What the future might look like for the S. Caucasus post Karabakh conflict

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What the Future Might Look Like for the South Caucasus After the End of the Nagorno Karabakh Conflict Between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Aynur Bashirova

January 21, 2021 

Image credit: CC By 2.0. Outside of Shusha, in the Karabakh region, Azerbaijan. 

The ceasefire deal signed on 10 November 2020 put an official end to the 28 years of conflict over Nagorno Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia, also known as the second Nagorno Karabakh war. The deal was signed by heads of states of both countries, as well as the Russian President acting as a mediator. 

With this agreement, both sides acknowledged an end to the conflict, as well as the opening of transport and economic links, and the return of all refugees to the previously occupied regions.

Currently, the situation might look bleak for Armenia, which a couple of months ago lost the war to Azerbaijan. However, in the long-term, the current situation looks to be promising for Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the wider region in general. Depending on the effective management and willingness of governments and civilian populations of both countries, the end of the conflict is a promising factor for the development of the region. The opening of transportation and economic links is to the benefit of Yerevan, as much as it is to the benefit of Baku. 

Armenia, even if the winner of the first Karabakh war, had lost many economic opportunities in the long-term. 

Since the 1990s, Azerbaijan and Georgia have participated in and initiated numerous economic projects, many related to energy and transportation. These projects contributed to the economic development of Baku and Tbilisi. Economic and geopolitical developments that took place in the region since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, apart from having a positive contribution to these countries’ economies, also strengthened Azerbaijani-Georgian bilateral relations.

 They created interdependencies and fostered similar geostrategic outlooks. Armenia did not participate in these projects due to its occupation of Azerbaijani lands. As a result, Georgia’s links with Azerbaijan grew stronger, while Armenia grew more detached from the developments in its region. Today, according to the World Bank’s 2019 report, Azerbaijan’s GDP is calculated at 48.05 billion USD, Georgia’s 17.48 billion USD, and Armenia’s 13.67 billion USD. 

Nagorno Karabakh’s independence declaration was never recognized by any country, including Armenia itself. There are four UN resolutions 822, 853, 874, and 884 condemning the occupation and demanding immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan.

Besides, Armenia does not even share a border with Nagorno Karabakh and that was one of the reasons why seven adjoining regions were also occupied, making them eight regions in total. In 2020, Azerbaijan took back control over its formerly occupied territories. This war did not bring any positive gains to Yerevan. On the contrary, it left Armenia sidelined in regional geopolitics, contributed to the loss of trust as a neighbor most notably by Azerbaijan, and negatively affected its economic growth. That is why, in the long-run, the Nagorno Karabakh conflict had a more devastating effect on Armenia. 

Now, the conflict is officially over, this situation has a chance to change. Security obstacles standing in between Armenia’s reintegration into the region are diminished.

However, as we mentioned before, it all depends on the willingness. Cooperation would not be possible as long as Armenia continues to make demands to its neighbors’ lands (Armenia was in an official war over a territory only with Azerbaijan, but in the past has also voiced historical claims to Georgia and Turkey’s internationally recognized territories).

Transition to peace and integration will only be possible through economic and political cooperation and respect for each other’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and nationhood. Attempts to humiliate Azerbaijan or other regional countries through diminishing value of their culture and history in international media also is and will continue staying as an impediment contributing to a lack of trust toward Armenia as a reliable neighbor and partner. 

The end of Armenia’s economic blockade would be beneficial for the whole region, including Armenia. New reality would allow Yerevan to open not only to its region but also to the world. This would foster favorable conditions for its economic development. 

Opening of transportation links stipulated in the 10 November 2020 agreement would permit Azerbaijan to access its autonomous enclave Nakhchivan through Armenia’s Zangezur region, and Armenia to access Nagorno Karabakh through Azerbaijan’s liberated Lachin (was one of the seven adjoining occupied regions) corridor (see map 1 for more details). 

Around one million non-Armenians displaced during the first Nagorno Karabakh war would be able to live and travel to these regions. Armenians originally from Nagorno Karabakh also have a legal right to stay in their homes and enjoy the same benefits as all the other Azerbaijani citizens. 

Map 1. According to the 2020 agreement signed between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a safe transportation corridor will be provided linking Nagorno Karabakh with Armenia through Lachin, and Nakhchivan with the rest of Azerbaijan through Zangezur. (Credits to RF/ERL).

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has participated in numerous projects with its neighbors, including in areas such as energy, transportation, agriculture, and education. There are other economic and development projects on the agenda, most notably involving information, communication, and internet connectivity. In the future, if the transition to peace is successful, there is a chance for Baku and Yerevan to take part in the same endeavors. There is a chance for the end of this conflict not to have any losers. This is how the future might look like. 

It is still early to say whether this future will become a reality or when it will become a reality. There are still more pressing unresolved issues to be solved between the countries, such as monetary compensation, the status of diplomatic relations, and the security situation.