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Nagorno-Karabakh: origins, peace process, and awakening of a “frozen conflict”

    Nagorno-Karabakh, Nagorny-Karabakh, or the Artsakh Republic, is an autonomous region of the former Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, one of the fifteenth that formed the USSR. Today, it belongs to the Republic of Azerbaijan. Its name came from the Russian “nagorny” that means “mountainous”, and the Turkish-Persian fusion “karabakh” that means “black garden”[1]. Artsakh is an Armenian name that refers to the former Kingdom of Artsakh, that existed two thousand years ago[2]. In 1991, following the USSR collapse, the province declared its independence. Indeed, 78.4 % of the population were Armenians[3]. Nowadays, the proportion of Armenians is about 95 %, the same as it was in the middle of the 20th century[4]. The independence declaration led to war that ended three years later. However, the conflict remains unsolved today. Since the 1994 ceasefire, this territory of 4 388 km2 and about 150 000 inhabitants, has become a “frozen conflict”, an expression used to describe the conflicts born after the fall of the USSR and never resolved. Nevertheless, as we shall see further on, this expression is not that pertinent in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh. In order to understand the recent events in the area, this article will explain the origins of this conflict, the long peace process since 1994, and the awakening of the war since 2016.

Source: Françoise Ardillier-Carras et Gérard-François Dumont, « La guerre pour quelles frontières ? », Les Analyses de Population Avenir N° 30, no 12, 28 octobre 2020

  • In green: Nagorno-Karabakh
  • In red: the line of contact established after the 1994 ceasefire
  • In beige: the territories occupied by the Armenians since 1994

The origins of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

  Nagorno-Karabakh is a singular entity of the Armenian history. Indeed, it was already a rebel zone of the Kingdom of Armenia and resisted to its fall in the 14th century. Around 1720, it also succeeded in building a micro State independent from the Ottomans as well as from the Persians.  Therefore, a national sentiment rose throughout the 18th century that increased the independence willingness. However, Nagorno-Karabagh never forgot its Armenian identity, although Muslims Turkish-speaking Azeris were historically present in the area. In 1805, following the Russian conquest of the Caucasus, Nagorno-Karabakh was transferred to the Baku province, where an important Azeri community was settled. The first ethnic confrontations between Armenians and Azeris began in 1900 with several pogroms, followed by a war between Armenians and Tatars (1905-1907), another Turkish-speaking people. The paroxysm of violence was reached in 1915-1916, when the Armenians were victims of a genocide organized by the Ottoman power that caused around 1.5 million of deaths. Part of the extermination process was perpetrated by the Ottoman army’s affiliated militias in Russian Azerbaijan[5]. Therefore, when the Russian Empire collapsed in 1918, the Armenians refused to recognize Baku’s authority and declared Nagorno-Karabakh independent, before choosing the reunification with Armenia[6].

  Nevertheless, in 1921, the new Bolshevik power modified the situation: the Caucasus bureau run by Joseph Stalin decided to transfer Nagorno-Karabakh to the new Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan, one of the fifteenth SSR that was to form the USSR a year later[7]. It also gave Nakhichevan to Azerbaijan, a southern area that was historically under the control of Armenia[8]. However, to prevent a junction between Turkey and Azerbaijan, Stalin gave the Zanguezur province to Yerevan, cutting Azerbaijan in two and making Nakhichevan an Azerbaijani exclave. In fact, Stalin wanted to strengthen the good relationship between the USSR and Turkey without renouncing to the “divide and rule” policy. This was a turning point. This decision angered the Armenians: firstly, 78.4 % of inhabitants were Armenians[9]; secondly, following the First World War, they had just lost a great part of their territory for the benefit of Turkey by the 1920 Alexandropoulos Treaty and the 1921 Kars Treaty[10]. Even though Nagorno-Karabakh was given some autonomy, they asked for its return six times between 1929 and 1987, in vain.

  OnFebruary 20, 1988, taking the advantage of the Perestroika and the Glasnost[11], the Parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh adopted a resolution planning the reincorporation within Armenia. It was the start of a new phase of violence: later in the year, an anti-Armenian pogrom provoked thousands of deaths in the north of Baku, leading to a wave of refugees and the military occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijani military[12]. In this context, both Parliaments in Yerevan and Stepanakert[13] officially voted for the unification on October 1, 1989. In reaction, 300 000 Armenians were forced to leave Azerbaijan, and 168 000 Azeris were compelled to flee from Armenia[14]. In November 1990, Baku took control of the only Nagorno-Karabakh airport, and fighting spread across the territory. On August 30, 1991, while the USSR was collapsing, Azerbaijan pronounced its independence, followed by Nagorno-Karabakh on September 2. But Baku didn’t want to lose his province and launched a military raid against it. The war had begun.

From war to uncertain peace

  Due to the existing imbroglio, Armenia followed the line, becoming independent on September 21. Baku thus dissolved the autonomous status of Nagorno-Karabakh in November 1991, restoring its full control, while the province’s elites claimed that they were the only legitimate representatives to decide on Nagorno-Karabakh’s future. Hence, they held a referendum on December 10, 1991, regarding the province’s fate: 99.98 % voted in favour of independence[15]. The official proclamation happened on January 6, 1992, while the war was still going on.

  The Azerbaijani forces clearly dominated the battlefield in the first steps of the war. Indeed, Nagorno-Karabakh didn’t have any professional army at the time, and the fighting were mainly ensured by militias composed of local peasants. However, with the help of the Armenian diaspora worldwide, Armenia itself, and Russia, it started to become stronger in the spring of 1992. Therefore, in 1993, the Armenian troops occupied the entire Nagorno-Karabakh and controlled the area between the province and Armenia. The same year, in support of Azerbaijan, Turkey closed its border with Armenia, a situation that still persists today.

  There were several attempts to bring peace in this period. The first intermediary was the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE)[16]. The CSCE created the Minsk Group in March 1992, co-chaired by the United States, Russia, and France, and composed of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Belarus and Finland[17]. The Minsk Group tried to set up a negotiating forum but every attempt failed. Then came the United Nations (UN). All in all, four resolutions were adopted by the Security Council in 1993. The Resolution 822 of April 30, 1993 demanded “the immediate cessation of all hostilities and hostile acts with a view to establish a durable cease-fire, as well as the withdrawal off all occupying forces from the Kelbadjar district and other recently occupied areas of Azerbaijan”[18] ; the Resolution 853 of July 29, 1993 reaffirmed the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Azerbaijani republic and of all other States in the region”[19] ; the Resolution 874 of October 14, 1993 “call[ed] for the immediate implementation of […] the withdrawal of forces from recently occupied territories and the removal of all obstacles to communications and transportation” [20] ; the Resolution 884 of November 12, 1993 “condemn[ed] the recent violations of the cease-fire established between the parties […], and particularly condemn[ed] the occupation of the Zangelan district and the city of Goradiz, attacks on civilians and bombardments of the territory of the Azerbaijani republic”[21].

  What can we learn about these resolutions? First, Azerbaijan is quite defended by the Security Council. Second, the Armenians didn’t respect the UN’s initial conclusions, which forced the Security Council to reaffirm its decisions in every new resolution. Third, the Security Council never went further than words, since Armenia never received any sanction. Article 25 of the UN Charter specifies that the Security Council’s resolutions are mandatory[22]. In case of non-compliance, the Party concerned may be sanctioned, as provided for in Article 41 of the UN Charter[23]. Baku thus accused the UN of double-standard in this conflict. It is true that the UN showed at the time more willingness against Serbia regarding the wars in former Yugoslavia.

  The difficulty to find a compromise could be explained by antagonist visions. For the Armenians, Nagorno-Karabakh should become independent pursuant to the right of people to self-determination. Unfortunately, the international law only recognised this right to colonised people. Moreover, the UN stressed that self-determination couldn’t be applied against the national unity and territorial integrity of a sovereign State[24]. In 1993, every State and every international organization recognised that Nagorno-Karabakh was part of Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, the Armenians could pretend to self-determination within Azerbaijan, as proposed by the Azerbaijani politicians, but they were determined to reach their dream of state-building. Furthermore, the nature of the conflict weakened considerably the peacebuilding process. Indeed, for the Armenians, this war was perceived as a revenge against the 1915-1916 genocide, a perception that led to the massacre of Khojaly. In February 1992, this Azerbaijani town was fully destroyed and its inhabitants slaughtered: 613 were murdered, 487 mutilated, 1275 raped, tortured or mistreated, and 150 disappeared[25].

  Finally, on May 5, 1994, a cease-fire was signed by both parties, under the auspices of the Minsk Group, and particularly Russia[26]. Both sides were exhausted and agreed to put an end to the fighting. What was called the Bishkek Protocol stated that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh should “cease to fire […] and work intensively to confirm this as soon as possible by signing a reliable, legally binding agreement envisaging a mechanism, ensuring the non-resumption of military and hostile activities, withdrawal of troops from occupied territories and restoration of communication, return of refugees”[27]. However, Russia tried to take advantage of the situation by proposing its own troops as peacekeeping forces. Moreover, in order to keep Baku under its influence, Moscow helped Azerbaijan in the winter of 1993-1994, while it was supporting the Armenians at the same time. Therefore, Azerbaijan strongly refused the Russian peacekeeping forces that could have given Russia a new political tool in the area[28].

  Figures about the war were difficult to establish. According to one party or another, the number of deaths varied between 17 000 and 40 000. The refugees were a bit easier to count: they were estimated around 1.1 million (750 000 Azerbaijanis and 353 000 Armenians). Regarding the territory, the figure of 20 % of the Azerbaijani territory controlled by the Armenians has been claimed and accepted for a long time, but it seems that the reality has been more about 13.62 %[29].

  If peace was brought back, no political agreement was reached to resolve the conflict. Hence, Armenia and Azerbaijan entered what Thomas de Waal called the “no war, no peace” phase, where the war became latent. 

The “frozen conflict” and the new interest for the area

  Throughout the end of the 1990’s, negotiations continued but no solution was found. A first step was made in 1997 before being abandoned when the Armenian President Levon Ter Petrosian resigned in 1998. Some consider that Petrosian was compelled to resignation by the United States. It is true that Yerevan and Washington were not always on the same line regarding their interests. On the one hand, Armenia had increased its ties with Russia since the end of the war. In March 1995, both countries signed a 25-year agreement allowing Russia to use the Armenian military base of Gyumri, prorogued in 2011 for a 49-year term[30]. In 1997, they concluded a treaty of friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance that notably provided for greater mutual military support[31]. On the other hand, the Americans replaced the containment theory, elaborated during the Cold War, by the rollback theory. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 allowed the US to penetrate the South Caucasus and keep Moscow away from its historical territories. Thus, the Armenian President led a policy that was obviously considered too favourable to Russia. Moreover, the oil and gas deposits along Azerbaijani coast, related to the strategic place of Turkey in NATO, incited the US to increase their ties with these two countries, which were Armenia’s enemies[32].

  Nevertheless, the negotiations continued with three Minsk Group’s peace plans in 1998 and 1999 that resulted in the 2001 Key West summit, held in Florida. These 5-day talks were perhaps the greatest opportunity that never happened to solve the dispute. The meeting went so well that diplomats thought that a peace agreement could be reached by the end of 2001. The Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents came back to their country to discuss the deal. The Armenians were quite pleased but the Azerbaijani refused it, arguing that their President Heidar Aliyev made too much concessions[33]. The Key West deal was therefore sentenced to death. However, the negotiations started again.

  Meanwhile, pursuing their rollback strategy, the US were providing financial and humanitarian aid to Armenia. From 1991 to 2008, the US helped Armenia through USAID agency up to 2 billion dollars, which represents about 80-110 million dollars per year. Moreover, despite the ban of international laws, an additional amount of 2 to 5 million euros aimed at Nagorno-Karabakh was added from early 2000’s[34].  Since 2006, Armenia also benefited from the White House’s Millennium Challenge Corporation aimed at reducing poverty: Yerevan received 235 million dollars in five years[35]

  The EU also developed its own programs:

– First, a humanitarian assistance, through the European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO) and the Food Security Programme (FSP) that provided 160 million euros to Azerbaijan and 171 million euros to Armenia between 1992 and 2004.[36]

– Then, a financial aid, through the Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States programme (TACIS), that gave 123 million euros to Azerbaijan and 99 million euros to Armenia between 1999 and 2004, plus 65 million and 50 million euros through the European Agriculture Guarantee and Guidance Fund (EAGGF).[37]

– Lastly, a political support, through its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) started in 1996 with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, then by the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), launched in 2004. According to Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission between 1999 and 2004, the ENP’s goal was “to offer more than partnership and less than membership without precluding the latter”.[38]

  After years of talks, the 2007 Ministerial Council of the OSCE held in Madrid provided for the withdrawal of Armenian troops, the opening up of communication channels, the cooperation of Armenia with Azerbaijan, and the autonomy of Nagorno-Karabakh. Two years later, during the G8 Summit of L’Aquila in Italy, the American, French, and Russian Presidents finalised these “Basic Principles that call[ed] for inter alia:

– return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control;

– an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance;

– a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh;

– future determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will;

– the right of all internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their former places of residence; and

– international security guarantees that would include a peacekeeping operation”.[39]

   This new phase of talks brought a great optimism and the different leaders decided to meet in Kazan, Russia, on June 2011 to sign a concrete agreement. However, the Summit ended on a failure. Firstly, Russia once again proposed its soldiers as peacekeeping forces, which the Azerbaijanis were opposed to. Secondly, the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis couldn’t agree on the Basic Principles sequencing and details regarding its application, especially about the Lachin corridor that links Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia[40]. Nevertheless, the OSCE did not give up and organised new meetings on January 2012, November 2013 and January 2014. The latter was particularly important since tensions had risen again, causing four deaths in the previous days.

  Indeed, both Armenia and Azerbaijan were not naive and continued to prepare themselves in case of war. In 2013, Azerbaijan spent 3.7 billion dollars in defence, comparing to 451 million dollars for Armenia. Azerbaijan received arms from Russia, Turkey, Israel, Ukraine, and South Korea[41], while Armenia mainly bought its weapons to Russia that owned three military bases in Gyumri, Erebuni and Meghri[42]. Yerevan was also part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) that protected its integrity in the same way that NATO did for its Members States. Furthermore, the discourses became more and more aggressive. In 2012, the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan declared that his country was ready to deliver a “devastating and final blow” in case of war with Baku, speaking about Azerbaijanis as “invaders and brigands”[43]. In 2013, the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev stated: “Strong Azerbaijan can afford to speak to feeble Armenia in any manner”[44]. The inertia of negotiations and the new rising tensions thus led to a more bellicose phase of the conflict: in 2014, the cease-fire was broken once more, causing 26 dead in 2014 and 35 in 2015[45].

The 2016 four-day war

  The clashes that were multiplying for a few years resulted to the “four-day war”, between April 1 and April 5, 2016. Azerbaijan launched a “carefully prepared major offensive that took the Armenians by surprise”[46]. During the fighting, the first kamikaze drones sold by Israel to Azerbaijan were used and showed their furious effectiveness. The Azerbaijani forces were able to take several strategic points as Russia, the OSCE and the EU called to restore the ceasefire. Meanwhile, Moscow held a military exercise at the northern Azerbaijan border, but Azerbaijanis forces were careful not to target the Armenian territory, which could have led to the Russian intervention. Finally, fighting stopped on April 5. They caused between 60 and 200 fatalities[47].

  This war was a new step towards greater antagonism that was already growing for a while. Instead of building peace, the 2016 ceasefire led to a constant conflictual relationship. Following these events, both countries increased their border surveillance and bought new weapons. Armenia also reinforced its position along the line of contact and multiplied its military personnel. In early 2017, this situation led to exchanges of fire[48]. Although the OSCE, and mainly Russia, tried to find a political outcome, the talks engaged after the 2016 war were once again unsuccessful. Indeed, both parties were unable to agree on three main points:

– Occupied territories: Despite the losses of 2016, the Armenians were still controlling the lands around Nagorno-Karabakh and felt that they should remain under their control, because they have fought for them and won them. Moreover, losing these strategical heights would have been a way to weaken their own defence system. For Baku, these territories had been “annexed” and it was necessary that the international community impose sanctions, as well as the compliance of 1993 UN resolutions.[49]

– Nagorno-Karabakh status: Yerevan promoted the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was the only way to achieve reunification, while Baku couldn’t offer more than a wide autonomy.[50]

– Peacekeeping forces: Neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan were favourable to accept an external military presence, but this contingent was needed to ensure the good return of refugees. The only point they could agree with each other was their desire not to see Russian troops as peacekeeping forces. They were both distrustful of Russia and its repeated willingness to send its army in the area[51].

  This last point is quite important. Armenia and Azerbaijan accused Moscow of favouriting one part or the other, depending on its own interests. As a matter of fact, Russia wanted to maintain a balance of power between Armenia and Azerbaijan to keep them under its influence. But Russia had also to deal between to strategical partners.

  On the one hand, Yerevan allowed Moscow to own military bases in return for a military protection. Nevertheless, for around ten years, the Armenians didn’t trust Russia as much as before because of its ambiguity. The loss of confidence was exacerbated after the 2016 war since Russian weapons were used to kill Armenians. The International Crisis Group report described the anger of the population: “Immediately after the April events, street protests erupted in Yerevan protesting Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan; Armenian police had to block the entrance to the Russian embassy from youth groups carrying posters and flags, and pelting the building with eggs”[52]. In 2017, a survey revealed that 63 % of Armenians considered Russia as “Armenia’s best friend”, against 93 % in 2009[53].

  On the other hand, Azerbaijan ensured Moscow another military presence by renting the Gabala radar station, and currencies by buying Russian weapons: in August 2013, Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev signed a 3-billion contract for Russian military equipment[54]. However, Moscow has been undermining the Turkey-Azerbaijan alliance for many years given that it has been threatening its energy interests: the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, Baku Tbilisi-Erzurum and Baku-Tbilisi-Supsa pipelines, built in the end of the 1990’s and the beginning of the 2000’s, circumvented the Russian territory and took away from the Kremlin the possibility to get another means of diplomatic pressure.[55] 

  Moreover, Armenia and Azerbaijan considered that Russia manipulated the peace talks to assert its presence in the South Caucasus and keep both a political influence and a military projection. Indeed, apart from keeping its influence over Yerevan and Baku, Russia has several interests to deploy its troops in the region. First, the neighbouring Georgia has been amputated from Abkhazia and South Ossetia since the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, two secessionist provinces that Moscow is still occupying today. Then, Russia has been leading military operations in Syria since 2015, not far from here, and the Armenian bases could be useful. Furthermore, the Caucasus could be shaken by Islamism that Vladimir Putin sees as one of the greatest dangers to Russia. Lastly, increasing its presence in the area would be a way for Moscow to avoid any membership of the South Caucasus States in NATO[56]. Therefore, all these elements explain why Russia wanted to maintain its dominant position in one of its “sphere or privileged interests”[57].

  The post April 2016 talks also failed because of the incapacity of the OSCE. The Minsk Group didn’t have the means to fulfill its ambitions and lacked serious consensus that prevented any substantial progress. Then, it became the target of many critics that compared the Organization to a “useless structure” and a “passive mediator”[58]. Nonetheless, the election of Nikol Pashinyan as Prime Minister of Armenia in 2018 initiated a new round of talks. On March 29, 2019, he met with President Aliyev for the first time in Vienna under the auspices of the Minsk Group. This first contact was a mere formality and nothing but humanitarian actions came out of the meeting. One month later, the ministers of Foreign Affairs of Armenia and Azerbaijan gathered in Moscow with the Minsk Group co-chairs’ representatives, where they reaffirmed their will to find a peaceful outcome to the conflict[59]. In July 2019, despite the visit in Nagorno-Karabakh of the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, Nikol Pashinyan began to criticize the lack of progress. Two weeks later, the Armenian Security Advisor announced the construction of a new road, linking Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh by the south. This statement revived tensions since it would be the third route to connect Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh[60]. In 1998, the first road was achieved via the central way, across the Lachin corridor. In 2017, the second road was inaugurated, going through the north. Furthermore, this new connection would be a new difficulty for peace talks. As a matter of fact, the south remains strategic for Azerbaijan to stay as close as possible of its Nakhichevan exclave and to cut Armenia from its Iranian border in case of war.

2020 and the return of hostilities

  And the war was closer indeed. In July 2020, several incidents broke out along the border. In reaction, demonstrations happened in Baku to ask military mobilisation. Then, on September 27, 2020, an offensive was launched by the Azerbaijani army. This attack was not the consequence of a new incident that would have escalated. It was the result of a calculated plan between Azerbaijan and Turkey for months[61]. Ankara sold a lot of high technology weapons that Armenians didn’t have. Israel also supplied Baku with its precious kamikaze drones that was already used in 2016[62]. In addition, Ankara hired many jihadists from Syria to fight alongside the Azerbaijani troops. According to CNN, these mercenaries received a monthly wage of 1 500 dollars[63]. This method is also currently experienced in the context of the Libyan civil war, where Ankara is sending jihadists in order to support the Government of National Accord, recognised by the UN, and increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean[64]. The offensive against Greece and Cyprus over the past few months is related to the same strategy. Erdogan is willing to show his power in order to reaffirm Turkey’s international role and defend its interests, whatever means he may use.

  By increasing its presence in strategic areas that once belonged to the Ottoman empire, Erdogan is trying to get more influence. In the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, defeating the Armenians would be a way to constitute an adjacency between Azerbaijanis and Turks, an historical reference to Pan-Turkism, a nationalist ideology born in the 19th century that sought the union of all Turkish-speaking people[65]. After Syria, Iraq, Libya, Greece and Cyprus, Nagorno-Karabakh is the new front of Turkey’s geopolitics. Ankara’s support to its “Azerbaijani brothers” was therefore decisive. Thanks to this alliance, the Azerbaijanis were able to dominate their enemy and negotiate from a position of strength.

  The first attempt to bring peace back came from Russia. On October 10, both parties agreed to sign a ceasefire, a decision welcomed by the Minsk Group but that has never been respected. Finally, after six weeks of fighting, a stronger agreement was found on November 9. The deal recognises the huge Azerbaijani territorial gains that will compel many Armenians to leave these areas. Moreover, the ceasefire finally authorises Russia to deploy 2000 soldiers in Nagorno-Karabakh, a condition that has never been accepted before.[66] The Armenian Prime Minister was immediately accused of betrayal, and protests emerged in Armenia, asking for his resignation. Russia, that stood still during the war, succeeded in enforcing the ceasefire and its troops as peacekeeping forces. Four elements explain the early Russian prudency:

– Firstly, as we saw it, the Russian security assistance treaty concerned Armenia, not Nagorno-Karabakh.

– Secondly, Nikol Pashinyan had started becoming a bit too independent for some time. For instance, he fired several members of his pro-Russian security services[67] and imprisoned the former Armenian President, Robert Kocharyan, a close friend of Vladimir Putin. Hence, the late Russian diplomatic intervention was a signal sent to Yerevan to make clear that Russia is indispensable to Armenia’s security[68].

– Thirdly, Vladimir Putin didn’t realise how much Ankara was involved, and when he did, he wanted to preserve his ambiguous strategic relationship with Erdogan without letting Turkey becoming too strong in this area[69]. Indeed, Moscow is still mistrustful to Ankara, especially since the jihadists’ arrival in this complex zone where Islam is widely spread.

Fourthly, the Russian President didn’t want to transform Azerbaijan into a new Georgia. Azerbaijan is a strategic partner for Russia that never used anti-Russia rhetoric nor expressed its willingness to join NATO. Then, the Kremlin had no interest to confront Baku the same way it did with Tbilisi[70].

  The winners are undoubtedly Russia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. Russia has been authorised to send its troops and has established itself as the peace maker, Baku has taken back a great part of the occupied territory, and Ankara has increased its role in the South Caucasus. Armenia has lost this war and the West did nothing to prevent its defeat. The EU once again shined by its inaction regarding international conflicts. Even the OSCE’s Minsk Group has been short-circuited by Russian diplomacy. Actually, the EU is facing a dilemma. Azerbaijan and Turkey are both strategic partners since they control the southern corridor that supplies the EU in gas. The circumvent of Russia by the South Caucasus was a strategy launched after the fall of the USSR and accelerated following the 2006 and 2009 Russo-Ukrainian gas crisis, in order to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russia[71]. Furthermore, both Armenia and Azerbaijan are part of the European Neighbouring Policy since 2006, and of the Eastern Partnership since 2009. These EU Programs aimed at supporting political and economic reforms in order to increase the rapprochement between the EU and the South Caucasus, and reinforce the security and the stability of both regions[72]. Moreover, as long as Germany will fear President Erdogan’s actions and blackmail regarding migrants, the EU will remain silent on these subjects.

  Thus, the EU has chosen not to choose. Although Erdogan is carrying jihadists in an area where the EU has been seeking security and stability, Brussels stayed neutral. Once again, its passivity led to its diminishing diplomatic relevance, for the benefit of Russia and Turkey.

Source : Cécile Marin, “Trente ans de conflit”, Le Monde diplomatique, novembre 2020

– The dashed blue line: the future deployment of Russian peacekeeping force
– The orange hatched area: the territories that must be restored to the Azerbaijani
– The green striped area: the territories occupied by the Azerbaijanis before the entry into force of the ceasefire
– The central red bridge: the Lachin corridor
– The southern red bridge: the future liaison towards Nakhichevan through the Meghri corridor

What outcome to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

  The November 9, 2020 ceasefire is far from resolving this 30 year-conflict. Nothing can guarantee that both parties will not resort to arms again. With this in mind, what solutions are possible? In 2018, Thomas Merle, a French historian researcher who works on non-recognised States of the former USSR, proposed five possibilities[73]:

– The full reintegration of Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan: according to Merle, only force would be able to achieve it but this option is quite realisable since the Azerbaijani army is stronger than the Armenian one. However, Azerbaijan could lose its status of victim and become the aggressor.

– The integration within Armenia: it would oblige the international community to contradict itself given the 1993 UN Resolutions that defended Azerbaijan’s sovereignty. Moreover, Nagorno-Karabakh would lose its de facto power, and there is no guarantee it would accept it.

– The recognition of the independence: This is the dream of a part of Nagorno-Karabakh’s elites. For Armenia, it would be a way to keep its influence without humiliating Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that the international community accepts what it has been refusing to do for thirty years.

– The reintegration within Azerbaijan with autonomy: it would require the creation of a Federation. Merle considers this solution as the best one, but it could be optimistic to think that the Armenians would accept this hypothesis after such decades of struggle, violence and resentment.- The exchange of territories: Nagorno-Karabakh would be given to Armenia in return for the Meghri corridor, located in the southern Zarguezur province. This would allow Baku to achieve the junction with its Nakhichevan exclave. By the way, in the first steps of the 2020 war, the Azerbaijani attacks were logically concentrated in this area.

  The aim of this article was not to predict the future, so it would not risk to choose one solution over another. However, what can be sure is that this conflict is now in the hands of four parties: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Turkey.

[1] Thomas de Waal, Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War, New York, New York University Press, 2003, p. 8

[2] Ibid., p. 149

[3] Jacques Lévesque, Yann Breault, et Pierre Jolicœur, La Russie et son ex-empire. Reconfiguration géopolitique de l’ancien espace soviétique, Académique, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2003, p. 163

[4] Françoise Ardillier-Carras et Gérard-François Dumont, « La guerre pour quelles frontières ? », Les Analyses de Population Avenir N° 30, no 12, 28 octobre 2020, pp. 4-5

[5] Hamit Bozarslan, Vincent Duclert, et Raymond H. Kévorkian, Comprendre le génocide des Arméniens, Tallandier, 2015, p. 129

[6] Mathieu Petithomme, « Étatisation et nationalisation du territoire contesté de la République du Haut-Karabagh Vivre et évoluer sans reconnaissance internationale », Revue d’études comparatives Est-Ouest N° 42, no 4, 2011, pp. 85-86

[7] Ibid. p. 87

[8] Jacques Leclerc, Azerbaïdjan,

[9] Jacques Lévesque, Yann Breault, et Pierre Jolicœur, op.cit., p. 163

[10] Michèle Kahn, « Le Haut-Karabakh au cœur du nouvel Etat », Le Courrier des pays de l’Est n° 1067, no 3, 2008, p. 40

[11] The Perestroika and the Glasnost were policies led from 1985 by Mikhail Gorbachev, Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, aimed at reforming in depth the political, economic, and social Soviet system

[12] Philippe Boulanger, Géographie militaire et géostratégie : Enjeux et crises du monde contemporain, Armand Colin, 2015, p. 153

[13] Stepanakert is the “capital” of Nagorno-Karabakh

[14] Philippe Boulanger, op.cit., p. 154

[15] Gérard-François Dumont, « Haut-Karabagh : Géopolitique d’un conflit sans fin », Géostratégiques, 2013, p. 44

[16] In 1995 the CSCE became the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe)

[17] « Who we are »,, consulté le 20 novembre 2020

[18] « Resolution 822 (1993), adopted by the Security Council on its 3205th meeting, on 30 April 1993 », 

[19] « Resolution 853 (1993), adopted by the Security Council on its 3259th meeting, on 29 July 1993 », 

[20] « Resolution 874 (1993), adopted by the Security Council on its 3292th meeting, on 14 October 1993 »,

[21] « Resolution 884 (1993), adopted by the Security Council on its 3313th meeting, on 12 November 1993 »,

[22] Dilaver D. Gasimov, « Le conflit arméno-azerbaïdjanais : l’impuissance ou l’indifférence de la communauté internationale ? », Guerres mondiales et conflits contemporains n° 240, no 4, 2010, p. 103

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., p. 108

[25] Ibid., p. 104

[26] The ceasefire agreement took effect on May 11-12 at midnight

[27] Sabine Freizer, « Twenty Years after the Nagorny Karabakh Ceasefire: An Opportunity to Move towards More Inclusive Conflict Resolution », Caucasus Survey, vol 1, no 2, April 2014, p. 110

[28] Thomas De Waal, op.cit., pp. 237-239

[29] Ibid., p. 285

[30] S. Frederick Starr, Svante E. Cornell (editors), « Putin’s Grand Strategy: The Eurasian Union and Its Discontents », Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies, 2014, p. 99

[31] « Treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Armenia on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance signed in Moscow on 29 August 1997 »,, consulté le 21 novembre 2020

[32] Julien Zarifian, « La politique étrangère américaine, en dehors des sentiers battus : Les États-Unis au Sud Caucase (Arménie, Azerbaïdjan, Géorgie), de Bill Clinton à Barack Obama », Politique américaine N° 19, no 1, 15 novembre 2012, p. 85

[33] Thomas de Waal, op.cit., p. 268

[34] Julien Zarifian, « La politique étrangère américaine en Arménie : naviguer à vue dans les eaux russes et s’affirmer dans une région stratégique », Hérodote n° 129, no 2, 7 juillet 2008, p. 120

[35] Ibid., p. 121

[36] « Conflict resolution in the South Caucasus: the EU’s role », Europe Report n°173, International Crisis Group, 20 mars 2006, p. 5

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid., p. 3

[39] « Statement by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair Countries », consulté le 21 novembre 2020,

[40] Sabine Freizer, op.cit., p. 111

[41] Ibid., p. 112

[42] Gaïdz Minassian, « Armenia, a Russian Outpost in the Caucasus? », Russia/NIS Center, n° 27, Ifri, February 2008, p. 11

[43] Sabine Freizer, op.cit., p. 112

[44] Ibid.

[45] « La situation sécuritaire dans le Haut-Karabakh », Ofpra, 6 août 2019,p. 5

[46] « Nagorno-Karabakh: New Opening, or More Peril? », Europe Report N° 239, International Crisis Group, 4 July 2016, p. 2

[47] Ibid. p. 3

[48] « Nagorno-Karabakh’s Gathering War Clouds », Europe Report N° 244, International Crisis Group, 1 June 2017, p. 2

[49] Ibid., pp. 19-20

[50] Ibid., p. 20

[51] Ibid., p. 21

[52] Ibid., p. 27

[53] Régis Genté, « Les leviers d’influence russe dans le Caucase du Sud », Note de recherche no 99, Institut de recherche stratégique de l’Ecole militaire (IRSEM), 25 mai 2020, p. 6

[54] Ibid., p. 10

[55] Gaïdz Minassian, « La présence militaire russe dans le Caucase du Sud », Revue Défense Nationale, N° 802, no 7, 2017, p. 170

[56] Ibid., p. 171

[57] « Nagorno-Karabakh’s Gathering War Clouds », op.cit., p. 26

[58] Ibid.

[59] « La situation sécuritaire dans le Haut-Karabakh », op.cit., p. 7

[60] Ibid., p. 8

[61] Françoise Ardillier-Carras et Gérard-François Dumont, op.cit., p. 8

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid., p. 9

[64] Jean Michel Morel, « Libye, le terrain de jeu russo-turc », Le Monde diplomatique, 1 septembre 2020

[65] Françoise Ardillier-Carras et Gérard-François Dumont, op.cit., p. 13

[66] Sergueï Markedonov, « Défaite arménienne au Karabakh », Le Monde diplomatique, 1 novembre 2020

[67] « Nagorno-Karabakh: “Everyone Benefits from Russia-Brokered Ceasefire Deal except Armenia” », France 24, 12 novembre 2020

[68] Marc Nexon, « Haut-Karabakh : « Les Russes sont les grands vainqueurs » », Le Point, 10 novembre 2020

[69] Ibid.

[70] Sergueï Markedonov, op.cit.

[71] Read Catherine Locatelli, « Russie-Caspienne : L’enjeu de la diversification gazière de l’UE », Revue d’études comparatives Est-Ouest N° 41, no 3, 2010, pp. 71‑89 ; Read Noémie Rebière, « De la Caspienne à la Turquie : les enjeux du corridor gazier sud-européen », Hérodote n° 155, no 4, 2014, pp. 80‑97

[72] Georges Estievenart, « Enjeux de sécurité globale pour l’Union européenne dans le Caucase Sud », Géoéconomie n° 67, no 4, 2013, p. 110

[73] Thomas Merle, « Les États non reconnus de l’ex-URSS, des « conflits gelés » oubliés aux marges de l’Europe », Les Champs de Mars N° 30 + Supplément, no 1, 25 mai 2018, pp. 134-136

Rayane Ait Haddou

I received a licence in history in Paris Sorbonne Université. Those three years were a great experience where I could improve my knowledge. Then I decided to integrate the international relations master's degree in Lyon 3 university. During my internship in EU-Logos Athena, I am working on European Union's foreign relations, espacially concerning geopolitical issues in the Middle East and eastern Europe.

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