Guiding Conflicting Factions Toward Addressing the Lachin Crisis

Guiding Conflicting Factions Toward Addressing the Lachin Crisis

As tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan flare up once again over the fate of Karabakh, temperate and reasoned discussion is required more than never.

At a juncture where sustainable peace seemed achievable, Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan’s recognition of Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan—arriving finally two years after the end of the Second Karabakh War, with the mediation of Brussels and Washington—appeared to be a positive development. Regrettably, this promising trajectory now faces the risk of unraveling, jeopardizing all progress made after the recent escalation around Lachin Road and claims about humanitarian conditions.

On April 23 of this year, Azerbaijan strategically positioned a checkpoint in Lachin, a pivotal juncture along the internationally recognized border between Azerbaijan and Armenia. This checkpoint held significant importance as it served as the sole road connecting the Armenian-populated territory in Karabakh to the Republic of Armenia. Initially, the road functioned without major disruptions. However, tensions escalated following an attack on its checkpoint on June 15, prompting Azerbaijan to impose limitations on its operations. Azerbaijan also contended that this road had been exploited for illicit activities such as smuggling mines, weapons, and individuals affiliated with the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) into the region.

On July 26, a convoy of nineteen trucks carrying humanitarian aid was dispatched by the Armenian government, but Azerbaijan barred its entry into the region. This provided Armenia with a pretext to instrumentalize humanitarian issues to bring the matter before the UN Security Council for discussion on August 16. It was not coincidental that certain speakers during the Security Council discussion recommended refraining from employing humanitarian concerns as political leverage. Ahead of the UN Security Council session, significant resources were channeled into a global media campaign, involving politicians, celebrities, and even controversial figures like Luis Moreno Ocampo. The intention behind this was to shape a pro-Armenian sentiment within the international audience and to impose psychological and moral pressure on Azerbaijan, the global community, and the members of the UN Security Council.

Matters have only escalated since. On August 29, the Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society, affiliated with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, dispatched two trucks loaded with flour to aid Armenian residents in Karabakh through the Aghdam Road. This effort was aimed at breaking the ongoing deadlock and addressing concerns of manipulation surrounding the delivery of aid. However, the trucks encountered concrete roadblocks erected by individuals associated with radical groups who staunchly advocate for the sole use of the Lachin Road and vehemently oppose any alternative routes to the region. A few days later, the spokesperson for Charles Michel, president of the European Council, emphasized the importance of a step-by-step approach, which would involve a carefully sequenced operation for the full utilization of the Ağdam and Lachin routes.

Peace Is Achievable Solely via Sincere Negotiations

Rather than engaging in direct and honest dialogue with Azerbaijan without any mediators—as also endorsed and urged by the United States to address any concerns, including humanitarian matters—Armenia is putting significant effort into exploiting humanitarian issues for its global propaganda purposes. Conversely, following the conclusion of the Second Karabakh War, Armenian propaganda has focused on attempting tirelessly to portray Azerbaijan through an “Israelization” lens and positioning Armenia as a victim in a manner reminiscent of the Palestinian situation.

The intent behind this approach is unmistakably clear, evident not just to those in Baku but also conspicuously acknowledged in Yerevan: to establish the notion within the international community that Karabakhi Armenians cannot viably coexist under Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction. This narrative is constructed to morally validate the concept of remedial secession or separatism for Karabakhi Armenians.

As previously articulated within this platform, for Azerbaijan the dark reality of occupation hides behind the glitzy façade of remedial secession or self-determination and efforts to link the claim to liberal values, like in Crimea, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Donbas, and Luhansk. Additionally, the discussions and promotional efforts aimed at advancing a remedial secession agenda are perceived by Azerbaijan as an endeavor to divert the attention of the international community from the twenty-seven-year-long occupation of Azerbaijani territories, the plights of up to one million internally displaced persons, their inability to return to the liberated lands because of widely planted landmines, and the complete destruction of urban centers and rural communities like Aghdam. Indeed, acknowledging these responsibilities and addressing the complexities arising from this prolonged situation holds the utmost significance in ensuring enduring peace for the times ahead. Disregarding or deflecting focus away from the twenty-seven-year-long occupation could cast a shadow over the prospects of future peace, potentially leading to a less hopeful outlook.

Following their defeat in the 2020 conflict, Armenia lacks the military capability to directly challenge Azerbaijan and assert its claims over Karabakh. Moreover, Armenia's demands are not substantiated by international law. In light of these constraints, Armenia’s primary recourse remains the pursuit of “moral justification” on the global stage to substantiate its claim over Karabakh.

At the same time, prominent Armenian analysts, including figures like Richard Kirakosyan, advocate for a strategic approach acknowledging Armenia's military inferiority to Azerbaijan. They propose delaying the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan to allocate time for rebuilding and modernizing Armenia's military capabilities.

Significantly, the program outlined by Pashinyan’s government for the former Nagorno-Karabakh Oblast, endorsed by Armenia’s National Assembly following the 2021 elections, contains a provision obligating Pashinyan’s administration to secure the Karabakhi Armenians’ right to remedial secession. The recent acknowledgment of Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan by Pashinyan’s government is not contradictory to this obligation; instead, it aligns with the commitment made in 2021 to pursue remedial secession. This alignment is evident in the range of actions and policies pursued by the Pashinyan government, including its recent international initiatives related to Lachin.

As a result, the statement made by the U.S ambassador to Armenia, Kristina Kvien, at the beginning of June, asserting the potential for Karabakhi Armenians to coexist securely under Azerbaijani governance, faced considerable backlash—even in the wake of the recognition of Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. This criticism prompted the ambassador to walk back her comments the following day, stating that the United States “does not presuppose the outcome of negotiations on the future of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Enough is Enough

Beneath the surface of this intricate political struggle lies the enduring plight of ordinary people from both sides of the conflict. Amidst the Russian military presence and the remnants of Armenia’s armed forces, individual stories such as that of Izaura Balasanyan emerge, encapsulating the persistent suffering endured. Her story also sheds light on the intricate complexities that impede the path to normalcy and reconciliation for two populations separated by a protracted three-decade-long conflict.

In September 2021, faced with mounting needs and an avaricious landlord, Izaura made a fateful decision driven by desperation: escaping the confines of the Armenian-controlled territory. Her goal was to reach the comparatively promising Azerbaijani-controlled territories. However, her journey was abruptly halted when Russian peacekeepers apprehended her and handed her back into the custody of local Armenian security services.

Since then, the fate of this unfortunate woman has remained cloaked in uncertainty, her story fading into obscurity. Remarkably, her plight has failed to attract the attention of any international institution, leaving her ordeal unexamined and her voice unheard. This stark reality underscores the challenges faced by countless individuals akin to Izaura, trapped in the labyrinthine nexus of radical nationalism and a three-decade-long conflict.

The tale of Izaura serves as a clear example of those opposing the reintegration of these two communities and those acting as a barrier between them. In 2022, with the mediation of the United States in Washington, Armenia and Azerbaijan reached an agreement to commence dialogue for the reintegration between Baku and the Karabakhi Armenians. Interestingly, immediately following this accord, Moscow sent a Russian billionaire, Ruben Vardanyan, who lacks native ties to Karabakh, to the region to undermine the reintegration dialogue. He subsequently expelled all proponents of dialogue from the local de-facto administration. Despite his resignation, both he and Russia continue to uphold the trajectory that was established to impede all reintegration efforts.

Nevertheless, accountability extends beyond Russia and the radicals it supports. It encompasses politicians, experts, and journalists who, regrettably, remain detached from the anguish experienced by individuals like Izaura. Their disengagement underscores the urgency of comprehending the broader context enveloping these narratives.

Blame Games

Paradoxically, while politicians silence the cries of desperate individuals like Izaura, who were taken hostage and who are marginalized, they concurrently appeal to the global stage about the existence of humanitarian crises. In a contrasting stance, local leaders such as Human Rights Defender Gegham Stepanyan and others advocate for a balanced approach. Stepanyan advises restraint in sharing social media posts containing videos of uplifting occasions like weddings and other events that radiate inspiration and prosperity. Conversely, he advocates for refraining from disseminating videos depicting lavish lifestyles—a narrative that clashes with the established official stance.

Consequently, the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has now found its way into the realm of conflicting narratives within the sphere of social media. On these platforms, Armenians are diligently amplifying efforts to underscore the allegedly pressing humanitarian situation on the ground. In a contrasting display, Azerbaijani social media users are sharing recently published videos featuring Armenian counterparts participating in weddings, extravagant restaurant celebrations, and gatherings within Karabakh that radiate joy and prosperity. This clash of narratives reached its peak during a session of the UN Security Council. The Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs presented images of purportedly distressed children, prompting the Azerbaijani ambassador to counter with joyful and abundant photographs depicting life in Karabakh.