On September 19, 2023, the enduring and deeply entrenched issue of Karabakh, which has been a source of contention between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union, once more gained prominence due to the recent anti-terror measures in the area. Thus, the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Azerbaijan has issued a statement elucidating the viewpoint, objectives, and continued endeavors concerning the anti-terror operation of Azerbaijan against the legitimate military targets of Armenia in the region. This anti-terror operation in the Karabakh region has thrust this issue back into the international spotlight, raising questions about the road ahead and the challenges that lie forward in achieving a stable resolution.
Therefore, to grasp the essence of Azerbaijan’s anti-terror operation, examining the events and interactions between the conflicting parties following the Second Karabakh War of 2020 is essential. The Second Karabakh War, known as “the Patriotic War,” resulted in Azerbaijan regaining control of territories that had been occupied by Armenia since the early 1990s. Azerbaijan’s triumph was attributed to a combination of factors, including political determination, military superiority, and diplomatic support from Türkiye, as well as Armenian underestimation of Azerbaijan’s military buildup, the lingering optimism in Armenia stemming from the First Karabakh War, Armenia’s inadequate defense infrastructure developed during three decades of occupation, and, notably, Armenia’s diplomatic shortcomings in engaging major powers, especially Russia, in the conflict.
The War marked a significant shift in the regional power dynamic, but it was only the beginning of a long and challenging process towards peace. Thus, in the wake of the Second Karabakh War, the region has grappled with the complex task of finding a path to lasting peace.
Since the end of the War, despite various ups and downs, as well as political and military confrontations, the parties to the conflict engaged in a peace negotiation. President Ilham Aliyev constantly reaffirmed Azerbaijan’s determination for achieving the long-awaited peace with Armenia. Consequently, Azerbaijan has demonstrated a clear and logical stance on peace negotiations process, which is in line with the norms and principles of international law and could serve as a sole basis for signing peace treaty. The negotiations for signing a peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia have been moving quite slowly due to irrelevant demands from the Armenian side, including about the so-called rights and securities of the Armenian population in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. The issue of reintegration of Armenian residents living in Karabakh has been a main sticking point during the negotiation process. The Armenian community in Karabakh has been hesitant to engage in direct negotiations in Baku, instead preferring meetings mediated by international mediators, which has added another layer of intricacy to an already complex negotiation process. However, the stance of Azerbaijan is clear that the Karabakh issue is no longer on the international agenda since Armenia recognized Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the region.
In this regard, Hikmet Hajiyev, the Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of Azerbaijan, emphasized that protecting the individual rights and safety of Armenian residents living in Karabakh is exclusively an internal matter for Azerbaijan. Baku has no intention of engaging in discussions concerning its sovereignty with any external parties, including Armenia. As a subsequent action, the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan extended an invitation to representatives of the Armenian community in Karabakh on March 13, 2023, for a second meeting. This meeting aims to address ongoing communication efforts regarding reintegration and the execution of infrastructure projects in Karabakh.
However, Karabakh Armenians declined the invitation to meet in Baku and instead expressed their preference for a meeting in Karabakh under the mediation of Russian peacekeepers. On March 27, 2023, Baku extended another invitation to the Armenians in Karabakh to discuss the reintegration and implementation of infrastructure projects in Karabakh. Nevertheless, the Armenian side once more rejected the prospect of direct negotiations with Azerbaijan in Baku, insisting on a negotiation format that is internationally recognized when engaging with Baku.
In addition to refusing to engage in talks with Baku, they persist in maintaining unlawful armed groups from Armenia within the internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan. In this regard, Azerbaijan has repeatedly stated that the continuation of the existence of units of the armed forces of Armenia in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, contrary to the provisions of the Trilateral Statement dated November 10, 2020, is a serious threat to regional peace and security. The only way to achieve peace and stability in the region is unconditional and complete withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and the dissolution of the puppet regime.
However, reports of systematic shelling of Azerbaijani positions, continued landmines in Azerbaijani territories, and the fortification of battle positions by Armenia’s armed forces have heightened tensions. Instances of reconnaissance-subversion acts, such as planting mines in previously cleared areas by Armenians, pose serious threats to civilians and military personnel alike.
Thus, in response to these concerns, Azerbaijan initiated a local anti-terror operation in the Karabakh region on September 19, 2023. According to the statement of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the objectives of the anti-terror operation include ensuring the provisions of the Trilateral Statement, signed on November 10, 2020, “suppress large-scale provocations in the Karabakh economic region, to disarm and secure the withdrawal of formations of Armenia’s armed forces from our territories, neutralize their military infrastructure, provide the safety of the civilian population returned to the territories liberated from occupation, the civilians involved in construction and restoration work and our military personnel, and ultimately restore the constitutional order of the Republic of Azerbaijan.”
Ministry of Defense has also emphasized that “Azerbaijan Army Units did not target the civilian population and civil infrastructure facilities, only legitimate military targets were destroyed by using high-precision weapons… The protection and security of administrative, social, educational, medical, religious, and other facilities will be organized in line with the laws of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the norms of international humanitarian law. Women, children, elderly people, as well as people with disabilities and the sick will be rendered necessary medical aid and other assistance. They will be provided with drinking water and food.”
In addition, official Baku declared that the Azerbaijan side is ready for a meeting in Yevlakh with the representatives of the Armenian residents living in Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. However, the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Azerbaijan stated that in order to stop anti-terror operations, “the illegal Armenian military formations must raise the white flag, all the weapons must be handed over, and the illegal regime must be dissolved.”
In light of these statements by official Baku, it is imperative to mention that Azerbaijan maintains a balanced perspective and a commitment to constructive dialogue. The region’s residents deserve nothing less than a peaceful and prosperous future. Hence, reintegration of Armenians living in certain parts of the Karabakh region into the Azerbaijani society is also a high agenda of Baku. President Aliyev repeatedly said that the Armenian minority living in Karabakh being Azerbaijani citizens could participate in construction and restoration projects of the region and that Baku was ready to create conditions for them in the places and villages where they would live. But, in order to be integrated into the Azerbaijani society, the Armenian minority in the Karabakh region must first give up separatist aspirations, given Azerbaijan’s obvious goodwill reflected in post-war developments. The path to peace may be fraught with obstacles, but with genuine commitment and cooperation on post-conflict regional agenda, a prosperous future for the region lies within the recognition of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
Therefore, with the aim of compelling separatist factions to abandon their political aspirations and facilitate the attainment of a stable and prosperous future, comprehensive anti-terror measures persisted on the date of September 20, 2023. Meanwhile, at the onset of the same day, the Azerbaijani authorities reiterated their statement to the Armenian armed forces contingents stationed within the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, urging them to disarm and capitulate. It was explicitly conveyed that the suspension of anti-terror measures would exclusively follow compliance with this condition. In light of the contemporary developments, an accord has been achieved to halt local anti-terror measures in the Karabakh region. Thus, the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Azerbaijan stated that considering the appeal by the representatives of the Armenian residents living in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, conveyed by the Russian peacekeeping contingent, an agreement has been reached as of 13:00, 20 September 2023, to stop the antiterror measures under the following terms:
– The formations of Armenia’s armed forces stationed in the Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan and illegal armed groups lay down their arms, withdraw from their battle positions and military outposts and are subjected to complete disarmament.
– Simultaneously, all the ammunition and heavy military equipment is handed over.
– Conducting the abovementioned process in coordination with the Russian peacekeeping contingent is ensured.