Nagorno-Karabakh is no longer a frozen conflict
The rapid intensification of the clashes between the Armenian and Azerbaijani armies has once again and incontrovertibly shown that the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute is no longer a frozen conflict.
Still, it can no longer be described as a “post-Soviet” conflict given the big changes in the geopolitical conditions as well as the economic, political and military configurations in the South Caucasus in the last three decades.
Concerns that the clashes could turn into a full-scale war between the two rival countries are high. The consequences of such a conflict would likely be detrimental for both Armenia and Azerbaijan and subject the entire region to a new wave of instability. Differently from the early 1990s, both countries have built strong armies and can hit each other severely at the cost of many civilian casualties.
That’s why the international community, particularly the Minsk Group and other relevant parties, should tackle the issue in a new understanding and with a renewed and expanded mandate. The past 30 years and countless meetings have already shown that the current context is not designed to end the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani lands and resolve the problem through a negotiated settlement between the two parties.
The co-chairs of the Minsk Group are Russia, France and the United States, while Belarus, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland and Turkey, as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan, have been permanent members of the group since its establishment in 1994.
The new mandate should no longer offer open-ended negotiations and include some punitive measures in the case the parties arbitrarily delay the process or violate the ceasefire.
Plus, the individual members of the Minsk Group should also recalibrate their policies concerning Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia, as the parent state, should start to play a more constructive role by abandoning its policy of not taking sides in the dispute.
As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that voted in favor of resolutions demanding the immediate withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied lands, Russia should use its influence on Yerevan to abide by international law.
Turkey’s position is a complicated one as well. It’s a member of the Minsk Group whose task is to facilitate conditions for a peaceful solution to the conflict. In the current crisis, Turkey has taken a very clear position in defense of Azerbaijan as the highest-level Turkish authorities have pledged support to Baku both at the negotiation table and in the field. The two armies conducted extensive military drills in August after the first wave of Armenian attacks on the northern Azerbaijani town of Tovuz, a city far from Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Turkish support to Azerbaijan is very understandable and unsurprising as the two countries have developed a special relationship in the last decade, under the motto of “two states, one nation.”
Although an existing comprehensive security agreement between Turkey and Azerbaijan paves the way for the former to lend military support to Azerbaijan, active Turkish involvement would surely further complicate the conflict.
It is important that Turkey and Russia stay in touch in the course of this conflict as they are in Syria and Libya. Ankara and Moscow are overseeing so many things in different conflict theaters at the same time, and this requires meticulous, balanced work.
Turkey and Russia should see that the prolongation of the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan will derail things in the diplomatic sphere and jeopardize their finely tuned ties.