In First Things today, I have an essay on the continuing crisis in Karabakh, where 120,000 Armenians face a real threat of ethnic cleansing by the Aliyev regime in Baku. I argue that Baku has so far played a double game, cozying up to Moscow while avoiding sanctions by hinting at potential benefits to the West. It’s time for that to stop. The West needs to do more to encourage Baku to negotiate about resolving the Karabakh crisis in good faith. Here’s a sample:
But without sanctions or other serious action, Aliyev will continue to treat Armenian concessions as invitations to engage in further aggression. For example, in negotiations in Brussels last month, both Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to recognize each other’s territorial integrity and discussed reopening railway connections based on mutual reciprocity. Pashinyan subsequently confirmed that Armenia was ready to recognize Azeri sovereignty over Karabakh (provided arrangements could be made to guarantee Armenians’ security there)—a painful public concession, apparently made at the urging of the U.S., which caused anger in Karabakh itself.
How did Aliyev respond? After Pashinyan’s statement, Aliyev again threatened Karabakh Armenians with ethnic cleansing and, for good measure, threatened Armenia as well. Armenia would have to agree to Azerbaijan’s demands with respect to border demarcation, he announced, or face further aggression. “The border will pass where we say,” Aliyev crowed. “They know that we can do it. No one will help them.” A bewildered Pashinyan asked whether Aliyev was already abandoning the position he had taken in Brussels and demanded clarification. The U.S. has not yet responded.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, American and European leaders have spoken of the need to defend democracy and self-determination against authoritarian aggression. That is precisely what is needed in the South Caucasus now. At the very least, Western sanctions against the Aliyev regime should be on the table. Even in realist terms, it would not be in the West’s interest to abandon Armenia, which is looking to reorient itself and which can serve, in time, as an important bridge between the West, the South Caucasus, and beyond. Unless the West creates greater incentives for Azerbaijan to negotiate in good faith, however, a humanitarian crisis looks about to unfold.