Armenian-Azerbaijan Peace Deal: Bloodshed Ends But Problems Remain

November 10th saw the signing of the Azerbaijan-Armenian peace deal, ending six weeks of bloody conflict. Large swathes of Nagorno-Karabakh were awarded to Azerbaijan after being seized during the war. Ethnic Armenians who resided in these areas fled Armenia, often destroying their homes in the process. During the war, international law pertaining to the proper conduct of conflict was regularly flouted. Urban areas in both countries have been attacked using a weapon known as ‘cluster bombs,’ resulting in the death and injury of numerous civilians. These weapons are inherently indiscriminate, and their use on populated areas is abhorrent. Both countries must outlaw the use of these weapons immediately and renew efforts of negotiation to prevent further conflict.

Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch has condemned the use of cluster munitions, stating that “Both Armenia and Azerbaijan should immediately stop using cluster munitions, destroy their stockpile, and join the Convention on Cluster Munitions.” The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions expressly prohibits the use of cluster munitions. Neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia have joined the treaty, allegedly due to the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. The recent peace deal alone is unlikely to stabilize Nagorno-Karabakh. As noted by Olga Olika of the International Crisis Group in The Guardian, “The deal ends six weeks of heavy fighting, but it is not a comprehensive peace treaty,” adding that, “many of the details are still vague.” This leaves significant concerns about the effectiveness of the deal to maintain peace.

It is still unknown how peace will be maintained long-term. Before the war, peace was partly maintained through the use of open dialogue between the respective leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Talks broke down over Armenia’s claim that Nagorno-Karabakh would always be Armenian land, and the six week long war soon followed. Communication must be restored, and must be made resolute enough that it can weather disagreements. A comprehensive agreement over Nagorno-Karabakh must be reached through cooperative dialogue and negotiation, or the territorial dispute will remain an unresolved grievance for both countries, which will likely result in further conflict.

The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is a territorial dispute spanning decades. In the late 80s, Karabakh Armenians accused Azerbaijan with forced ‘Azerification’ of Karabakh, and sought to transfer control of the region to Armenia, by petitioning Moscow. Moscow refused the petition, and conflict erupted in 1988 between Karabakh and Azerbaijan. Armenia soon joined, and the conflict escalated until 1994 when Nagorno-Karabakh was recognized as independent by Azerbaijan. Territorial disputes and conflicts have regularly occurred over the region since. The recent free election of Nikol Pashinyan in Armenia brought hope that relations between the two countries would improve. However, the recent dispute broke out, in part due to Pashinyan’s claim that Karabakh was and always would be ‘Armenia.’ The involvement of Turkey and Russia also complicate relations. Turkey adamantly supports Azerbaijan’s claim, while Russia maintains good relations with both countries.

The dispute between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia and Azerbaijan is a complex grievance. All the actors involved are deeply invested in territorial security. Yet the region has been a constant state of conflict and insecurity for decades. To foster mutual security, Armenia and Azerbaijan must outlaw the use of the cluster bombs, and should approach further negotiations as openly as possible. Future negotiations should assess the interests of key players, particularly Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. Without these key steps, it seems likely that Nagorno-Karabakh will remain a significant security issue which will result in further conflict, death and displacement of civilians.