Staunton, December 21 – For nearly 30 years, Armenians and those who hoped to avoid the renewal of armed clashes spoke about the status quo around Qarabagh; but Azerbaijanis hated the term because it marked for them a form of unacceptable national denigration, Kirill Krivosheyev says.
But if the old status quo is dead, the Kommersant journalist argues, a new one is emerging, one that reflects the fact that many of the most critical questions about the dispute between the two nations have not been addressed and that there are new power centers present, including most prominently Russian peacekeepers (carnegie.ru/commentary/83508).
What that means, Krivosheyev says, is that “the conflict in Qarabagh is far from being over,” however much Azerbaijanis would like to speak of it in the past tense. “For Baku, everything looks simple: first, Armenian forces will leave under the supervision of Russian peacekeepers and then Azerbaijani organs of power will begin to work.”
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has promised that the Armenians of Qarabagh can be certain that their security as citizens of Azerbaijan will be protected. They will live better after the replacement of the criminal junta” (rbc.ru/politics/22/10/2020/5f9166a89a7947b950f14f21). But far from all Armenians there believe that.
Baku has also declared repeatedly that “the self-proclaimed NKR no longer exists.” Its government has been displaced, the Armenian forces have withdrawn, and Azerbaijani military units surround the remainder of the area it used to occupy. But again, Krivosheyev says, the situation is rather more uncertain than that.
The NKR officials continue to issue statements, and the commander of the Russian peacekeepers has met with them, even embracing their leader, thus suggesting that both the position of these officials and that of the Russian peacekeepers is in conflict with the Azerbaijani understanding.
It is important to remember, the Moscow analyst says, that “de jure, the second Qarabagh war changed nothing as far as the NKR is concerned.” The entity was not mentioned in the November 10 declaration, and while it has lost most of its territory and is agricultural base, it still functions as the government in the cities of Stepanakert, Hojali, Askeran, Martakert and Martuni.
There are two other issues that are likely to roil the waters. On the one hand, the Russians say that “more than 40,000” Armenians have now returned to Qarabagh after leaving in the first days after the Azerbaijani advance. And on the other, the distinction between the military and civilians as far as guns are concerned is very much blurred.
The November 10 declaration calls for the withdrawal of Armenian forces but it says nothing about NKR police or about members of the population who have taken up arms. Many had assumed that there must have been some supplemental accord on this, but that is not the case (kommersant.ru/doc/4615765).
As a result, there are many people with weapons in the region and under the control of no one beyond their commanders, a recipe for clashes in the future. Russian peacekeepers are unlikely to devote much of their efforts to disarming them, making such “illegal armed formations” a serious problem.
But the biggest problem is this: how is the region to be governed. In 1988, when the conflict began, Soviet military personnel took over the civilian functions in Qarabagh; but now, Russian peacekeepers have not. Azerbaijani civil administrators are not in a position to return, and in this vacuum, NKR officials are likely to continue to operate.
None of these issues has been resolved, and each of the sides is likely to interpret what agreements which have been signed in their own way, setting the stage for still more conflicts. According to Krivosheyev, the new status quo is unlikely to firm up until after the departure of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
But when and even if that takes place remains an open question – and by itself, that action won’t solve all the problems the participants have.