A land integrity conflict that started 30 years ago ended with Azerbaijan recovering its land after a two-day military operation.
In order to fight and win one needs a rightful cause. In order to win a war, you must enter the battlefield with determined might.
A war you did not ask for nor start would leave sentiments of anger and revenge.
1st Karabakh War
The war was based on Armenia’s ruthless invasion into Azerbaijan territory. Armenia won the 1st Nagorno-Karabakh War which lasted from February 1988 to May 1994.
The war did not end with a clear victory but with a Russian-brokered ceasefire, signed in May 1994. As a result, Armenia occupied the territory. They also expelled one million Azerbaijanis from Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Those Azerbaijanis became Internally Displaced People (IDP) in their homeland.
Azerbaijan thus lost control of 20% of its land to which it had legal claim. While licking its wounds with much sorrow and angst, it went on to plan and prepare for any follow-up, determined not to allow that to happen again.
Armenia illegally occupied the area for 30 years. The years were difficult. Uncertainty and despair mixed with hope were common in the South Caucasus state, nestled along the Caspian Sea.
2nd Karbakh War
A second round, the 2nd Karabakh War, arrived in 2020. In 44-days of fierce fighting Azerbaijan managed to liberate most of the areas it had lost control over at the end of the 20th century.
Three attempted ceasefires that were brokered by Russia, France, and the United States, all failed to stop the fighting. Following Azerbaijan recapturing the city of Shusha, Azerbaijan’s former cultural center and the second-largest city in Nagorno-Karabakh, a ceasefire agreement was signed, ending all hostilities in the area from 10 November 2020.
The armistice agreement that ended the 2nd Nagorno-Karabakh War was signed on November 9, 2020, by the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and the President of Russia Vladimir Putin, and Arayik Harutyunyan, the president of the self-declared Republic of Artsakh, also agreed to an end of hostilities. The agreement was to be enforced by Russian peacekeepers.
Azerbaijan liberated and assumed its sovereign control over the territories, less the Armenian enclave of the city of Khankendi*, which the Armenians wrongly renamed Stepanakert, and its surrounding villages.
*Prior to the Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijani offensive September 19-20, 2023, Khankendi was under the control of the separatists Armenians. They named it the capital city of their breakaway “Republic of Artsakh.”
At the end of the 44-day 2nd Karabakh War, Azerbaijan gained full control over the Fuzuli, Jabayil, Zangilan, and Qubadli districts. Armenia agreed to withdraw its military forces from Agdam, Kalbajar and Lachin districts, and return those districts to Azerbaijan by December 1, 2020.
The Trilateral Statement
There are two important clauses in the 2020 Trilateral Statement that Armenia and Russia did not adhere to:
- The peacemaking forces of the Russian Federation shall be deployed concurrently with the withdrawal of the Armenian troops.
- The Republic of Armenia shall return the Lachin District by December 1, 2020. The Lachin Corridor (5 km wide), which will provide a connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia while not passing through the territory of Shusha, shall remain under the control of the Russian Federation peacemaking forces.
In breach of the 2020 Trilateral Statement, Armenian hostility, smuggling of arms and presence of Armenia military units continued.
In breach of the 2020 Trilateral Statement, Armenia did not withdraw its military units, instead it increased hostility and smuggled arms and military units past the Russian Peacekeepers.
Talks about normalization of relations and perhaps arriving at a coexisting peace took place in Europe and the United States to no avail. Armenia remained belligerent and staged acquiesce hurdles.
Armenian military units placed landmines outside of its area, in areas where there were Azerbaijani civilians, police and military. In one instance it was in an area they knew Azerbaijani civilian road workers would return to the next day.
September 19, 2023
On September 19, 2023, several Armenian landmines exploded. Initial reports said that two Azeri civilians and four military were killed. Then later, it was reported three Azerbaijani civilians and seven Azerbaijani military died. A landmine in Nagoya Karakul killed two policemen. Another landmine in Khojavand killed four Azeri policemen.
Before Azerbaijan took any action, it sent SMS messages to Armenian civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh, to warn them to stay away from Armenian military positions. They also used loudspeakers to warn civilians.
Anti-Terrorist Military Operation Begins
Azerbaijan immediately responded to the landmine explosions and deaths with what it called an “anti-terrorist operation.”
In two days of fierce fighting against Armenian separatist militia forces Azerbaijan liberated Khankendi, the main city in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which Armenia had named Stepanakert. Also liberated were the cities Khojali, Khojavand, and Aghdere.
Azerbaijan’s army forced the separatist Armenians to capitulate.
Following the military operation the Armenian administrative body agreed to full disarmament of its forces and the region’s full reintegration with Azerbaijan.
After two days of fighting, on September 19-20, 2023, Azerbaijan returned as sovereign of the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region to which it has full land integrity.
There were loss of life on both sides. Due the Armenian separatists always deal in propaganda and very little they say can be taken at face value, the total number of Armenians killed in this operation is not known exactly. Reported deaths range from dozens to hundreds.
In The Guardian op-ed there was no mention of the Armenian separatists causing the Azerbaijani response. More so, according to The Guardian, the Armenian government disavowed any part in what the separatists started, and said any reports of Armenian sabotage and landmines were “a lie.”
Azerbaijan accounted for a loss of over 100 military personnel.
The two day war ended 30 years of conflict over the land.
Armenians On The Run
Following the capitulation, Azerbaijan opened the Lachin Corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Armenians began to fee the Karabakh enclave.
Fearing reprisals, the Armenians who for 30 years settled on land not theirs started a self-imposed exodus from the city of Khankendi. In no time the city was deserted.
The rate at which refugees are flooding into Armenia can suggest that soon no Armenian will be residing in Nagorno-Karabakh.
If some Armenians do stay, and once it becomes clear what sort of governance Baku will impose in the region, it could create the conditions for some of the runaway Armenians to return.
For a few days the world shouted from the headlines the usual baseless Armenian propaganda claims of ethnic cleansing by Azerbaijan. Clearly this was untrue, and there are no reports of that at all. In fact, the loudly stated fear of what Azerbaijan may do to Armenians which in fact what Armenians actually did to Azerbaijanis in 1992 onwards was one reason for Armenians fleeing the area.
The Armenian propaganda scared their own population so much that they decided to leave the enclave en masse. They rejected Azerbaijan’s open invitation to pledge allegiance to the country and become part of its social fabric.
Azerbaijan chose to take a relaxed approach and allow the Armenians to take their course of exodus or stay. Right now Russia needs Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh in order to justify the presence of its peacekeepers. If there is nothing for them to do, Russia’s peacekeeping mission could come to an end earlier than originally planned.
Furthermore, if there are no Armenians left in Nagorno-Karabakh, negotiations between Baku and the Karabakh Armenians, which yielded modest results, may end.
To formalize regaining the territory, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev delivered a speech and raised his nation’s flag over Azerbaijan’s liberated town of Martakert, in the Tartar District of Azerbaijan, reaffirming his country’s control over the territory.
Sadly, much of the region is now uninhabitable. The Armenians totally destroyed most of the towns to rubble and also planted more than a million landmines. Around 76,000 landmines have been cleared in the past two years, from less than 10% of the total land area.
What The Future Holds Now
Liberating the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region has ended 30 years of conflict. Wider peaceful relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan could be a start of a new era in the South Caucasus in which Russia’s influence will be on the decline and Turkey’s influence may increase.
In the meantime, regardless of the Armenian defeat, discussions about a broader peace treaty between the two neighbors gained fresh impetus. The proof: on September 26, 2023, Armenia’s Security Council secretary, Armen Grigoryan, met with Hikmat Hajiyev, Azerbaijan President Aliyev’s Foreign Policy Advisor, in Brussels. They discussed a possible meeting between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in the Spanish city of Granada. This meeting however was nixed. Azerbaijan insisted on Turkey’s participation but Germany and France strongly opposed it.
As soon as Armenia and Azerbaijan sign a real peace agreement, Turkey is likely to open its eastern border with Armenia which has been closed since 1993. Once this happens, new economic factors will begin to come into play in the region. This reopened border could play well into Ankara’s expanding aspiration.
After many years of conflict, Azerbaijan and Armenia have much to address. For one, the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which passes over remote mountains, needs to be permanently fixed, and discussions about transport links must be agreed upon and executed.
A peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan will be the framework to a general recognition of each other’s territorial integrity, a commitment to refrain from overstepping on it and looking forward to a peaceful and brighter future. This also should be a protective form for Armenia not losing to Azerbaijan its southern region of Syunik.
As the world becomes more unstable, wars are breaking all over and one axis of countries threatens another axis of countries, it is good to see the fire of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia extinguished.