Despite many international calls for the withdrawal of pro-Armenian forces from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven districts, these territories are still under Armenian occupation after more than 25 years.
The inauguration ceremony of the new “President” of the de-facto Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh on 21 May was controversial. For a start, it took place in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, with governments and the broader public very busy fighting the spread of the disease.
Moreover, the ceremony was intended to derail the ongoing peace process, and came after the de-facto state held two rounds of presidential elections, on 31 March and 14 April. It should be noted that the separatists’ self-proclaimed independence has not been recognised by any sovereign country. Despite many international calls for the withdrawal of pro-Armenian forces from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven districts, these territories are still under Armenian occupation after more than 25 years.
Furthermore, the so-called rulers of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh not only sent thousands of voters to the ballot box in the middle of a pandemic and put their lives at risk, but also decided to hold the inauguration ceremony in Shusha rather than the self-proclaimed capital Khankendi (Stepanakert).
Shusha has a special significance for Azerbaijan, because Azerbaijanis were the main inhabitants of the city before its occupation, and some of the most established Azerbaijani cultural heritage originated from this town. The choice of the birthplace of prominent artists and political leaders of Azerbaijan sparked a wave of anger in Baku. Many politicians voiced their concerns about this, describing it as a provocation aiming to disrupt the peace talks.
The Velvet Revolution in Armenia, which brought Nikol Pashinyan to power, created a positive expectation for the resolution of the bloody conflict, which has resulted in more than 30,000 casualties and almost a million Azerbaijani internally displaced persons. While Prime Minister Pashinyan started with positive remarks in the year of his election, he then shifted back to the regressive mood of his predecessors.
Armenian demands to introduce the de-facto Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as one of the equal stakeholders of the possible peace agreement and even to annex the region to Armenia have increased over the past year. This is despite some official developments preparing the people of both sides for peace.
Moreover, holding an election in the middle of one of the biggest global crises in recent history is a clear reflection of Armenia’s attempt to present a political fait accompli and further strengthen the so-called regime in the occupied territories. However, the EU, NATO and the OSCE have all condemned the process and labelled the election “illegitimate”.
Former US ambassador to Azerbaijan and former OSCE Minsk Group co-chair Matthew Bryza stated that the struggle for Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence could not help the peace process. He also noted that the choice of Shusha as the location for the inauguration was provocative.
Official voices from Baku reflected the same viewpoint on the issue. Azerbaijani MP and Chairman of the Azerbaijani community of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, Tural Ganjaliyev, questioned the legitimacy of the newly elected’ “President’” and argued that he is only a puppet who is appointed by the government of Armenia.
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs made it clear that the recent developments represent a continuation of Armenian activities endeavouring to sabotage the peace talks and escalate military tensions.
Social media in Azerbaijan was divided into two camps. While some users advised the authorities not to fall for Armenian provocation, others called for a military operation against Shusha to prevent the inauguration. Some users also discussed the military past of the “newly elected” President Arayik (Ara) Harutyunian in the Karabakh war, questioning his role in the war crimes committed by Armenians in the 1990s.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev declared that the army always stands ready for alternative solutions to the peaceful resolution of the conflict. A peaceful resolution is still very important for regional stability. Besides its economic and military effects, the dispute could easily have a negative spillover effect on neighbouring states.
As one of Azerbaijan’s long-standing allies, Turkey has always expressed its support for Baku over Nagorno-Karabakh. It is a known fact that several terrorist organisations, such as the PKK and ASALA, have been involved in the conflict. At one stage, there was a secret plan to relocate the PKK to the occupied territories in Nagorno-Karabakh.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that Russia could well intervene in the conflict militarily in favour of its ally Armenia. A Russian military base and airborne units continue to protect the country. Furthermore, Moscow continues to supply Yerevan with modern weapons, such as the SU-30SM fighter aircraft.
Tensions in the region may lead to yet another stalemate between Turkey and Russia, similar to those in Libya and Syria.
For now, though, priority is being given to a peaceful solution for the conflict. While there are warmongers on both sides, Baku still hopes for a peaceful resolution, whereby the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh can be citizens of Azerbaijan and leave their separatist ideals behind.