The village of Lachin (which the Armenians call Berdzor, by the way) is a kind of symbol of the strife and lawlessness of one of the significant South Caucasian conflicts. It was once home to about 2000 people, today about 100 remain. Lachin is the only slightly larger settlement on the road linking Armenia with the territory that the world knows mostly by the rusty version of Nagorny Karabakh. The Azeris have their own language name, Dağlıq Qarabağ, while the Armenians call the area Arcachu.
The territory has been disputed and fought over for centuries, belonged to various states that are only remembered in historical sources and cultural monuments, had governorates where ethnic boundaries were not respected, and so on… Today, however, diplomacy, politics, war, public relations, migration and other means are being used to try to interpret geopolitical choices made on the map a century ago. The corridor is guarded by Russian ‘peacekeepers’ under an agreement, but they are getting worse and worse, almost not at all…
I have started this text with this multilingualism in order to warn everyone who finds themselves in the region to read the maps in the various languages carefully and to orientate themselves according to the interlocutors as to what name to call what. A small mistake can cost you far more than a loss of reputation here. The name of a corridor is unsympathetic in itself, especially for those of us who know about the corridors to Gdansk or Crimea. But you can’t do better than that. There is a war for justice, for what is called historical justice, even though this justice is everyone’s own. When they are at odds with each other, it is either a matter of reconciling them or of proving by war which is more just. The second option is chosen. Hence the corridor…
Azerbaijani justice can be called geographical. The territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan, recognised by the international community, and the country has the right to manage that territory. Therefore, all the hostilities that are taking place there are formally taking place on Azerbaijani territory, which the central government has a duty to defend. The Karabakh issue is a matter of honour for every citizen of the country; however, mute the democracies and autocracies…
I would call Armenian justice ethnic justice. The majority of the region’s population considers itself Armenian. In fact, according to a centuries-old doctrine, a nation has a collective right to its own state, or at least to decide which state it belongs to. The ‘taking back’ of Artsakh thirty years ago was an important geopolitical achievement for Armenia, which has been shrinking geographically over the last few hundred years, and has therefore become a matter of honour for Armenia, perhaps a little less than the ‘possession’ of Mount Ararat, but still very important.
Then there is Russia. Russia, which declares the collapse of the USSR to be a geopolitical catastrophe, also has its own ‘matters of honour’. But rather imperial ones. An anecdote best illustrates Russia’s interest in the “Armenian radio” style: the question is whose side Russia is on in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. The answer is: on the side of the conflict. So the corridor is a boon for Russia and a glory for imperial cynicism.
The ‘axis’ of the Armenian strategy was the war won three decades ago and the de facto territory of Karabakh/Artsakh in their hands. The victory of ethnic justice has allowed the Armenians to claim for a long time that there is no problem, or rather, there is no problem anymore. It has simply been solved. But Armenia has arranged the life of its people in such a way that it has virtually no friends in its neighbourhood, only enemies or temporary friends. So it had no choice but to rely on Russia, believing that the Russians meant something like the inscription on a monument in Vilnius. To paraphrase, whoever is Armenia’s enemy is Russia’s enemy. As strong as Azerbaijan has become (although it is unlikely that it will become), it will never hesitate to go to war with Russia. However, friendship with Russia was not free. Russian military bases had to be allowed in. Whatever the government in Yerevan, it understood that relations with Russia could not be ruined or destroyed, no matter who was sitting in Moscow.
Azerbaijan‘s strategic choice was never to give up its desire to regain Karabakh, even to make it its most important geopolitical task. This country needed two things in principle. The first was military power, which made it feel stronger than Armenia. Secondly, it needed to do something so that it did not have to go to war with Russia but only with Armenia. Azerbaijan has been preparing for war for almost thirty years, and it has found an ally that is not afraid of Russia. Turkey. Now it is ‘whoever is Azerbaijan’s enemy is also Turkey’s enemy!’. You know what happened. The Azeris were determined, the Russians betrayed… This is already a victory of geographical justice. The victory is not yet final. Karabakh is already there, Artsakh is still there, but there is also the corridor, and Russia, whose “hand” still influences the region’s history.
Today, it seems that the whole world is less and less afraid of Russia. Even those who fear Russia are dumb, those who do business with Russia are also without much love. So there is something already or will be, very different in the South Caucasus. Russia’s possible defeat in Ukraine and its ‘exit’ from the South Caucasus will create a very interesting political vacuum.
The Azerbaijani President is convinced that “things” are already turning in his country’s favour and that the Russian mission will formally end in 2025. The West will love its country more and more, it will become an even more important supplier of raw materials, and it is not afraid, even eager, to tie its business ties as closely as possible to foreign countries – it is even safer that way. Democracy or non-democracy…? Not at all a fundamental question, is it?
Armenia needs to create its own new success story. A history without Russia. Or to once again trust a country that has betrayed it for who knows how many times. Nikola Pashinian emerged a few years ago as the ‘black swan’ of politics. He is, of course, not Moscow’s project, but he is not our project either. At the same time, he is both independent and lonely. He has significant support, but he understands that the government’s powers are limited, that it is not necessary to ‘beat’ internal enemies, but perhaps even to seek some kind of national agreement, while also realising that Russia’s military contingent is not only not protecting Armenian security, but is itself becoming a focus of insecurity. A weak Armenia suits its neighbours. But is it good for itself?
And is it possible to somehow get here without a victory of one over the other and without corridors? Many texts have already been written. So many maps have already been drawn, and many diplomatic tricks and nuances have already been added, from redrawing borders to a federal state – a kind of Caucasian Switzerland. I confess that I, a Northerner, am sympathetic to this model, which looks like the status of the Åland Islands in the Baltic Sea, where one can fear neither the dictates of the majority nor autonomy for the minority and share the achievements and the troubles of both ethnic groups with the neighbours. I have heard from the Caucasians that this would be ideal, but they are not Swedes or Finns. Still. So are the corridors still. But nothing is eternal. And neither is strife.