The most recent conflict over Nagorno Karabakh lasted a single day, ending on Sept. 20. It’s the third conflict over the area disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia within the final three and a half many years.
However this time, it appears there was actually just one occasion to the battle. Armenia stayed out, leaving it to the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh to give up.
100 thousand individuals have fled to Armenia, roughly 80 p.c of the Karabakh inhabitants. What’s extra, Armenia’s strongest allies, Iran and Russia, look like distracted and marginally engaged.
Benefit Washington, then, if we view these issues within the context of strategic competitors.
Turkey will get this. The nation’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has backed Azerbaijan to increase Ankara’s affect within the South Caucasus. America must get its oar within the water. There’s an unprecedented alternative to average Turkish ambition and push again Iran and Russia from a area essential for each power and safety.
On the danger of sounding apparent, Russia and Iran deserve our explicit consideration.
Begin with Iran, a longstanding foe of Azerbaijan and shut ally of Armenia, which shares elements of its northern border with every. Its Azeri minority contains as a lot as 25 p.c of Iran’s inhabitants, and shares a border with Armenia. Azerbaijan’s need for management over a path to its personal exclave south of Armenia would probably come at Iran’s expense.
The South Caucasus is essential to Iran for 2 causes. First, it needs a secure land bridge northward to its ally Russia. Second, Tehran needs entry to Europe with out having to pay excessive transit charges to Turkey. That’s why Tehran has been pushing over the previous few years for a “Persian Gulf-Black Sea” hall. Iran is already transport items by the South Caucasus into Bulgaria and Greece, and thereby into the profitable EU market.
Lest one suppose that that is all about free commerce, from Tbilisi to Baku, Iran continues to increase its monitor document of assassinating dissidents and unfriendly lawmakers.
Then there’s Russia. Nagorno Karabakh is a majority-Armenian inhabited area. In all three wars, beginning in 1998, Moscow has stepped up as mediator and dealer of ceasefires. Russia’s urge for food for affect has not disappeared. Its hand, nevertheless, is weaker in the present day, even when its pursuits stay clear.
The professional-Russian opposition tried to stage a coup final week in opposition to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan as a result of he refused to struggle Azerbaijan. However there’s extra. Putin feels threatened by democratically elected leaders within the area. That’s what Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and Maia Sandu of Moldova characterize. Pashinyan was additionally democratically re-elected in 2021. Armenians voted for peace, not conflict, and Yerevan’s present authorities leans west, not east.
It’s time for the West to step in. There are already encouraging indicators. For the primary time, each the U.S. and the EU have held peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the previous few months. In Arlington, Va., the leaders of the 2 international locations had been hosted by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Final week, the U.S. held a navy peacekeeping train with Armenia, to the chagrin of Russia and Iran. The USAID Director Samantha Energy landed Monday morning in Armenia, as 1000’s of Nagorno Karabakh Armenians had been fleeing there.
You will need to tackle humanitarian issues, however there’s a bigger strategic alternative for the U.S. To construct on these early steps, the U.S. ought to think about these three issues. First, take over negotiations from Russia. Armenia needs to rid itself of Russian affect. Azerbaijan, an ally of Israel and Turkey, is malleable and open-minded.
Second, the U.S. ought to actively assist a bigger mandate for EU peacekeepers within the South Caucasus. The EU final 12 months launched a mission to the South Caucasus, however its mandate is so restricted that it already failed to stop the one-day conflict. With political and materials assist from the U.S., Brussels may beef up the mission to ascertain Western foothold within the area.
Third, the U.S. ought to think about establishing a cooperation format for the South Caucasus that excludes Russia and Iran. This might embrace one or each international locations. By taking management of a format that features the three South Caucasus nations, Turkey, and the EU, the U.S. can afford Armenia and Azerbaijan an opportunity to develop their relations with the West, whereas distancing themselves farther from Russia and Iran.
Generally, regional conflicts have world significance. The battle between Azerbaijan and Armenia is one such case. If we wish to push again in opposition to Iranian and Russian affect, alternative is knocking on the door.
Iulia Sabina-Joja teaches at Georgetown College and George Washington College, runs the Center East Institute’s Black Sea program in Washington, D.C., and is co-host of the AEI podcast “Japanese Entrance.”
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