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The international community must act to bury Azerbaijan’s hatchet

The mass exodus of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh looks set to mark the end of three decades of fighting with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory. Nevertheless, Armenia needs real backing from the world’s democracies if it is to resist continued pressure from Baku.

October 16, 2023 - Valentina Gevorgyan - Articles and Commentary

The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, and the Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz meeting in Granada with Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia. Photo: Official release from the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia.

Democracy and human rights are concepts related to an ancient commitment to the eventual cause of justice. From Greek and Roman philosophy to the Atlantic Revolutions, from the Declaration of Independence (United States, 1776) to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), associated concepts entered contemporary political vocabulary and were used to advocate for peace in the period after the Second World War. Today, to uphold democratic standards and respect human rights in damaged corners of the world, we need to see the civilised community of states exercise protections and guarantees.

The post-Soviet space of Eurasia does not seem to run out of conflicts. The rather long and thorny journey of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has resulted in a tragedy for Armenians. It also resulted in a major human rights violation, making Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev a war criminal in line with the standards of a War Crime Tribunal. Now, at least 100,000 Armenians have been forcibly displaced from their ancestral home, the Armenian-populated and ancient region of Artsakh. This seems to be the consequence of an undertaking agreed upon with Russia. A peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (similar to any other conflicts in the post-Soviet space) has hardly been an honest goal of Russia. Why are Armenians not surprised?

It is naïve to think that the countries, especially with direct threats to their own security and independence, are able to rely on autocrats for any safety regarding their democratic plans and future. Consolidated authoritarian regimes of the world, the likes of Putin or Aliyev, have an intrinsic disregard for democratic values, electoral processes and legitimate leaders. Instead, they prefer violence, the established method of autocrats, showing difficulties in coming to terms with democracy and peace. The continued violence in the region, including and starting from the Nagorno-Karabakh 44-Day War (2020), Baku’s military provocations against Armenia proper since then, and Russia’s non-stop war in Ukraine, are self-evident examples in point.

Today’s Russia, advocating isolation and refusing modernity, can no longer be a reliable partner. Its active “garbage in, garbage out” propaganda policy continues to be filled with accusations and the blaming of Armenia for seeking alternatives to sustain its security and sovereignty. Essentially, Armenia is blamed for seeking ways to protect its interests, to maintain its independence, security and prospects for a democratic future. Therefore, Armenia is bound to revisit its own situation. It has to prevent the excessive flow of Russian propaganda into the country. At the same time, Armenia has to diversify its gas supply, security and other vital infrastructure, which has kept the country overwhelmingly dependent on Moscow.

Armenia has to look up to the civilised, powerful and consolidated democracies, to be able to withstand challenges unseen before. To do so, the country has its own responsibilities to fulfil in order to be able to change practice. Armenia has to withdraw its membership from the ill-fated Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), deepen its cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and seriously consider ways of positioning international peacekeeping forces and monitors along the entire line of contact with Azerbaijan. Armenian sovereign territories remain occupied by Azeri forces as a result of repeated attacks after November 9th 2020.

The West has to force Azerbaijan to respect Armenia’s sovereignty, to recognise its territorial integrity based on the 1991 Alma Ata Declaration, to implement border demarcation under international supervision, to establish regional communications by respecting Armenia’s jurisdiction, and to put an end to Azeri military provocations. Baku has to release Armenian detainees. Amid Azerbaijan’s horrific aggression against the Armenians, and the ethnic cleansing taking place, Yerevan needs protections and guarantees from actual partners from among the civilised community. Armenia needs urgent engagement with the powers evidently protecting democratic governance and peace. Armenia needs the attention, decision-making and support of the European Union and the United States.

When Russia waged its aggression on Ukraine, it seemed a replication of Azerbaijan’s war on Armenians in 2020. Aliyev has not been contained since. Now, after the horrific attacks on Israel, the international community thinks Hamas dared to do so, because Putin did, and has not been contained. Impunity of a smaller autocrat in one place leads to new violence at another. Where does this cycle of war mongering bloody and arbitrary decision-making stop? Where does this cycle of savage assaults and sickening atrocities plaguing peace end?

Despite the grave challenges, losses and ethnic cleansing in progress, Armenia chooses peace. This is because for a democratic transition and development the country needs peace. Without peace there can be no development. It is possible for the leaders of the free world, representing the civilised community, to prioritise peace – by prioritising Armenia’s interests, now for once. It is possible to prioritise the interests of Armenia and Armenian citizens, who demand new governance and lived to prove the wish to leave behind post-Soviet practices.

Azerbaijan continues to falsely accuse Armenia of ceasefire violations in order to build grounds for attacks. Armenia’s civilised partners have already learned that Azerbaijan is not going to bury its hatchet according to its own free will. Washington and Brussels, Berlin and Paris, and the collective of the consolidated democracies have to force Azerbaijan to bury its hatchet once and for all. The civilised community is bound to stand by a country with democratic potential amidst neighbours of an autocratic web. Otherwise, how else can we keep our commitment to the cause of peace and justice, how else can we plan to keep human rights and democracies alive?

Valentina Gevorgyan, PhD, is Assistant Professor at Yerevan State University.

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