TVER, Russia – Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a Russia-brokered deal on Monday to end the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. He gave up disputed territory and bowed to other demands as he faced defeat on the battlefield.
The agreement signed by President Vladimir V. Putin from Russia, President Ilham Aliyev from Azerbaijan and Mr. Pashinyan provides for the Armenian army to withdraw from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and be replaced by Russian peacekeepers.
Under the agreement, the warring sides should stop fighting and prepare for the arrival of the peacekeeping forces. Three previous armistices negotiated by Russia, France and the United States have collapsed.
However, Monday’s deal saw a more permanent and comprehensive redesign of the security map of the South Caucasus, a volatile region between Turkey, Russia and Iran. The deal sealed a role in the region for an increasingly assertive Turkey, which supported Azerbaijan in the war that began in September.
“Personally, I made a very difficult decision for myself and all of us,” wrote Mr. Pashinyan in one Explanation Announcement of the agreement. “It’s not a victory, but there is no defeat.”
Indeed, the deal ends a quarter of a century of Armenian military control over the remote mountainous region that is a touchstone of Armenian national identity. Russia will now guard the borders.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region has a predominantly Armenian population, but fell within the borders of Azerbaijan drawn by the Soviet Union. The enclave declared its independence before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
For Azerbaijanis, the settlement opens up the prospect that at least some of the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people who lost their homes in a separatist war that ended in 1994 could return to the region. This war ended with the shoe on the other foot: a ceasefire that was seen as catastrophic after Armenian military victories, but inevitable for Azerbaijan.
Mr Putin said the new deal required both the Armenian and Azerbaijani armies to stop at their currently occupied positions. This cemented the Azerbaijani conquest of a strategic city called Shusha to the Azerbaijani and Shushi to the Armenians. It is the second largest city in the region and overlooks the separatist capital, Stepanakert, just 6 miles away.
Armenia has also lost control of the access road needed for military supplies to reach the mountain enclave and has starved its defenders in hopes of holding out if the fighting continues.
“I made the decision based on an in-depth analysis of the military situation,” Pashinyan wrote. He said the deal was “the best solution in the situation”.
Protests broke out in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, within hours of the announcement. A crowd broke into the government building and tore Mr. Pashinyan’s nameplate from the door of the prime minister’s office, according to Russian television news.
“Where’s Nikol? Where is that traitor? “The intruders screamed.
Mr Putin said the agreement was “in the interests of the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan”.
For decades, Armenia had received support for the defense of the Nagorno-Karabakh region from a large diaspora in southern California, France, and Russia. Azerbaijan has relied on Turkey for support, a threatening turn for the Armenians, who say the Turks never took responsibility for atrocities committed during and after World War I. Distracted by the presidential election, the United States played only a limited role in diplomacy over the past month.
The separatist government in Nagorno-Karabakh had run seven occupied Azerbaijani districts outside the Soviet borders of the enclave for more than 25 years. These were eerie, depopulated regions of abandoned villages and broken stone houses. Armenia opposed United Nations resolutions calling for residents to return. The country appeared to have the military advantage and had steadfastly opposed any settlement that would enable their return.
Now, the agreement signed on Monday provides Azerbaijan with much of what the country has been negotiating for years, including the return of internally displaced persons.
In addition to withdrawing its army from the enclave, Armenia agreed to give up control of small Armenian areas in Azerbaijan, but not in Nagorno-Karabakh. to open a transport corridor for Azerbaijan through Armenia to the Azerbaijani region of Nakhchivan; and enable the United Nations to monitor the return of internally displaced persons.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert, has been saved from what appears to be an imminent military attack but will rely on Russian peacekeepers to defend it.
The peacekeeping forces will be deployed for five years, guarding the access road through a mountain pass known as the Lachin Corridor and an approximately three mile wide buffer zone along its length as per the agreement. The agreement underscores the loss of Shusha or Shushi and provides for the construction of a new stretch of access road around the city now controlled by Azerbaijan, a dramatic loss for the ethnic-Armenian cause in Nagorno-Karabakh.