Armenia's Future

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First Things - Web Exclusives

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After 45 days of fierce fighting, the Second Karabakh War ended last month with a Russian-brokered ceasefire and an Armenian defeat. As I wrote in October, this war between Armenia and Azerbaijan was a conflict over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenians call by its historical name, Artsakh. It is populated by Christian Armenians but located within Azerbaijan, which is 97 percent Muslim. Karabakh declared independence from Azerbaijan in the 1990s and Armenians controlled the region, along with seven surrounding regions within Azerbaijan that Armenians seized as bargaining chips, for thirty years. Sporadic negotiations since the 1990s failed to resolve the conflict, and in September, Azerbaijan launched a military campaign to regain control.

This is not a total defeat of Armenia, but it is serious. Azerbaijan has succeeded in recovering parts of Karabakh, including the strategically and symbolically important city of Shushi (which Azeris call Shusha) as well as all the surrounding regions. Russian peacekeepers control the remainder of Karabakh, including a land link to Armenia proper, pending a final resolution of the region’s status.

Armenia lost the war for a few reasons, including Turkey’s decisive intervention on Azerbaijan’s side; Russia’s unwillingness to intervene until the last moment; the failure of the West to live up to its rhetoric on democracy and human rights; and Armenia’s miscalculations of its military strength and its support in the outside world.