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Anger in Yerevan as Armenia, Azerbaijan agree to end war in Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenia effectively admits defeat in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, and will be forced to cede territory held since 1994.

Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia signed an agreement early on November 10 to end almost two months of fighting in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The agreement, which came just hours after Armenian officials confirmed that the key city of Shusha (known as Shushi in Armenia), the second-biggest city in the enclave, had been taken by Azeri forces, was described by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan as “unspeakably painful”.

“[This] agreement as the best possible solution to the current situation,” said Mr Pashinyan. “While it is unspeakably painful for me personally and for our people, it follows an in-depth analysis of the military situation”. The agreement follows weeks of advances by Azeri troops who, in possession of more modern weapons, have overpowered Armenian forces.

The announcement of a full ceasefire sparked a violent response in Armenia, with angry protesters storming government buildings in Yerevan where they ransacked offices and broke windows. Videos published on social media appeared to show protesters dragging Ararat Mirzoyan, the speaker of the country’s parliament, out of his car and beating him on the street. His injuries were so bad that he had to be hospitalised.

Protesters also attempted to storm Mr Pashinyan’s home but were turned back by a heavy police presence.

Azerbaijan’s defence ministry released a video Monday showing the country’s flag flying on public buildings in Shusha, which is just 10 kilometres from the regional capital Stepanakert. The video shows deserted streets and damaged buildings.

Later on Monday, Azerbaijan apologised for downing a Russian helicopter near the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, saying it was an accident.

Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev said the agreement was “historic” and that Armenia had been forced to negotiate because of Azerbaijan’s military successes.

“This statement has historic significance,” he wrote on Twitter. “This statement constitutes Armenia’s capitulation. This statement puts an end to the years-long occupation. This statement is our Glorious Victory!”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the two sides would hold on to areas in Nagorno-Karabakh under their control and that Russian peacekeepers would be deployed along frontlines and to secure a corridor connecting the region with Armenia. However, Armenia will be forced to hand the strip of land – which it has occupied since 1994 – that sits between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia by December 1.

The unrest in Nagorno-Karabakh dates back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the region, backed by Armenia, declared independence from Azerbaijan.

Shusha was captured by Armenian forces in 1992 and Nagorno-Karabakh established a de facto independence that is not recognized by most of the world. A 1994 ceasefire brought the violent conflict over the enclave to an end, but tensions continued, with irregular skirmishes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.

Azerbaijan has long claimed it would retake the territory, which is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani.

Since the resumption of fighting in September, as many as 5,000 people have been killed, and as many as 40,000 ethnic Armenians have been forced to flee the region.

Mr Pashinyan, who took office in 2018 the wake of widespread protests that forced the resignation of his predecessor, Serzh Sargsyan, now faces a battle to cling on to power. Protests are likely to continue, and 17 opposition parties have called for Mr Pashinyan’s resignation.

The 17 parties have vowed to overturn the peace agreement and resume fighting should they be successful in removing Mr Pashinyan’s government.

Will Lavender, a senior policy and advocacy officer at the European Friends of Armenia, a Brussels based NGO which seeks to promote EU-Armenian relations, says that it is very difficult at this point to see where things will go in Armenia.

“So far the public reaction has been very negative and we have witnessed turbulent scenes in Yerevan,” he says. “The deal is by no means seen in terms of peace, but in terms of surrender.”

Mr Lavender was also critical of the European Union, which he describes as “absent”.

“By and large this is a Russian-imposed peace, which will see Russian troops heavily ensconced in the region and will dramatically alter the balance in Russia-Armenia relationship. This will have long term implications for Armenia’s domestic politics and its relationship with the EU,” he says.

“Once again, the EU has been completely absent, despite the Eastern Partnership’s aims of bringing the rule of law and democracy to its neighbourhood. This peace has emboldened autocratic Azerbaijan and could undermine pro-western/pro-democratic trends in Armenia.”

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