The Intractability Of Armenia And Azerbaijan

According to Euronews, after talks on October 31st, 2022 Armenia and Azerbaijan said in a joint statement that they “agreed not to use force” and to “settle all disputes solely on the basis of recognition of mutual sovereignty and territorial integration.” Reuters, sourcing from RIA news agency, also said that Armenia and Azerbaijan will “stick to earlier agreements that sought to end fighting” between the two nations. The talks were hosted in Sochi by President Vladimir Putin in an effort to assert geopolitical strength, but unfortunately on November 4, 2022 reported that the Armenian Defence Ministry announced that Azerbaijani Armed Forces “opened fire with small arms of various calibers.” Luckily, also reported no loss of Armenian life and that the “border is relatively stable” as of 10 p.m. local time. The Azerbaijani Defence Ministry came out and, according to Trend news agency, “notes that the Azerbaijani units did not open fire” and claims the original report by Armenia is false. 

NPR explains how tension has been prevalent between Armenia and Azerbaijan for decades namely because of one region: Nagorno-Karabakh. It is an area of land within Azerbaijan and is recognized internationally as Azerbaijan, but it is home to a majority of ethnic Armenians. In a 1997 Foreign Affairs article, David Rieff says that after declaring independence in 1988 pogroms escalated to war and eventually killed 25,000 people and displaced over 1 million. An article from the Anadolu Agency explains that the Bishkek Protocol was a ceasefire signed on May 8, 1994, and instated on May 12, but that a peace treaty never followed. The Anadolu Agency continues to assert that “although larger attacks and operations ended…both parties lost thousands of soldiers.”

The International Crisis Group reports that “the dam broke in September 2020, and full-fledged war resumed on the 27th of that month.” In November 2020, per the International Crisis Group, after over 7,000 people were killed, Russia helped broker another ceasefire. The International Crisis Group has been monitoring violence in the region since the November 2020 ceasefire and has counted at least 1,140 people – soldiers and civilians – killed or injured with 805 cases occurring in September of 2022. The most recent violence unfortunately spilled out of Nagorno-Karabakh and onto the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan which “increases the risk of a direct state-to-state conflict.”

The decades-old and bloody conflict has attracted the attention of several international mediators: states and non-governmental organizations alike. France, Iran, Russia, the United States and the United Nations all have made attempts at brokering peace. Iran made the first attempt in the early 1990s according to an archived article from Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. Shortly after Iran made little progress, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) created the Minsk Group. Led by France, Russia, and the United States, the Minsk Group, according to their website, was created in 1994 to uphold the Budapest Summit decision and “provide appropriate framework for conflict resolution” by guiding the negotiation process to help the warring parties agree to move toward peace and allow OSCE peacekeepers to enter the countries. However, it was eventually Russia that brokered the ceasefire Bishkek Protocol in 1994 according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The Council goes on to say that the ceasefire was formally in place until September 2020. As reported by Al Jazeera, initial pressure to end violence from Russia, the United Nations and the United States in 2020 went largely ignored by Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Council on Foreign Relations states that in November 2020 Russia was able to broker another ceasefire and sent Russian peacekeepers into the region. 

The outlook for Armenia and Azerbaijan is bleak. As of October 7, 2022, The Council of Foreign Relations cites “the failure of mediation efforts, increased militarization, and frequent ceasefire violations” as reasons why there is a heightened risk for military conflict. The persistent violence and inability to diplomatically address the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan indicates that the two countries are involved in an intractable conflict. In his paper From Intractable Conflict Through Conflict Resolution to Reconciliation: Psychological Analysis Daniel Bar-Tal defines intractable conflicts as “being protracted, irreconcilable, violent, of a zero-sum nature” in which both sides have “an interest in their continuation” that requires the people involved to develop stubborn psychological defence mechanisms to keep fighting because of the enduring trauma. Timelines and data provided by the International Crisis Group indicate that violence is escalating following decades of routine peace-building methods, which according to an article published by Peter Coleman on the American Psychological Association website, tend “to make them worse.” 

Intractable conflicts run deep in the populations they affect, poisoning the psyche of the people which means surface-level conflict resolution tactics will always fail because if a peace deal is struck, the people do not know how to coexist. The solution is to instead focus on reconciliation. Daniel Bar-Tal explains that reconciliation helps people “form new relations of peaceful coexistence based on mutual trust and acceptance, cooperation, and consideration of each other’s needs.” Although conflict resolution is essential for reconciliation, it is imperative to fix the “psychological framework” immediately because it takes time to undo generational trauma. In short, reconciliation gives the warring populations skills that help build bridges of understanding and properly advocate for ending violence in their political, social and economic spheres.

One way people living in conflict can work toward reconciliation is through people-to-people peace-building. Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen describes people-to-people peace-building as “a dynamic field that encompasses a range of approaches and strategies to advance peace” in order to “create relational and structural conditions conducive to peaceful coexistence and reconciliation.”  Typical people-to-people peace-building programs use facilitated dialogue to heal the trauma that is making cooperation and collaboration impossible. They then implement curated workshops and activities to develop leadership, teamwork and storytelling skills the participants can use in their communities to ignite grassroots movements.

Right now, people-to-people peace-building is being studied in Israel and Palestine which is another land-based intractable conflict. The field is new and more monitoring and evaluation needs to be done before there is conclusive evidence of its effectiveness, but early studies, according to Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, demonstrate that “academic evaluations…show a field that reduces stereotypes, fosters critical thinking skills, creates openness to hearing the perspective of the other side and provides motivation to work longer-term toward peace-building goals.” Kurtzer-Ellenbogen shares that a study conducted on a non-governmental organization named Seeds of Peace indicated that 140/800 participants went on to work for 40 unique peace-building initiatives as adults. Additionally, she lists a few projects that have developed because of people-to-people peace-building initiatives, they include: getting Arabic language instruction in Jewish schools, local community dialogue on Mount Zion where Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities struggle to coexist, and an Israeli and Palestinian led movement to improve access to water resources in dry areas. 

The people of Armenia and Azerbaijan have long suffered from the ongoing conflict and are trapped in a vicious cycle of failed ceasefires. Each attempt by third-party mediators to broker peace merely put band-aids over political demands without healing the trauma hurting the people most affected by the violence. In order for peace to be sustained after a ceasefire, the people on both sides need to feel understood and that their pain and grievances have been thoroughly addressed. Although new and relatively unstudied, people-to-people peace-building offers a way for those stuck in intractable conflicts to begin healing. By addressing the generational trauma and learning new skills, the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan can work together to hold politicians accountable and build back their communities together. 



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