Historically, the strategic goal of Turkey and Azerbaijan was to eliminate the Armenian factor in the region. Artsakh, as well as the border regions of Armenia: Syunik, Vayots Dzor, Gegharkunik and Tavush are now on the edge. Regarding the regions, Baku has a new qualitative agenda: to create “Western Azerbaijan” in the entire territory of Armenia, which has already been declared. And today it is important for Ankara and Baku to end the issue of Artsakh. This will facilitate the further elimination of the entire Armenian statehood. The almost 3-month blockade is only one of the tools of depopulation. Moreover, Azerbaijan is putting forward a number of preconditions for the opening of the Berdzor (Lachin) corridor. By their nature, they pursue the same goal as the blockade. We will now analyze exactly what each of the requirements entail.
Condition 1: Setting up a checkpoint
The checkpoints of Berdzor corridor pursue several goals at once. First, Azerbaijan will fully control the goods arriving from Armenia to Artsakh. If any name of the products seems undesirable or “inconsistent with the norms” of Baku, then they simply will not be able to pass. And so, it is possible to completely close the flow of any vital cargo. In this sense, the installation of the checkpoint will become the strengthening of the Azerbaijani blockade. Second, Baku can monitor everyone who enters and exits. And here lies the main security threat. Those who have ever been to Artsakh can be accused of “illegally crossing the border”. And those who have served in Artsakh or participated in the war will be arrested on a number of charges: illegal carrying of weapons, participation in illegal armed groups and terrorism.
Condition 2: Withdrawal of “illegal” armed formations
By this formulation, Azerbaijan understands the complete disarmament of the defense army, which is the guarantor of the security of Artsakh. Considering the limited composition of Russian peacekeepers, they will not be able to maintain balance in the zone of more than 10,000 soldiers, which Azerbaijan has concentrated in the occupied regions of Artsakh. Therefore, the life and safety of the local population will be endangered. Baku’s parallel demand in this context is the disbanding of all power structures, first of all, the police. Azerbaijan is using the tools of the Ottoman Empire period, when Armenians did not have the right to bear arms, unlike the Turks. In this case, a situation is created when the entire Armenian population will be unarmed, surrounded by armed Azerbaijanis. In such an arrangement, the local population will either be forced to leave their residence or will easily submit to any new demands coming from Baku.
Condition 3: Closure of Mines
Demanding to close the “Kasheni” and “Drmbon” mines, Azerbaijan is pursuing two goals at once. First, it is creating excuses to ensure its regular presence. In other words, the requirements for compliance with environmental norms imply regular monitoring of the situation by Azerbaijani authorities. Second, the profit obtained from the utilization of mines constitutes a large part of the state budget of Artsakh. For example, until the war of 2020, the “Base Metals” company, which operates the mine, had paid about 19 billion drams to the budget of Artsakh. Baku, by demanding to close the mines, also wants to bleed the economy of the region, making it completely dependent and subsidized. After that, Azerbaijan will offer different formats of “salvation”, which, in fact, will become a tool to establish economic control over Artsakh. By this way the population will be dependent on the subsidies and prices of goods provided by Baku.
Condition 4: Dismissal of Ruben Vardanyan from the political life of Artsakh
Ruben Vardanyan’s character has caused great concern both in Baku and the West; he was viewed as a factor of Russian influence. Brussels and Washington believed that this factor was meant to guarantee the Russian presence in the region. In addition, Baku saw in his personality an important obstacle for the full absorption of Artsakh. This is due to the famous position of the former state minister, according to which Stepanakert chooses the path of resistance, preservation of statehood and struggle for international recognition, regardless of any Azerbaijani program. That is why this issue was raised at the highest level during the negotiations between Moscow and Baku. And as we can see, the departure of Ruben Vardanyan will allow a change of discourse within the leadership of Artsakh. Now, President Arayik Harutyunyan and the new state minister Gurgen Nersisyan are ready to discuss the “integration” format proposed by Azerbaijan. In fact, such a formulation means the complete annihilation of the Armenian statehood and the emigration of the Armenian population from the region. This task was successfully implemented with the support of the de facto authorities of Armenia, because there might be a common interest in this issue. Official Yerevan saw the former state minister as a political threat who could claim power in Armenia after his successes in Artsakh. Therefore, for the RA de facto authorities, the successful resistance of Artsakh could already create a danger of losing power.
Sergey Melkonian, Ph.D., Oriental studies