In a sudden and strikingly efficient military offensive launched on 19th September, Azerbaijan asserted a decisive victory over the Republic of Artsakh, an ethnically Armenian-majority autonomous enclave located within its borders. The campaign, which came after a protracted blockade of the vital Lachin Corridor, supplying Artsakh, was notably swift, culminating on 20th September when Artsakh President Samvel Shahramanyan conceded, agreeing to peace on Azerbaijan’s terms.
The geopolitical aftershocks of Azerbaijan’s triumph, enabled by a seemingly minimal exertion, will reverberate through the South Caucasus for the foreseeable future. Notably, tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians, propelled by fears of ethnic cleansing, have fled Artsakh, contributing to a burgeoning humanitarian crisis that stands in stark contrast to the disbanding of the Artsakh Defence Army and the planned dissolution of the separatist government by year-end.
Turkey’s solid support for Azerbaijan’s campaign aligns not only with its established alliance but also accords with a broader strategic vision for the region. Turkey has ardently backed Azerbaijan’s intention to construct the Zangezur Corridor, anticipated to forge stronger cultural and economic ties by granting Azerbaijan unimpeded access to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and further linking Azerbaijan to eastern Turkey.
Meanwhile, Russia’s decision to abstain from military intervention, despite maintaining a 2,000-strong peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh, reveals a complex web of geopolitical relationships and ambitions. Frustrations with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s leadership and potential prospects for enhancing its partnership with Azerbaijan underpinned Moscow’s restrained approach, facilitating the ceasefire that handed Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan, despite existing ties to Armenia.
Iran, despite its ongoing tensions with Azerbaijan, stemming from its alleged pro-Armenian stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and Azerbaijan’s security collaboration with Israel, has navigated a cautious middle-ground approach to Azerbaijan’s reintegration of Nagorno-Karabakh. Notably, amidst Iran’s expression of concern over the humanitarian plight of ethnic Armenians, Turkey has asserted that Iran has moderated its opposition to the Zangezur Corridor project.
For Western powers, moral dilemmas unfold as potential actions, or lack thereof, are scrutinised on the international stage. Despite strong admonitions and the clear expression of concern over human rights abuses, concrete interventions, such as sanctions, appear improbable given Europe’s energy dependencies on Azerbaijan. The lack of consistent policy in response to the crisis is evident, with NATO and the European Union seemingly lacking tangible leverage to decisively influence the ongoing situation.
The humanitarian crisis emanating from the conflict cannot be understated. With over 65,000 refugees, representing over one-third of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population, seeking sanctuary in Armenia by 28th September, Armenia faces both humanitarian and political turmoil. Prime Minister Pashinyan, now contending with the comprehensive management of refugee inflow amidst mounting criticism, seeks humanitarian assistance from the international community, the delivery and sufficiency of which remain to be seen.
In contrast, Azerbaijan’s assured victory in Nagorno-Karabakh, achieved with unexpected ease, consolidates its position in the region but potentially sets the stage for intricate geopolitical manoeuvring and conflict in the South Caucasus for years ahead.
While Turkey’s ambitions seem somewhat realised through Azerbaijan’s triumph, Russia, Iran, and Western powers are compelled to navigate through a newly altered geopolitical landscape, balancing strategic interests against ethical considerations and international perceptions.
The legacy of Prime Minister Pashinyan, forever marred by the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh, hinges precariously upon his handling of the resettlement and care of displaced ethnic Armenians, establishing a stage where international relations, humanitarian obligations, and domestic politics are inextricably entwined.
The complex unfolding of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict thereby raises questions about international intervention, humanitarian obligations, and the future stability of the South Caucasus, with global eyes watching, awaiting the subsequent moves of regional and international players in this high-stakes geopolitical arena.
Image credit: AZE Media
Note: This article provides a general overview and may not cover all aspects of the complex situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Furthermore, events might have evolved beyond the information available at the time of writing, given the fast-changing nature of geopolitical events.