The conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh appears today as frozen again. Yet it remains fundamentally unsolved. Arguably, the conflict is currently as much a time-bomb as it had been before the 2020 war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. From the point of view of general post-Soviet geopolitics and generic international relations as well as law, two principal issues appear as paramount for the search for a solution of the conflict.
First, the absent or incomplete international reception of the Armenian narrative about Nagorno-Karabakh has little to do with Armenia, Karabakh, the Caucasus and post-Soviet situation. The problem of the Armenian apology for its territorial claim is not a lack of historical or/and demographic justification. Instead, its partly solid grounding in some (though not other) periods of Karabakh’s past is paradoxically the very reason why it will find only limited understanding outside Armenia.
Armenian commentators’ picking of certain historical facts in favor Karabakh’s independence or inclusion into Armenia is a strategy that can be applied by other nationalists in entirely different regions around the world. There are a number of territories across the globe which are, like Karabakh, in view of their history or/and demography politically “misplaced,” according to those or that nationalists. An international acceptance of the Armenian justification for breaking up Azerbaijan or for even enlarging Armenia could thus open a pandora box. There is little prospect for the Armenian quest of a “liberation” of Nagorno-Karabakh ever becoming broadly accepted, therefore. Instead, the Armenian government, people and diaspora need to find – together with, rather in opposition to, Azerbaijan – a solution to this dilemma via direct negotiations with their supposed enemy.
Second, on the Azerbaijani side, there may today be a time of pride and celebration regarding Karabakh. Yet, the current geopolitical constellation around the Southern Caucasus could change. The main regional actors – Russia, Turkey and Iran – all have authoritarian governments prone to abrupt leadership or even regime transitions. As a result, there may, in the future, be also radical changes in the foreign policy preferences of Moscow, Ankara and Teheran, in store.
For instance, a more fundamentalist future Russian president could take a different approach vis-à-vis the Christian-Orthodox aspect of Karabakh’s history than Vladimir Putin. Or a more pro-European or introverted future Turkish president could soften Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan. The entire region is geopolitically undetermined, organizationally underdeveloped, and potentially unstable.
In the same way in which Baku was in 2020 able to exploit a peculiar geopolitical constellation for a successful military campaign, Yerevan may, in the future, be tempted to accomplish yet another territorial revision, if it believes that the situation in Ankara, Moscow and Teheran has changed to its advantage. Therefore, Azerbaijan should not repeat Armenia’s mistake of merely focusing and relying on powerful outside actors. The solution of the conflict lies in direct negotiations between Baku and Yerevan rather than in mere propping up of domestic mobilization, military capacities, and geopolitical alliances. Ideally, Armenia and Azerbaijan should become more deeply embedded in old and new multilateral international and regional organizations that would include both countries and provide more effective platforms for conflict solutions than currently such organizations as the Council of Europe or Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe do.
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