The Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict, often referred to as a ‘frozen conflict,’ is anything but frozen.
Running though the NK region of Azerbaijan, occupied by Armenia for the last quarter century, lies a long thin, deadly line, known as the ‘line of contact.’ This ‘line of contact,’ separating the Azerbaijani Armed Forces and the Armenian army, is one of the most militarized zones in the world, running through a beautiful landscape like a jagged-edged scar.
Few conflicts have the potential to ignite the surrounding regions like this powder keg. In many ways, if a new Cold War were to start, its line would lie directly through this region. Armenia, truly a vassal of Moscow, not only has Russian troops on its soil, but they patrol its borders and airspace. While Armenia exclusively outsources foreign policy to the Kremlin, its growing relationship with Iran is ever more palpable.
This lies in direct contrast to Azerbaijan, which has strategically positioned itself with the West, including providing energy security to Europe through its Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline and the network of gas pipelines known as the Southern Energy Corridor. Azerbaijan also maintains a strong economic and military relationship with Israel.
It is alarming that this conflict lies unresolved, for time has not dulled nor dampened the wick on which this conflict burns.
Just last December, Armenian forces attempted to violate the actual Armenian-Azerbaijan state border, but were repelled by superior Azerbaijani forces. This conflict reportedly inflicted heavy casualties, but not without loss themselves, including the death of an Azerbaijani serviceman whose body was illegally held and just returned this month. This came about only after intervention from the Council of Europe and the OSCE Minsk-Group for Armenia.
The December violation was so dangerous because it encroached on the actual border between the two countries – not just the Nagorno-Karabakh region– and if Armenia goes too far, it will involve Russia, Turkey and Iran in what will morph into a regional conflagration.
These flagrant violations of international law by Armenia have been recognized by many world bodies who refuse to condemn Azerbaijani military actions to the frustration of the Armenians. International law is clearly on the side of Azerbaijan, and today, there exists no less than 4 UN Security Council Resolutions calling on Armenia to withdraw its military forces from Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding districts it currently occupies.
Armenia would be wise to remember that the Azerbaijan they fought in the early 1990s is a very different animal than the one they are facing now. During the last three decades, Azerbaijan has developed a strong economy, a vibrant society with world class educational and cultural facilities, as well as a professionally trained, well-equipped modern army, complete with state of the art command and control systems, advanced weapons and technology that gives Azerbaijan the ability to best the lesser Armenian side.
This was evidenced in the April 2016 outbreak of hostilities, started by Armenia, but finished by the better trained and equipped Azerbaijanis. Azerbaijan liberated a large swath of land and strategic highlands routing out the Armenians.
One of the liberated villages, Jojug Marjanli, was recently visited by the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan, Dan Stav, along with other foreign diplomats and heads of international organizations.
Ambassador Stav commented how saddened he was to see the level of destruction in the village, but also expressed hope that people would soon be able to return to the village and cultivate the surrounding fertile land. He also backed the efforts of the international community for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
A window of opportunity exists right now for that peaceful resolution to take place, and despite the often-bleak assessment of the situation and the constant ceasefire violations, the foreign ministers of both Azerbaijan and Armenia met recently in Munich, which can only be seen as a positive sign.
With an economy that is in deep decline, diminishing foreign investments, a palpable brain drain and a lack of international allies, Armenia must examine the isolation it has suffered due to its bad behaviour, i.e., Armenia’s absence from involvement in the plethora of economic development and integration projects, and the region’s vast and lucrative energy projects.
It is in Armenia’s interests to settle this conflict now—for all the many and dire economic reasons. A resolution will provide Armenians with better and more prosperous lives. It will allow Armenia entrée into the vastly lucrative economic development projects of the region. Also, do Armenians really want to needlessly face the Azerbaijanis on the battlefield—alone?
Prosperity brings peace and, likewise, peace brings prosperity. This opportunity should be seized, because windows of opportunity, by their very nature, will eventually close.
Justin Amler is a noted writer and commentator on international issues with special emphases on the Middle East, Eurasia and the former Soviet Union.