The World Today for March 10, 2023

NEED TO KNOW

He Said, She Said

ARMENIA/ AZERBAIJAN

Talks between Azerbaijani officials and the ethnic Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave that Azerbaijan recently seized from Armenia in a brief war in 2020, are “encouraging news,” the European Union’s special representative for the South Caucasus told Radio Free Europe recently.

Even so, five people were killed in a clash in Nagorno-Karabakh on March 5, three Karabakhi Armenian police officers and two Azerbaijani soldiers. The differing versions of what happened underscore how this conflict has long been intractable.

The focus of the talks relates to reopening the Lachin Corridor, a route that connects Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenians say that Azerbaijan is violating the terms of their truce by refusing to open it, using so-called environmental activists to block it. Azerbaijani officials counter that Armenia is provoking violence.

The talks are in their nascent stages, however. In the meantime, tensions between the two former Soviet republics are still simmering, with the war between Russia and Ukraine diverting international attention and complicating peace efforts between the two countries. That’s worrying because fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijan claimed around 30,000 lives in the early 1990s after the Soviet Union’s empire collapsed. More than 6,500 people died in the fighting in 2020, noted Agence France-Presse.

Azerbaijan has been taking a strong hand in Nagorno-Karabakh while apparently easing demands on Armenia.

As eurasia.net reported, Azerbaijani officials have been integrating the region into their governance structures. They have fired Ruben Vardanyan, a Russian-Armenian billionaire who was serving as the region’s boss. At the same time, they appear less focused on the Zangezur Corridor, a proposed route through Armenian territory that would connect Azerbaijan proper with the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, an Azerbaijani exclave.

This complicated geography of ethnic community versus national boundaries is one reason why people like German Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently called for a solution to the tension after meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, wrote Armenpress, a public news agency. Such a solution must respect both the territorial integrity of the two countries but also the self-determination of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Pashinyan, meanwhile, has been walking a fine line, Carnegie Europe explained. He needs to retain links with Russia, Armenia’s traditional ally, but, keeping in mind how Russia deals with Ukraine, he also wants to reduce his country’s dependence on the country. He has also been trying to improve relations with Turkey, whose leaders supported Azerbaijan in 2020 and still attack anyone who mentions the Armenian Genocide under the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century.

Russia brokered a truce between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020. Now, however, because of the war in Ukraine, American and other Western leaders have taken a more prominent role in mediating between the two countries, argued the National Interest. Russian diplomats have criticized this change, saying it’s yet another example of the West meddling.

Whoever secures a peace deal will make all this a moot point, for as long as the peace lasts.

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