In barely 24 hours Azerbaijan’s “anti-terrorist operation”, the latest euphemism for “invasion”, seems to have resolved the 30-year “frozen” South Caucasus conflict over the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Separatists running the enclave, which is completely surrounded by Azerbaijani territory, have signed a ceasefire accepting all the latter’s demands, effectively conceding sovereignty over the enclave of 120,000 people that had unilaterally declared its independence as the Soviet Union collapsed.
The invasion is reported to have cost at least 32 lives and came after nine months’ of an Azerbaijani blockade of the only road into Karabakh from Armenia and major shortages of food, medicines and toiletries. Azerbaijan’s presidency says officials will meet Karabakh’s Armenian representatives for talks on “issues of re-integration” in the Azerbaijani town of Yevlakh today .
International appeals from the US and EU for dialogue rather than war appear to be a case of closing stable door after the horse has bolted. The timing of Baku’s attack appears to reflect an opportunity arising from a perceived weakening of Armenia’s relationship with erstwhile ally Russia. Increasingly unconvinced of the latter’s commitment, Yerevan moved to develop military links with the West, particularly the US. Moscow had brokered the 2020 ceasefire agreement after Azerbaijan recaptured areas in and around the enclave, and the “peace” was monitored by Russian troops. But Moscow clearly felt no inclination to protect the enclave this time, and did little except pass on terms of surrender to the separatists running the self-styled “Republic of Artsakh”.
The ceasefire appears to pave the way for Azerbaijan to integrate around 120,000 ethnic Armenians into its society and to take full control of the mountainous area. It is unclear whether and how many will seek to resettle in Armenia. A crowd of civilians is reported to have gathered close to the airport. Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters in Yerevan have called for Armenia’s prime minister to resign over his handling of the crisis.