Conditions around the conflict are not great. With a recent Azeri excursion into Armenia killing three soldiers, Armenians are seething again. Combine this anger with a comment from Azeri military leaders saying that they could take control of Artsakh in just 10 days and it’s clear there are some deep problems.
Artsakh remains in a very unstable setting and they know it. They celebrated the 20th anniversary of the liberation of Shushi on May 9th (a.k.a. Victory Day) with a parade of military hardware that would have made any soviet leader during the cold war proud.
With all the focus on defense, it’s easy to ignore the needs of the people. After twenty years of very limited growth, 69% of the people of Artsakh said social and economic development is their number one priority. However, even if one wants to only focus on the humanitarian situation, one can’t forget about the war’s IDPs or the POWs.
The Near Future
I wish I knew where we went from here. A few things I can see is that I doubt Azerbaijan will ever control the people of Artsakh or its land. The war against Azerbaijan is still fresh in their minds and many people of Artsakh (and Armenia) would kill and die before they allow Azerbaijan to control the region again. In more active conflicts, such as Northern Ireland and Britain, the people get tired of the decades of fighting and killing. Here, besides the few victims of ceasefire violations, the people are safe but hyper-vigilant. That vigilance is constantly reinforced by the military service, government media, and retelling of stories of the heroes of the war for independence. To lower their guard enough to consider a peace talk is not a possibility for them. Chances are, only a unilateral statement by Azerbaijan that they would not invade militarily could make the people of Artsakh relax enough to consider significant concessions to Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan doesn’t need the land of Artsakh, but there’s no way they’ll simply give up the land. Land has always been one thing that states have been willing to fight over. With a military budget close to ten times larger than Armenia’s, Azerbaijan will soon be in a much better military position. Of course, they had a much larger military in the first war and still lost. Azerbaijan is not willing to lose face, so Armenia and Artsakh will have to give up some concession large enough to seem like a fair trade for Azerbaijan to accept. Convincing Armenian leaders to give such a concession is easier said than done. Some Armenian commentators have said that Azerbaijan can’t give independence to Artsakh, a key desire of Armenia, as other peoples within Azerbaijan could try to break away leading to overall state fragmentation. Unfortunately for now, continuing the hostilities is good politics for all the politicians involved.
To end on a positive note, as much of an intractable mess this entire conflict seems, “politics is the art of the possible.” – Otto von Bismarck