’s commitment to fulfill the articles of the November 10 agreement.