The view from Azerbaijan: Armenia needs to understand five key points to make dialogue over the future of Nagorno-Karabakh effective.

The Nagorno-Karabakh forces on the first line of defense. Photo: RIA Novosti

For a very different take read: "How to prevent new escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh"

The recent four-day military clash in Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory that provoked the long-standing conflict between the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia, became the largest-scale confrontation between the two sides since the 1994 ceasefire agreement between Baku and Yerevan came into force. The clash clearly demonstrates that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict can no longer considered to be “frozen.”

Long before the bloodshed in the region, Azerbaijan started questioning the effectiveness of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which includes the U.S., Russia and France and is supposed to resolve the conflict. The resumption of military confrontation in the region appears to have been a wake-up call for the global community and a driver for the acceleration of peace negotiations.

However, Armenia needs to understand five key points if it wants the future dialogue with Azerbaijan to be more effective.

#1: Azerbaijan is ready to compromise, but willing to use military means

On Apr. 2, some populated settlements on the line of contact between the deployment of Azeri and Armenian troops were exposed to extensive firepower. However, Yerevan accused Baku of being an aggressor. The mediators and third-party countries preferred to maintain their neutrality, noting that both conflicting sides blamed each other for the recent military escalation. They tried not to mention the fact that Armenians occupied Azeri territory, which means that Baku was just conducting military operation on its own territory.          

No matter where the first shot came from on Apr. 2, Azerbaijan demonstrated that it is ready to come up with a compromise for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. However, Baku hinted that its patience is not limitless and it is ready to use military means to return the occupied territories at any moment. The rise of patriotic sentiments in Azerbaijan only spurs the decisiveness of Baku.

#2: The principle of territorial integrity supersedes the right to self-determination 

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has led to the growth of refugees: about a million of them cannot return home [to Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding Azeri regions occupied by the ethnic Armenian forces – Editor’s note]. Besides, the citizens of Azerbaijan are seeking to restore the territorial integrity of their home country.

If international law cannot resolve this problem and doesn’t take into account their opinions, it doesn’t mean that the negotiators should forget about their fate and grievances. This is the real challenge, which diplomats and politicians should address now. However, by the same token, this very problem has provoked a number of controversial moves from Yerevan.               

Armenia should admit the fact that the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is an unrecognized state and there is no reason to include it in the negotiating process. After all, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is seen in the world as a confrontation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which has its own national state. That’s why the right to self-determination shouldn’t contradict (and overshadow) the principle of territorial integrity, at least within this conflict.

#3: Armenia can only count on limited support from its allies, including Russia

As indicated by the recent flare-up in Nagorno-Karabakh, Yerevan has started to understand that its allies are not going to go too far to support it in its confrontation with Baku. In fact, Azerbaijan is acting in accordance with international law. Azerbaijan did not attack Armenia. On the contrary, Armenia deployed its troops on the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan.

Remarkably, Belarus reasoned that the conflict should be resolved in accordance with the principles of international humanitarian law, based on the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and the inviolability of existing borders as well as the OSCE’s decisions and UN resolutions that require the withdrawal of the Armenian forces from Azerbaijan's occupied territory. 

After such an opinion from Belarus, the nation’s ambassador to Armenia, Igor Nazaruk, was summoned to Armenia’s Foreign Ministry to account for such rhetoric. It remains unclear why Yerevan responded in such a way and what exactly it disliked.

At the same time, another CSTO member, Kazakhstan, highlighted its neutrality. Furthermore, Astana seems to have initiated the move of the Eurasian Economic Union’s session, scheduled on Apr. 8, from Yerevan to Moscow. As a result, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin decided to visit Yerevan and, then, Baku. Before these negotiations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid a visit to Baku as well. This indicates that the support from Yerevan’s allies is limited.

For a very different take read: "What's next for Nagorno-Karabakh?"

Against this background, Armenia’s requests towards Russia to stop the delivery of weapons to Azerbaijan look very questionable as well. It is a matter of business and military contracts, which Russia has to observe as a reliable contractor. There is no reason why Russia should withdraw from multi-billion-dollar contracts and deals. And Medvedev’s and Rogozin’s statements that Russia will keep military trade with Azerbaijan (and with Armenia) are indicative. After all, if Russia stops delivery of weapons, the U.S. may replace Moscow.     

#4: Moscow views Baku as an important strategic ally in the region

Moscow is not interested in worsening relations with its ally and strategic partner Azerbaijan. In fact, Moscow is trying to save its strategic ties with Baku, as indicated by the Apr. 7 trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran, which took place amidst military escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh. The diplomats of three countries discussed the North-South joint transit project – the railroad from St. Petersburg to India’s Mumbai through Azerbaijan and Iran. This project opens a number of geopolitical and economic opportunities for Russia.

The Kremlin is interested in maintaining favorable relations with Baku not only logistically and economically, but also from the point of view of security. After all, Azerbaijan is located at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.

#5: Turkey is not behind the escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh

The fifth point that Yerevan needs to keep in mind is that Turkey is not behind the recent escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Amidst the Russian-Turkish rupture over the Syrian crisis, Armenia might be tempted to use the deterioration in Moscow-Ankara relations in its own advantage.  

Indeed, some experts rebuked Turkish President Recep Erdogan for what they see as provocative rhetoric and, particularly, his open support of Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. However, Ankara just reiterated support for its long-time ally and brother country, which is natural in such a situation. In fact, Turkey has been supporting Baku since the start of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Turkey’s solidarity with Azerbaijan doesn’t mean that Ankara fuels tensions in the region. Actually, Ankara is encouraging Baku to take steps to contribute to the peaceful settlement of the conflict. 

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.