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Opinion | In the Armenia-Azerbaijan Peace Deal, Great Power Politics Is Back

Turkey gains, too. Having given its ally Azerbaijan decisive military support, it has secured the promise of a transport corridor that dramatically expands its eastern horizons, running from eastern Turkey to the Caspian Sea via the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan — effectively a new trade route all the way to Central Asia.

Armenians are the traumatized losers. They pay a very heavy price for a poor military performance and years of inflexibility over the Azerbaijani lands they occupied in the early 1990s. All that they could salvage from the deal was to keep a large part of the disputed Armenian-majority enclave, including the main city of Stepanakert, and to secure the protection of Russian peacekeepers. But they have lost parts of Nagorno-Karabakh itself to Azerbaijani forces. The final status of the region is still in doubt.

Russia’s agreement is one page long and contains many unanswered questions and potential traps. The abruptness with which it was done harks back to the ruthless great power politics of the turn of the 20th century.

For the first time in exactly 100 years — since the fall of 1920 — Russian and Turkish troops will both be on the ground in the region. Back then, just as many czars and sultans had done before them, Vladimir Lenin and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk dictated terms to draw new borders and spheres of influence. Then as now, Russia and Turkey shut Western nations out of the decision-making process.

Many “peace agreements” brokered by big powers across the world have festered or foundered because the grievances underlying them were never resolved and embittered parties to the conflict acted as spoilers. If this deal is not robust enough, in particular to make the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh feel safe and protected, it could fall apart in the same way and set off new conflict.

So to craft a sustainable Armenian-Azerbaijani peace, serious work is needed on a host of issues. These include: facilitating the safe return of refugees, reconstruction, demining, humanitarian support, addressing human rights abuses and opening the isolated region of Nagorno-Karabakh itself to access by international and United Nations agencies. Looming above them all is an angry clash of historical and national narratives that makes Nagorno-Karabakh one of the most toxic conflicts in the world.

These are issues in which the politicians in Moscow or Ankara have little expertise or interest. They are ones in which Western countries and international organizations can offer a lot. That requires some humility about how little they have engaged with this conflict over the years and also what is bound to be an awkward cooperation with Russia. But a broader international contribution is crucial. What was signed on the night of Nov. 9, was only a deal for Nagorno-Karabakh. Much more is required if it is to become a peace.

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