After weeks of brutal and bloody fighting between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in and around the disputed enclave of Nagorny Karabakh, a halt has been called. Facing defeat, the Armenian side has more or less capitulated. Russian peacekeepers are already arriving to enforce a new peace deal.
It is a pivotal moment. The military and political map of the South Caucasus region has changed fundamentally. Lives have been saved. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani refugees, displaced by the conflict in the late 1980s and early ’90s, can celebrate at the possibility of going home. But Armenians are shattered and fearful.
And the geopolitical picture is not so pretty: This is a deal brokered by two big autocratic neighbors, Russia and Turkey, that can now use it to pursue their own self-aggrandizing agendas. For them this is about troops and transport corridors, not people. The United States, despite being an official mediator, along with European countries, is being kept at bay, paying the price for years of not engaging with the conflict.
The conflict, which dates back to 1988 in its modern form, can lay claim to being Europe’s most intractable dispute. It pits the aspirations of the Armenian-majority region of Nagorny Karabakh for self-determination against Azerbaijan’s right to the territory under international law. Almost incapable of dialogue, both sides have sought to settle their dispute by force of arms. In the ’90s, the Armenian side prevailed at great cost; on Sept. 27, Azerbaijan took military action to reverse that defeat and recover lost lands.