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The West Should Not Abandon Armenia

More than 120,000 Christian Armenians continue to face the threat of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno Karabakh, a region inside Azerbaijan. Over the past few weeks, the E.U., the U.S., and Russia have hosted rounds of talks about the crisis between Armenia and Azerbaijan. But these meetings are unlikely to resolve the crisis, even though Armenia recently made painful and substantial concessions. Given the indifference and, frankly, complicity of outside powers, the Azeri strongman, President Ilham Aliyev, has little incentive to negotiate in good faith—and his declared ambitions include not only Karabakh, but Armenia itself. The international community needs to do more than convene meetings to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.

As I explained last year, the current crisis is the latest episode in a conflict that dates to the Armenian Genocide of 1915, when the Ottomans eliminated the Armenian Christians of Anatolia in hopes of creating a pan-Turkic empire that would extend from the Mediterranean through the Caucasus into Central Asia. Karabakh survived the genocide and Joseph Stalin made it an autonomous region within the newly created (and Muslim-majority) Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic in the 1920s. When the Soviet Union dissolved, Karabakh Armenians declared independence. A brutal war ensued, after which Armenians controlled Karabakh and several surrounding regions they held as bargaining chips for an eventual settlement.

In the succeeding decades, flush with money from its natural gas industry, Azerbaijan built up its military. In September 2020, the Azeris attacked and reconquered all the surrounding regions and parts of Karabakh. At the time, Turkish President Erdogan boasted of “fulfilling the mission of our grandfathers in the Caucasus.” Russia, supposedly Armenia’s protector, intervened only at the last minute and fashioned a ceasefire agreement in November 2020 that the parties agreed would last five years.

The Russian-brokered ceasefire has been a farce. Although it has some 2000 peacekeepers in the region, Russia has shown itself unable—or, more likely, unwilling—to stop continued Azeri aggression. Azerbaijan has launched two large-scale invasions of Armenia since the ceasefire was proclaimed, seizing significant territory while Russian peacekeepers stood by. Since December, Azerbaijan has blockaded Karabakh, creating a humanitarian crisis. In February, the International Court of Justice ruled that the blockade violates international law and ordered Azerbaijan to reopen the road that links Karabakh to the outside world. The Azeri government has simply ignored the ruling.

Azerbaijan can safely do so because it knows Russia would block enforcement of the ICJ’s ruling in the U.N. Security Council. This might come as a surprise to Americans, who assume that Armenia and Russia are partners. That hasn’t been the case for years. Armenia’s current government is pro-Western and has tried to balance the country’s economic and military ties with Russia with new links to Europe and the U.S. This is popular in Armenia. Armenians resent Russia’s failure to honor treaty obligations and protect Armenia when Azerbaijan invaded in September 2022, and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has publicly questioned whether Armenia will remain in the CSTO, the Russian-led security organization. A recent poll shows that a majority of Armenians now think of France and the U.S. as potential political partners rather than Russia.

Read more at First Things 

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