Leila AlievaAffiliate of Russian and East European Studies at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies
The answer is yes, because there have been significantly longer periods of peaceful coexistence between the two nations (or their historic predecessors) than of conflict—the latter of which occurred during the collapse of empires.
The resolution should address a few levels of the problem. One is the geopolitical context: Russia’s twenty-seven-year-long security domination in the Caucasus, which has clearly proved to be not a factor of stabilization but one of control, based on consolidation of Soviet legacies—expressed in conflict narratives, paradigms, institutions, and governance—must be neutralized.
This can be achieved by changing the format of negotiations and the composition of mediators.
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan should understand that neither long-term peace nor consistent democratization is possible without independence from Russia.
The other way is by delegitimizing military gains in order to take away their power as bargaining tools in negotiations, thus disincentivizing any military adventures. This includes bringing more normative certainty and justice in cases of violation of international law.
The negotiations should also suggest and consider mutually beneficial deals, rather than try to achieve concessions under military pressure.
And at last, in order to change the territorial conflict’s old, pre-modern paradigm, any conflict resolution should put relations between the two states into the contemporary context of IT, human rights, and conditionality of borders.
Laurence BroersDirector of the Caucasus Programme at Conciliation Resources and Associate Fellow at Chatham House
Peace is possible between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, but Armenia and Azerbaijan have never been at peace as sovereign states—only as provinces of larger empires. That tells us that there is no intrinsic reason why the two peoples cannot be at peace with one another.
Rather, the issues dividing them are political. These issues are familiar: a contested territory that is sacred to both nations, an Armenian self-determination movement that ended in a dearly won military victory in 1994, and its overspill into the occupation of a large swathe of Azerbaijani territory and the forced eviction of some 600,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis.
Azerbaijan points to four UN Security Council resolutions affirming its territorial integrity. Armenia points to grave and persisting insecurity and an existential threat to the Armenian population of Nagorny Karabakh. After twenty-eight years of often—though not always—dysfunctional diplomacy, supportive multilateralism is receding as an approach to negotiating an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace.
It is being replaced by opportunist multipolarity, as regional powers Russia and Turkey increasingly dominate the conflict-management space. This augurs new dependencies for both Armenia and Azerbaijan—and the illusory prospect of another enforced peace—as clients rather than sovereigns.
Carey CavanaughChairman of International Alert and Professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce
Absolutely. Is it easy to attain? Absolutely not.
I know this firsthand, having served as the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. This body has been charged since 1992 with helping bring about a peaceful resolution of the Nagorny Karabakh dispute. At least twice under this mediation format, in the mid-1990s and again in 1999–2001, the parties to the conflict approached political settlements that could have brought about lasting peace and fostered a dramatic transformation of the South Caucasus region.
Three distinct elements are required to achieve peace between Armenians and Azerbaijanis: a willingness on the part of their leaders to work together toward a compromise solution, international support in the development of such a settlement and its eventual implementation, and the preparation of local populations to embrace that kind of accommodation.
Achieving all three has proved a daunting challenge, but I believe it is possible and must be done. There is no military solution to the Nagorny Karabakh conflict.
What is needed now from all parties is the political courage to end hostilities, restore the ceasefire, and commit to truly meaningful, mutually beneficial negotiations that can provide their peoples with the peace they deserve.
Thomas de WaalSenior Fellow at Carnegie Europe
Peace is still possible—and indeed it is essential. But the latest fighting, which began on September 27, 2020, makes it even more distant. An immediate ceasefire is essential.
Fundamentally, it is up to Armenians and Azerbaijanis to solve this conflict themselves; outsiders cannot do it for them. But the bloodshed and toxic rhetoric from both sides have boxed them in and limited their capacity to do a deal.
The international community—the three main mediators, but not only them—can start with three steps to help promote peace.
First, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs—France, Russia, and the United States—should declare that the two countries must honor the commitments they made in Vienna in May 2016 to restart a peace process after the last round of conflict—and pay a price if they don’t.
Second, they should begin active discussions of what a peacekeeping operation would look like—a crucial issue that has been neglected since the 1990s.
Third, everyone needs reminding that Armenians and Azerbaijanis are not eternal enemies. They live side by side peacefully in Georgia and have been friendly neighbors for long periods of history. Outsiders can promote a sorely missed “third narrative” that sets out a vision of how the two peoples have lived together in peace and will ultimately benefit by doing so again.
Alexander IskandaryanDirector of the Caucasus Institute
At the time of writing, active warfare is taking place on what was just a few days ago known as the contact line and should now be called the frontline.
Events are unfolding in the logic of war. Azerbaijan has chosen the ideal timing for its offensive. The United States is rocked by the campaign ahead of the presidential election in November, Europe is getting over Brexit and facing a general crisis of public administration, and Russia is dealing with the crisis in Belarus.
Worldwide, political elites are focusing their efforts on reacting to the coronavirus pandemic. The South Caucasus is not a priority for the international community. Therefore, there is no reason to expect external intervention.
International actors will certainly use political leverage in the form of statements, calls, and appeals for peace, which will be absolutely insufficient. Accordingly, unless the fighting evolves into a trench war, it will only desist following the logic of war, not politics or peace. Once this happens, negotiations will be resumed, but it will no longer be possible to restore the configuration that existed the week before violence erupted.
Whether or not the OSCE Minsk Group format survives this, the situation in the conflict will be further from a peace settlement than ever before. This does not mean that a peaceful settlement will be ruled out; no conflict lasts forever. However, we will need to create a new peace agenda burdened with two wars instead of one.
John C. KornblumSenior Counsellor Noerr LLP
The most important thing to remember about the Nagorny Karabakh conflict is that it is above all one of Russia’s frozen conflicts, intended to keep the countries and the region and thus also the West off balance.
Rather than being a mediator, Russia often fans the flames of the dispute. It is undoubtedly no accident that violence has returned just as Russian President Vladimir Putin is burdened by troubles at home and at a point when his relations with the West are at an all-time low. He is sending the West a message. Work with me or I can put this place in flames.
I first joined the search for a “diplomatic solution” of the Nagorny Karabakh crisis during the summit conference of what was then the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in Helsinki in 1992. Twenty-five years of endless diplomatic efforts have been unsuccessful. The tragedy will continue until Russia is convinced that peace in Nagorny Karabakh, Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere is more in its interest than is the fomenting of crisis among its neighbors.
The stakes for Europe are especially high. The Caucasus are the front line of European democracy. If they fall to Russian domination, Europe’s democratic vision will be damaged severely.
Gerard LibaridianFormer Alex Manoogian Chair in Modern Armenian History at the University of Michigan
Peace is possible, but it is now less likely to result from negotiations between the sides. More than ever, the sides have been locked in a logic that justifies war for each.
Turkey’s direct participation in this round has further complicated an already difficult conflict. For Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey, the conflict now is a matter of honor, national identity, and legitimation of power. For Nagorny Karabakh, it is also an existential one.
The indiscriminate shelling by Azerbaijan of civilian targets in Karabakh has cemented the sense Karabakh Armenians have that they could not possibly be safe under Azerbaijani jurisdiction.
Neither side revised its position on a resolution following the two more recent rounds of fighting in April 2016 and July 2020. The 2018 Dushanbe agreement between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on the consolidation of the ceasefire was the last hope for a reset. Instead, it became the source of a deeper—and now fatal—mutual mistrust, because the sides had conflicting expectations of what was to follow.
Russia and Turkey will use this or the next round of fighting—if there is one—to impose a peace that will be at the expense of Armenians, as has been the case in history.
Eldar MamedovForeign Policy Adviser to the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament
At this stage, sustainable peace is not possible. The two sides have radically incompatible notions of what a peace would entail. For Armenians, it means a status for Nagorny Karabakh that excludes any relationship based on subordination to Baku. For Azerbaijan, nothing less than the return of the region to Baku’s effective control would do.
Nor can both sides agree on the process leading to any kind of solution. Azerbaijan insists on a phased settlement, involving a return of its occupied territories first. Armenia wants guarantees of independent status for Nagorny Karabakh before it engages in any substantive concessions.
So, the only peace that is feasible now would be in a narrow sense of ceasefire, and then only imposed by external actors. They should foresee—possibly via a UN Security Council resolution—the deployment of a robust ceasefire-monitoring mechanism with targeted sanctions against any party violating it and an immediate resumption of negotiations.
It is also urgent to prevent this local territorial conflict from metastasizing into an ethnic conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis worldwide. The joint call for restraint launched by Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the diaspora after July’s clashes could serve as the basis for such efforts.
This analysis reflects the personal views of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the S&D or the European Parliament.
Stefan MeisterHead of the Heinrich Boell Foundation Tbilisi Office
The latest escalation in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan shows how dangerous this conflict at the margins of Europe is.
Armenia and Azerbaijan belong to the most armed countries in the world, always ready for war. This is no frozen conflict but a powder keg, more or less ignored by the international community.
Yes, Russia and Turkey play a key role in this conflict. Russia is the “honest bargainer” who has troops on the ground in Armenia and sells weapons to both sides to keep the balance. Turkey is increasingly willing to support Azerbaijan, which changes this balance of power.
However, it is first of all a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where both societies have been socialized with the enemy narrative of the other and the constant threat of a war. Nation-building in both countries after the fall of the Soviet Union was focused on the external enemy.
Yes, peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan is possible, when the political elites stop instrumentalizing the conflict and when an honest discussion starts in both countries about the roots of the war. Only changing the domestic discourse in both countries can bring peace.
Emin MilliAnalyst and Human Rights Activist
The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict has evolved during the last thirty years. Azerbaijan has become much stronger as a state, built up its army, but also improved and deepened its relationship with both Turkey and Russia.
From the Azerbaijani perspective, Armenia has occupied territories that are internationally recognized as Azerbaijan’s, including Karabakh and seven regions around it. Armenia has also ignored—for almost thirty years—the UN resolutions demanding the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from occupied territories.
Armenia and some mediators repeat that “there is no military solution” to this conflict, but the current status quo is the result of the Armenian aggression and its “military solution.”
Thirty years of negotiations and attempts to convince Armenia to compromise and return occupied territories peacefully, in order to avoid another war and negotiate the future status of Karabakh, have failed. Today, Armenia as a state is weaker, and its relationship with Russia has been severely damaged by Pashinyan and the new government.
The fastest and most realistic possibility for Armenia to start new peace talks is to show goodwill and return several occupied territories.
Marc PieriniVisiting Scholar at Carnegie Europe
Peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan is necessary, but getting there will be a long and difficult enterprise. Not only is the territorial litigation old and complex, but nowadays the political and diplomatic situation of neighboring countries is creating additional hurdles.
Russia has a strong military relationship with Armenia but also provides weapons to Azerbaijan. However, it has the power to make the two sides stop fighting each other. Will Moscow see an advantage in playing the peacemaker? Its complex relationship with Ankara will be an important factor when making a decision.
Turkey has expectedly taken sides with Azerbaijan but—more importantly—is providing it with armed drones and—allegedly—with Syrian jihadists from the Idlib province. Turkey is the only country to have taken a confrontational attitude in the current hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The conflict is a challenge for the OSCE Minsk Group, a largely ineffective forum in recent years. But ultimately, whether under the aegis of the OSCE or the UN, peace will have to be achieved in a multilateral framework and a peacekeeping force will have to be deployed.
This is now a challenge for both Russia and Turkey.
Paul StronskiSenior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
The resumption of deadly fighting between ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over Nagorny Karabakh could not come at a more inopportune time.
The fighting, which could easily surpass the devastation of the 2016 Four-Day War, shows few signs of letting up and exacerbates human insecurity—already threatened by the pandemic—in the region.
The geopolitical landscape of the South Caucasus is changing too with a far more aggressive Turkey and an increasingly distracted West. Russia too seems to be struggling in its response and is having difficulty getting the sides to stand down, as it has succeeded with in past flare-ups.
NATO ally Turkey’s growing involvement, possibly with U.S. equipment and certainly with U.S. training, certainly brings greater responsibility on the United States to work toward a ceasefire.
Washington could normally try to use its leverage over Baku, Yerevan, and Ankara to do just that. But the United States appears absent in this latest crisis. This is no surprise, given the dysfunctional foreign policy of the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and the United States’ gradual withdrawal from the region over the past decade.
But with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Putin—among others—all trying to conduct telephone diplomacy with the parties, the lack of senior U.S. diplomatic engagement beyond bland or outright bizarre statements is striking. And particularly for an administration eager to show some foreign policy bona fides before the election in November.
Yet with the U.S. Congress and U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden all calling for a more robust U.S. response, polarized American politics also might be contributing to the administration’s sluggish response.
Dmitri TreninDirector of the Carnegie Moscow Center
The question that has preoccupied me since Sunday, September 27, is different. It’s this: Is war possible between Russia and Turkey?
This unavoidably leads to a follow-up question: Should Turkey attack Armenia, and should Russia choose to defend Armenia, its Collective Security Treaty Organization ally, will this activate the North Atlantic Treaty?
It in turn reminds me of a warning issued to Ankara in the fall of 1991 by the last Soviet minister of defense, Yevgeny Shaposhnikov: if you intervene in Karabakh, you’ll provoke World War III. My conviction today is that this fateful step will be avoided, and Russia and Turkey will avoid a direct military collision, possibly to the regret of some third parties.
With regard the peace question, the answer is: not in the foreseeable future. Complete military victory by Azerbaijan, the stronger party, is impossible without Turkey’s massive intervention. Armenia cannot make Azerbaijan accept the status quo forever—and certainly not without large-scale and direct Russian support. Turkey and Russia, however, are reluctant to fight each other, and Russia also values its generally friendly relations with Azerbaijan.
While war promises victory to neither side and peace remains elusive, ceasefire and its periodic violations look like the future. Or the past.
Sinan ÜlgenVisiting Scholar at Carnegie Europe
In principle, yes. But for more than thirty years, this frozen conflict has demonstrated the ineffectiveness of multilateral diplomacy. Since Armenia invaded a land that belongs to Azerbaijan in and around Karabakh thirty years ago, the territory remains to this day under occupation despite UN Security Council decisions.
The international community has so far stood up to attempts by nation states to acquire territory by force. That was the case against the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. That is also the rationale for the EU and U.S. sanctions against Russia. Yet the same degree of willingness and perseverance is conspicuously absent in the case of Nagorny Karabakh.
Instead, the international community relied on the mechanism of the Minsk Group to steer the parties toward a settlement with very little progress to show for. The Minsk Group has in essence become a parody of international diplomacy. If a peaceful settlement is to emerge, the international community should be more serious in enforcing the terms of the UN Security Council decisions and seek to achieve an end to this occupation.
At the same time, the terms of settlement should include strong guarantees for the Armenians of Karabakh that their fundamental rights will be protected by Baku. These two objectives should hitherto guide conflict settlement efforts.