Azerbaijan’s victory opens the door to a more proactive role for Azerbaijan in the Caucasus

"Baku by night" by teuchterlad is licensed under CC BY 2.0

By | Rachel Brooks

November 16, 2020 

 Above, Baku at night, CC By 2.0

Baku TV reported on November 14 that Azerbaijan had achieved both a diplomatic and military success. The Azerbaijani news channel featured special guest Irina Tsukerman, a political analyst and journalist with Republic Underground News. Tsukerman noted the importance of Azerbaijan’s success. 

“This peace agreement is a major military and diplomatic success,” said Tsukerman, speaking with Baku TV. 

Despite the positive aspects of this brokered deal, the world has approached the peace process in the Nagorno-Karabakh with some misgivings. Worthy of note are the opinions of the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace analysts who have looked on wondering what might happen now, in the wake of what has been seen to be a leg-up for Azerbaijan in the world diplomacy, despite the drawbacks. They have looked at the process through the lens of world proxy conflict, as is characterized by Michael Young’s article “Playing Great Games in the South Caucasus.” 

These negative proxy opinions are founded in the legacy of all sides, but fail to address the potential future of a changing Azerbaijan. With Azerbaijan as the sovereign of Nagorno-Karabakh, now resuming control, the legacy theater in the Caucasus will now see the disruption of old and understood roles.

Western opinion holds negative biases 


On November 12, Carnegie analyst Paul Stronski published an analysis of diplomatic success. It was entitled “A Stunted Peace in the Nagorno-Karabakh.” This article argues that, in the wake of the six-week war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the regional landscape of the Caucasus has “shifted.” This is seen to be the official end of this conflict, after three decades. It is seen as such because Azerbaijan, with superior military forces, would have no great difficulty diverting acts of Armenian extremism should Armenian nationalist groups contest the peace.

 Likewise, there is also the looming presence of Russia, the foreign actor who mitigated the peace deal. Russia has been seen by civilians of both sides of the conflict as an occupier of the territory. Stronski called this “neither the end nor a new beginning” but rather the pause between ancient imperial rivalries and a moment that, while it “should have been joyous, now falls flat.” 


Stronski argues that the aftermath of this war is a devastating blow to the progress of moving forward. The war, while only lasting for six weeks, was a bloody affair. Civilians were targeted in Ganja, Barda, and Tartar, and infrastructure was damaged on both sides. The blood and damages of the war will require costly rebuilding. 


Likewise, Stronski argued that the heavy blow dealt with Armenia’s democratically elected government is a sign that national security will outweigh democracy. Stronski notes that the mob beating of Armenia’s parliamentary speaker in the wake of the ceasefire agreement hails back to the “tragic legacy” of Armenia’s democratic failures, a legacy of political violence. 


Stronski likewise also noted that, while the Azerbaijani leadership previously faced opposition for its policies, this leadership is now seen as national heroes. Stronski argued that this was a negative blow for diplomatic success. 


The western opinion of the diplomatic success for Azerbaijan is conducive to critical issues in future western foreign policy in the region. The west has a pronounced bias against the Azerbaijani government, hailing it only as a Turkish proxy, even though Azerbaijan is an independent republic. This western bias shapes response to the region that is problematic for the diplomatic future of the region. 


Stronski argued in his review that the Moscow treaty is problematic because it only addresses the cessation of hostilities. It does not lay out a clear plan for repatriation of refugees, or reconstruction of the war zone. Turkey is not a signatory of the deal but is seen as having a role in the diplomatic process of the post-war, because of the ethnic heritage relationship between Turkey and Azerbaijan. 


The undetermined terms of the Moscow deal put the responsibility back on Azerbaijan as the rightful sovereign of the region. Azerbaijan’s military success, and current success as a diplomatic responder to the terms of the ceasefire, which included a step-by-step willingness to end hostilities once Armenian forces formally surrendered their offensive. 


These negative Western opinions were addressed by Tsukerman, who has worked closely with the Azerbaijani community worldwide to understand Azerbaijani rhetoric. 


“Western opinion is focused on the danger of Turkey’s increased influence in the region, which they view as the likely outcome as a result of this agreement. However, few spend any time researching Azerbaijan’s positions on regional issues, its commitment to non-aggression abroad, its pride in its history distinct from the Ottoman Empire, and its internal mandates which lend protection to minority religions and their practitioners, as well as to minority ethnicities. It should be noted that Baku is a stalwartly independent state which seeks to preserve its unique role in the Caucasus and takes no direction from Moscow, Ankara, or Tehran,” said Tsukerman. 

“In the last few years, the government dismissed several officials who had held views deemed to be overly sympathetic to Russian ambitions in the region; its relationship with TUrkey is relegated to cultural, energy, and trade issues. You will see no Azerbaijanis partaking in any of Turkey’s exploits abroad. Facts on the ground, rather than assumptions and racist stereotypes, should be taken into consideration when commenting on Azerbaijan’s peace agreement and its delicate diplomatic relationship with its neighbors.” 

Tsukerman noted that the two states, while cousins are not entirely alike in their geopolitics either. Azerbaijan is making note of the world’s concerns. 

“Despite significant concerns about this agreement, it is clear that Baku is aware of international concerns and is seeking to balance out the major powers and create incentives for the preservation of stability and focus on trade and investment in the region, rather than facilitation of further military activity from any of the sides or third parties,” said Tsukerman. 

Azerbaijan’s opportunity to enter the world stage 


This behavior characterizes an Azerbaijan that now has the opportunity to lead the charge in reversing the stigmas against its government and its relationship with Turkey. Azerbaijan can now recover as a sovereign in a critical region. The actions Azerbaijan takes now will determine its future. With the world’s eyes on Azerbaijan, and how they will treat refugees and survivors of the war, the chance to challenge age-old biases now has the eyes of the whole world on it. Azerbaijan was noted characteristically throughout the Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts as the peace-maker. 


This has been characterized by how Azerbaijan extended the offer to repatriate the remains of fallen Armenian soldiers. Likewise, Azerbaijan has allowed Armenians to live within their territory peacefully despite the aggressions between the two nations. 


Internal healing for Azerbaijan conducive to regional security 


The facts versus the western opinion of Azerbaijan show that this one victory can lead to other victories. Azerbaijan, a nation snuffed out by violence and propaganda in the eyes of the world vista, is now in a place to take leadership and insist that world law and order be maintained. The world will watch for fear of the proxy players, namely Turkey and Russia, and seeing the evidence, they are likely to back Azerbaijan’s stabilization efforts. 


As Azerbaijan stabilizes internally, the opportunity to correct errors of diplomacy that the west has latched on to as reasons to bar the state off can also be addressed.