In Depth

Armenia-Azerbaijan war: what does peace deal mean?

Armenians react furiously as territorial concessions handed to rival in deal organised by Russia

Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia have surprised the international community by ratifying an agreement to end six weeks of fierce fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh region that has left thousands dead.

Around 2,000 Russian peacekeeping troops have been deployed to the contentious region to facilitate a peace deal between Azerbaijan and the Armenian-backed Nagorno-Karabakh government, which refers to itself as the Republic of Artsakh.

However, many Armenians have been infuriated by the terms of the deal, which includes territorial concessions from the local government to Azerbaijani authorities. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called the deal “incredibly painful both for me and both for our people”.

Protesters in the capital Yerevan stormed the national parliament, “beating up the speaker and reportedly looting the prime minister’s office”, the BBC reports. By contrast, thousands of Azerbaijani citizens were seen celebrating on the streets of the capital Baku.

What is Nagorno-Karabakh?

Nagorno-Karabakh, known to Armenians as Artsakh, is a small region in central Azerbaijan. In 1918, the two nations went to war for control of the area after both declared independence from Russia following that country’s Bolshevik Revolution.

By the end of the war, in 1994, the Armenians were in full control of most of the enclave and also held seven regions beyond the administrative borders of Nagorno-Karabakh. These regions have been under the administrative authority of the so-called Republic of Artsakh, a breakaway state heavily reliant on Armenian support.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijian were brought under full Soviet control in 1920 and remained relatively peaceful for decades. But as the Soviet Union began to collapse in the late 1980s, the Armenia-Azerbaijan War erupted, with a number of territories in the two nations changing hands multiple times.

Armenia claims the right to control Nagorno-Karabakh owing to the region’s long-standing Armenian ethnic make-up, with a 2015 census showing that 99.7% of the population is ethnically Armenian. There is also a significant religious divide between the two countries, with Armenia being predominantly Christian, while Azerbaijan is overwhelmingly Muslim.

But Armenia’s claim to the region - along with the Republic of Artsakh itself - has not been recognised by any UN members, all of whom still consider the disputed areas as being under Azerbaijani jurisdiction.

What has happened up until now?

Fighting escalated in October this year as both sides blamed each other for the deadly attacks in Nagorno-Karabakh, following a lengthy period of relative peace in the region.

Reports about what has been happening on the ground are confusing, with tallies of deaths varying significantly, but several thousand people are feared to have died since the conflict began in the territory.

The clashes mark “the worst escalation in violence since 2016” between the two sides, says Al Jazeera, which reports that “most of the international community, including the United States, Russia, Iran and European powers”, have been calling for an end to hostilities and the start of peace talks.

Following the outbreak of violence, France, Germany, Italy, and the EU swiftly urged an “immediate ceasefire”, while Pope Francis said he was praying for peace, The Moscow Times reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also called for “an end to hostilities” shortly after fighting began.

Meanwhile, the US State Department said Washington had contacted the authorities in Armenia and Azerbaijan “to urge both sides to cease hostilities immediately, to use the existing direct communication links between them to avoid further escalation, and to avoid unhelpful rhetoric and actions”.

The long-running dispute in the Caucasus “attracts regional and Western concern because the area is a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas from the Caspian Sea to global markets”, The Guardian reports.

And on Monday, Azerbaijani forces shot down a Russian helicopter that was flying over Armenia, killing two servicemen, says The Telegraph.

What does the peace deal mean?

Despite the shooting down of the Russian helicopter, Russia and Azerbaijan have collaborated to draft an agreement to end six weeks of fierce fighting that has seen Armenia slowly lose territory to its larger neighbour to the east.

And although the terms of the deal do not favour Armenia, Al Jazeera reports that the Armenian PM agreed to the agreement, confirming that it would take effect from 1am on Tuesday (9pm GMT on Monday).

Meanwhile Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said in a televised address that “the signed trilateral statement will become a (crucial) point in the settlement of the conflict”.

The agreement came hours after ethnic Armenian officials confirmed that the key city of Shusha (known as Shushi in Armenia), the second-biggest city in Nagorno-Karabakh, had been taken by Azeri forces, badly denting Armenia’s hopes of territorial advantage in the conflict.

Facing all-out defeat, Pashinyan told Armenians that he had been forced into signing the deal by his military, despite significant amounts of territory having been lost to Azerbaijan.

Reaction to the news in Armenia has been furious, with The Guardian reporting that it set off a “political shockwave”  in which “hundreds of people took to the streets and stormed government buildings”.

“Windows were smashed and broken glass littered the lobby of Pashinyan’s official residence,” the paper adds. “Police officers looked on as demonstrators - including some army veterans wearing military fatigues - filled the ornate, wood-panelled offices, shouting and delivering furious speeches.”

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