Who won in Nagorno-Karabakh?
Russia or Turkey?
Depending on what you read, the big winners of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war are the Russians or the Turks… Why?
This conflict opposed the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (also called Artsakh) to Azerbaijan. Artsakh is a breakaway state populated by ethnic Armenians and enclaved in Azerbaijan. Artsakh is not recognized by any other country in the world, not even Armenia! (I don’t understand why Armenia has never recognized Artsakh?)
During the conflict, Artsakh was supported by Armenia while Azerbaijan was supported by Turkey, with Israeli weapons (so much that it was suggested in the Azerbaijani Parliament to open an embassy in Israel). On the other hand, Armenian weapons were sold by Russia and shipped through Iran, even though 16% of Iranians are… ethnic Azerbaijanis! Turkey also sent mercenaries, maybe through Georgia, from the “Syrian National Army” (the armed Syrian opposition) to fight along Azerbaijan. Conversely Russian, Turkish and Azerbaijani sources alleged that Kurdish militias were fighting on the Armenian side. Indeed, the area between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh used to be called “Red Kurdistan”, even though no Kurds live there anymore:
So it’s a complex situation! Religious factors only can’t explain it. And to make things more complex, even though the Turkish and Azerbaijani languages are mutually intelligible, the Turks are Sunni Muslims whereas Azerbaijanis are Shia…
Anyway, after 1 month and half of war, more than 4,000 killed and more than 100,000 civilians displaced, a peace agreement was signed between Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia. The Republic of Artsakh wasn’t a party to the agreement but approved it later. Under this agreement:
Armenian forces will withdraw from Armenian-controlled territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh,
Azerbaijan will keep the areas of South Nagorno-Karabakh that it retook during the 2020 war,
The legal status of the rest of Nagorno-Karabakh itself is left open,
A corridor will be established across Azerbaijan to link Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh,
Similarly, a corridor will be established across Armenia to link the Nakhchivan exclave to the rest of Azerbaijan,
Economic activity and transport links in the region will be unrestricted,
Russian peacekeepers will be deployed to the region, especially to protect the two corridors.
According to some analysts, the Russians are the real winners because they now have troops in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to others, such as Bruno Maçães, Russians are the real losers in this conflict:
The main consequence of the war is the dramatic reduction of Russia's prestige in the region. Think about it this way: frozen conflicts in its periphery were once supposed to entrench Russian power. If a country depended on Russia to resolve a conflict within its borders, it could never develop a fully sovereign foreign policy. Azerbaijan has broken free of those chains. More: it changed the facts on the ground in its favour and then called on Russian troops to secure the outcome! And those Russian troops will have to share the stage with Turkey. I hear from some commentators that Russia managed to send troops to Karabakh. Well, it could have done so at any time in the last twenty years. It just preferred to have them on the Nato borders around Gyumri than on some isolated crags dealing with disgruntled locals!
Bruno Maçães’s arguments are more convincing. However, Gaïdz Minassian rightly pointed that the 2020 peace agreement is almost identical to the 2011 failed “Kazan agreement” that Azerbaijan refused to sign the Kazan agreement precisely because it left the status of Nagorno-Karabakh open! This puts into perspective the military defeat (resp. victory) of Armenia (resp. Azerbaijan).
But the main difference compared to 2011 is the Nakhchivan corridor. What used to be an exclave of Azerbaijan will soon be connected to the rest of its territory. Turkey will also benefit from this corridor. As noted by Turkish pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah:
The most important of these gains is that Turkey's gate to the Turkic Republics was opened with a road connection between Nakhchivan and Azerbaijan. This is an extraordinarily important turning point as Turkey will benefit from political and economic returns not only in the short term but also in the long term.
“Turkic Republics” are countries with Turkic populations around the Caspian Sea and in Central Asia, such as Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan:
So thanks to this corridor Turkey will gain an access to the Caspian sea. Could it one day build a “Turkic NATO” with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and other Turkic countries? More evidence of Turkish expansionism, and another big win for Erdoğan!