The self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno Karabakh has ceased to exist and the Armenian population residing in this enclave in the territory of Azerbaijan has undertaken a painful exodus that accumulates to other exiles suffered by this people clinging to their memory.
It remains to be seen what effect the wave of refugees will have on the leadership of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinián. It also remains to be seen what the attitude of the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, will be towards the Karabakh Armenians who remain in the dissolved enclave, trusting that the authoritarian Azerbaijani leader will respect, as he claims, the rights of his citizens of Armenian origin as of minority.
In Armenia they fear that Aliyev will continue by force – on the territory of the recognized Armenian State – the victorious streak that allowed him to recover Nagorno Karabakh.
For the development of the region, it is key to restore—and expand—the communications system that was blocked at the end of the 1980s, when the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict broke out. The restoration of communications can only be a reality if the interested countries in the region and the great regional powers involved in the area (Russia, Turkey and Iran) reach a consensus to which the European Union and the United States join. In these wild lands, the political and economic configuration of an important part of the world is at stake today.
From a geostrategic point of view, the key point is the corridor through the Zangezur region, in southern Armenia. It is a 43 kilometer stretch, located on the route from Turkey to Baku along the borders with Iran. On this route, which borders the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhchivan, a rail and road communications system operated during the Soviet Union, which was abandoned when the conflict broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh, as the trains were stoned – by one or the other. , depending on the section—; and the rails, torn from the ground. The loss of land communication between the main territory of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan forced Azerbaijanis to detour through Iran or through Georgia and Turkey to access Nakhchivan.
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The creation of a corridor between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan appears in the ceasefire protocol that Aliyev and Pashinyan, arbitrated by the Russian Vladimir Putin, signed in November 2020. But the negotiations to implement it have not been successful, as Armenia fears for Azerbaijan to use the corridor to annex Zangezur. And he has no shortage of reasons.
Zangezur adopted Christianity in the 4th century and Armenians consider this region the cradle of their people. Occupied over time by the Seljuk Turks and the Mongols and devastated by Ottoman and Persian raids, in 1813 Zangezur was incorporated into the Russian Empire. At the beginning of the 20th century, Muslims, mostly Azerbaijanis, and Armenians lived in that territory, but the majority of the Azerbaijani population in the area fled the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Armenian warlords in their war against Azerbaijan (1918-1920). .
In 1920, Zangezur became part of the Armenian Soviet Republic. And at the end of the eighties, its last Azerbaijani residents fled for fear of a new ethnic cleansing, like those that had already been unleashed (in a chain and with different signs) in other territories affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
In 2014, before a military audience, Aliyev said: ”The Armenian state was founded on the historical territories of Azerbaijan. The Yerevan Khanate, Zangezur (…) are our historical lands and we, Azerbaijanis, must and will return to these lands. We must restore our territorial integrity.” In April 2021, the Azerbaijani leader stated in an interview that “the creation of the Zangezur corridor fully responds to our national, historical and future interests. We will realize the Zangezur corridor, whether Armenia wants it or not. If you want, we will solve this question in a simpler way; If you don’t want to, we will solve it by force.”
Following his meeting on Monday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Aliyev said that “the construction of the railway connecting Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan and Turkey is progressing successfully” and that he was confident that the Azerbaijani part of the work would be ready at the beginning of the year. next.
The president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and that of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, during the former’s visit to the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan, on September 25. ROMAN ISMAYILOV (EFE)
The presence of Russia
Under the November 2020 agreement, the custody of the Zangezur corridor falls to Russian border guards, who also control Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Iran. In addition to a military base in Armenia and several thousand border guards, Moscow has a military contingent of nearly 2,000 soldiers on a peace mission who were to ensure the safety of the Karabakhs.
The interests of the actors diverge from each other. For Azerbaijan, in addition to communication between parts of its territory, the corridor reinforces the “two states, one people” policy practiced by Ankara and Baku. Moscow, for its part, fears that Turkey will gain a foothold in the area and that the West will position itself to replace Russian border guards. For the Kremlin, staying in Zangezur is a way of staying in the South Caucasus, even if only symbolically. Iran, in turn, fears that Armenia will become a NATO outpost and an operational platform for Israel.
If Aliyev invaded Zangezur, would the West consider measures against Baku similar to those adopted against Russia for its annexations in Ukraine? Azerbaijan has the support of Turkey and, due to its value as a source of hydrocarbons and a strategic transit area, as well as the characteristics of its neighbors, Baku would have a different field of maneuver than Moscow in its conflict with Kiev.
Nikola Pashinián came to power in 2018 supported by a popular revolution and with ideas of democratization and development opposed to Putin’s course. The Prime Minister of Armenia has had to choose between allowing his country to bleed in a war to protect Nagorno-Karabakh or “cutting ties” (hopes and ambitions) and negotiating with Baku trusting that the regime of this country respects the rights of the “citizens of Azerbaijan of Armenian origin.” The June 2021 elections endorsed Pashinián’s policies and allowed him to renew his mandate. For Armenian society as a whole, the future outweighed the defense of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Whatever the resentments towards Moscow, Armenia cannot do without Russia right now, any more than Moscow can do without Yerevan. However, Armenia is trying to replace or compensate for Russian influence. “Having lost hope of obtaining weapons that had long been requested from Russia, Yerevan has negotiated arms deals with India and France. The French precedent would mean that other NATO countries could also sell to Armenia and there would no longer be a dependence on Russia,” says Armenian historian Georgi Derluguian, according to whom the situation in that country is part of “the same war for global hegemony that we see in Ukraine, perhaps in Syria and elsewhere.”
With Pashinian in power, Armenia’s economy has developed, partly also thanks to the exile of highly qualified Russian specialists. “Pashinián is a leader with a sense of state because he has supported real and current interests of Armenia,” says Azerbaijani analyst Togrul Juvarly. And he adds: “For Aliyev, respecting the rights of Armenians would be a historic step to position himself in modernity and become part of the community of civilized leaders.”
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