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  • Aryaman Srivastava

The Aftermath of Nagorno-Karabakh: A Geopolitical Crossroads

Aryaman Srivastava is a first-year undergraduate student reading (BSc) Politics and
International Relations in the Department of Political Science at University College London (UCL).

The opinions expressed in this article reflect the opinions of its author(s). They do not represent the views of UCL's Diplomacy Society, Diplomacy Review nor The Diplomat.

Image courtesy of The Harriman Institute - Columbia University

Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region in the South Caucasus region comprising a majority ethnic Armenian population, has long been subject to tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, also referred to as the 44-day war, of 2020 saw Azerbaijani forces emerge victorious. A truce between the conflicting parties mediated by Russia, an ally of Yerevan, in November 2020 saw Azerbaijan reclaim all territories surrounding the Karabakh region while allowing Russian peacekeepers to supervise the only path, known as the Lachin Corridor, connecting Armenia to the region. 

However, the onset of a peaceful resolution was short-lived. Azerbaijan remilitarised the region in September 2023 on the basis of conducting “anti-terrorism” activities. As a result of Azerbaijan’s aggression, the livelihood of nearly 120,000 ethnic Armenians was threatened. Public protests in Armenia have only further ramped up pressure on Prime Minister Pashiyan to protect its people in Karabakh. Will the mass exodus of ethnic Armenians and the underlying threat of persecution finally lead to Azerbaijan’s total occupation of the region? More importantly, does the latest confrontation threaten Yerevan’s sovereignty? The latest crisis raises pressing questions about the future of the conflict, its long-term implications for Armenia, and the changing geopolitical situation between the actors involved.

One of the primary implications of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for Armenia has been an evolving geopolitical situation, increasingly threatening its territorial boundaries and sovereignty. The conflict has undoubtedly been a point of contention and discontent for Armenians. Nearly 100,000 ethnic Armenians, more than 70% of the total population, have fled back to Armenia, exacerbating pressure on government resources, given its already meagre population. Nagorno-Karabakh dissolved on the opening day of 2024 in accordance with the ceasefire agreement. Notwithstanding, the underlying concern amongst Armenians lies more with the future of Armenia rather than the loss of the Karabakh region. This fear arises from Armenia’s lack of strategic partners in the region that guarantee the security of its territorial boundaries, pressuring Pashiyan’s administration.

More importantly, Yerevan’s virtual surrender of the enclave points to a wider domestic, political problem of leadership. One may posit that while there is growing discontent with Pashiyan’s administration, the election of any other candidate would threaten Armenian democracy due to their Russian affiliations and undemocratic stance on governance. Moreover, an attempted coup in 2021 in response to the military’s dissatisfaction with Armenia’s defeat in the Karabakh conflict of 2020 indicates growing internal resistance to Pashiyan’s rule. If anything, the possibility of another attempted coup, considering Armenia’s total loss of the Karabakh enclave, cannot be discarded.

In consideration of regional implications, strained relations with its closest ally, Russia, were apparent through the Kremlin’s inaction toward Azerbaijan’s occupation of Karabakh, supported by Israel and Turkey. One may view Russia’s inactive role as a way of punishing Armenia for veering away from the Russian-initiated ‘Collective Security Treaty Organisation’ (CSTO) in search of Western support. Thus, Armenia’s decision to ratify the Rome Statute has only further chagrined Putin, who has been subject to arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in relation to the war in Ukraine.

Concerning the severe domestic instability caused by the latest Karabakh clash, one must also account for the future regional motives of Azerbaijan apart from the shrink in Russian support. Azerbaijan’s strong relations with Turkey in light of Armenia’s dwindling support from Russia and the West, given the greater prominence of the Israel-Hamas conflict, may foster a clear motive for expansion. Baku desires the opening of the Zangzeur corridor in Southern Armenia to provide unrestricted access to Nakhchivan, an Azerbaijani exclave located West of Armenia, bordering Iran and Turkey. Yerevan opposes the opening of the corridor, fearing a violation of its sovereignty and territorial borders. Yet, comments from Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in 2021 suggested the potential use of coercive means to establish the corridor “whether Armenia wants it or not.” Given the current status quo, Azerbaijan has already made preliminary progress toward developing the infrastructural framework for the corridor. At the same time, its strong relationship with Turkey stipulates that Baku might get its way, even if it is at the expense of Armenian sovereignty. This imbalanced power dynamic has led to what many scholars describe as “creeping annexation.”

However, establishing the Zangzeur corridor would threaten Armenia and Europe by allowing Azerbaijan, with Turkish and Russian support, to control a critical pathway linking Europe and Central Asia. Consequently, the European Union (EU) must reinforce its support for Armenia and foster peaceful talks with Azerbaijan through the European Peace Facility, which enables it to increase the defence security of countries not part of the bloc. A positive development has been extending the EU mission to Armenia (EUMA) to increase border monitoring and prevent the potential violation of ceasefire conditions. Additionally, to ensure the effective use of increased defence security, the EU’s provision of military training and education to Armenian forces can also go a long way in deterring threats to its sovereignty and avoiding the immediate escalation of an invasion.

Ultimately, Yerevan finds itself at a geopolitical crossroads, given its decaying relations with Russia and the fierce threat from Azerbaijan and Turkey to its territorial boundaries. It goes without saying that the EU has an imperative role to play as a mediating body in ensuring the maintenance of Armenia’s territorial sovereignty by limiting the opening of borders while providing humanitarian aid for the influx of ethnic Armenian refugees. More importantly, while it cannot single-handedly subdue Armenia’s neighbours, it certainly can ease Yerevan’s overbearing dependency on Russia, negotiate a peace settlement, and proffer it the stability it desperately needs.


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