Karabakh: Time to be serious about the security challenges

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By Karen Harutyunyan, Editor-in-Chief of CivilNet

“The people must be organized in their self-defense. This cannot happen with a spading fork, an ax, or a sickle. At the very least, an automatic rifle is necessary. This is the opinion of many in our villages and it is also my opinion. If we are to defend ourselves, there must be a clear plan of action. Those who are armed must be trained at least once every three months, and they must always be ready. I myself, being a school principal, am ready.”

This is what Samvel Avanesyan, the principal of a secondary school in the village of Norshen in Karabakh’s (Artsakh) Martuni region, told a CivilNet reporter about the urgency of organizing self-defense in border villages. Here, Azerbaijani forces frequently intimidate villagers by firing at them and using loudspeakers to tell them to leave the village.

From the very beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, Azerbaijan’s provocations in Artsakh have become ever more rampant. Border villages are shelled, people are threatened and encouraged to leave their homes. At the time of writing this article, it has already been 10 days that the people of Artsakh have had no heating gas due to a pipeline accident or deliberate explosion. The damage is in the Azerbaijani controlled section of Artsakh and Azerbaijan is refusing to allow specialists to enter the area and fix the problem.

After the war in 2020, authorities in Stepanakert are eager to mention that the Russian peacekeepers are now the guarantors of Artsakh’s security, and they are increasingly reliant on them. But is that enough to ensure security and prevent the possible ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Artsakh?

At present, the Russians are quite restrained in countering the Azerbaijanii military and economic aggression against Artsakh. And the only reason for that is the crisis in Ukraine. Turkey, a NATO member, did not join its western allies in imposing sanctions on Russia. And, Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan, signed a new alliance agreement with the Kremlin on the very day Russia recognized the independence of Donbas and Luhansk republics.

This is a good reminder that the actions of the Russian peacekeepers in Artsakh are and will remain connected to different developments in other parts of the world. Today, it is Ukraine, tomorrow, it may be Syria, Central Asia or any other region, not ruling out Russia itself. During the 44-day war, we witnessed how the post-Soviet space became interconnected with the Middle East, with the involvement of Turkey, the transfer of Syrian mercenaries to the conflict zone, and the widespread use of Turkish and Israeli weapons.

Authorities in Armenia, and in Artsakh, are quiet about the current and future challenges. Many “what if ․.․” scenarios need to be discussed and analyzed. And that list of scenarios is a very long one.

Shaking off provincialism

With today’s geopolitical tectonic shifts, Artsakh has found itself isolated from any allies. Although Armenia has greatly increased its financial assistance to post-war Artsakh, the region relies largely on the Russian peacekeeping force for security. (The last group of soldiers serving in Artsakh from Armenia will return in summer, and from then on, conscripts from Armenia will not go to Artsakh anymore).

To attribute the responsibility for the defeat in the 2020 Karabakh war solely to its opponents, the Armenian political leadership is not refraining from using Azerbaijani propaganda wording. The authorities declare that “it was never documented in [past] negotiation processes that the potential referendum will be in Nagorno Karabakh“. They say that “in 2016, Karabakh lost all practical and theoretical possibilities of being outside Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction”. They claim that the Istanbul Declaration of 1999 “asserts the settlement of Nagorno Karabakh within Azerbaijan.” All of these are statements by none other than Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Artsakh has now found itself in a place where it cannot afford to live calmly and carelessly under the shadow of Mother Armenia. Moreover, it must be able to constrain Armenia’s political leadership on certain issues.

Apart from consolidating forces, it also means seriously considering future steps, statements, and responses.

Today, Artsakh’s security is also dependent on its diplomacy. But, it must be diplomacy in a broader sense, and not one solely based on statements and speeches.

The most recent example of a narrow-minded decision-making by the authorities was the adoption of the “Law on the occupied territories of Artsakh,” which equates the loss of Armenian towns that were part of the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAO), to the loss of Azerbaijani towns that were under Armenian control until the 2020 war. In other words, Hadrut, an Armenian town that was always part of NKAO is equated to Aghdam, an Azerbaijani town that came under Armenian control after the end of the First Karabakh War. Through this, the authorities vaporize the legitimate right of Artskah’s full restoration within the former NKAO boundaries, which was and is an internationally recognized legal entity.

Does the Artsakh leadership ask itself what kind of political, economic, legal, or security issues it’s resolving by adopting such a law?

Unanswered questions

There are no easy and universal solutions to Artsakh’s security challenges. In fact, the possibilities are very limited. That is why we should not be afraid to ask the hard questions and attempt to find the answers. And the questions are plenty:

  • What kind of army will Artsakh have in this new reality? What problems will it solve?
  • How will the army be replenished with manpower and equipment?
  • Is it possible that Azerbaijani pressure will result in the dissolution of the Artsakh army? How can that be countered?
  • To what extent do the Russian peacekeepers ensure the security of the current territory of Artsakh? What are the gaps, how will they be filled?
  • What to do if the Russian peacekeepers leave the region?
  • What diplomatic tools does Artsakh have to solve security issues?
  • How to muster the human and other resources of Armenia and the Diaspora in solving the security and governance issues in Artsakh?
  • How to contribute to the formation and implementation of concerted strategies and policies between Stepanakert and Yerevan?
  • How to work with Russian peacekeepers locally and with their political leadership in Moscow?
  • What are foreign policy strategies with the United States, the EU, Iran, China and others?
  • What are foreign policy stratgies with Baku and Ankara?

Of course, security is largely dependent on the country’s demographics, geography, economy and external factors. But it is what it is, and we have what we have. Armenians don’t have the luxury of making the same mistake again.

You can continue the series of questions and the search for answers yourself.

The article was originally published on Theanalyticon.com

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