After weeks of brutal and bloody fighting between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in and around the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, a halt has been called. Facing defeat, the Armenian side has more or less capitulated. Russian peacekeepers are already arriving to enforce a new peace deal.
It is a pivotal moment. The military and political map of the South Caucasus region has changed fundamentally. Lives have been saved. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani refugees, displaced by the conflict in the late 1980s and early ’90s, can celebrate at the possibility of going home. But Armenians are shattered and fearful.
And the geopolitical picture is not so pretty: This is a deal brokered by two big autocratic neighbors, Russia and Turkey, that can now use it to pursue their own self-aggrandizing agendas. For them this is about troops and transport corridors, not people. The United States, despite being an official mediator, along with European countries, is being kept at bay, paying the price for years of not engaging with the conflict.
The conflict, which dates back to 1988 in its modern form, can lay claim to being Europe’s most intractable dispute. It pits the aspirations of the Armenian-majority region of Nagorno-Karabakh for self-determination against Azerbaijan’s right to the territory under international law. Almost incapable of dialogue, both sides have sought to settle their dispute by force of arms. In the ’90s, the Armenian side prevailed at great cost; on Sept. 27, Azerbaijan took military action to reverse that defeat and recover lost lands.
The big change came on the night of Nov. 9-10. After six weeks of fighting in which Azerbaijan recaptured huge sections of lost territory, the Armenian leadership, facing a military collapse on all fronts, agreed in desperation to a nine-point peace agreement announced in Moscow. The announcement sparked unrest in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. Prime minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia may not survive the crisis, which he badly mishandled by giving patriotic speeches but failing to engage seriously in diplomacy. But any successor will have little option but to accept this deal.
The human cost of the new conflict has been immense. The final military death toll is expected to exceed 5,000. More than 100 civilians have died.
Azerbaijan is the big winner. More than 26 years ago, it suffered a humiliating defeat on the battlefield, ceding both the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and all the surrounding regions to Armenian forces. Now, having prevailed in the new fight, it is poised to recover those lands, allowing more than half a million displaced people the right of return. What’s more, Azerbaijan gets to keep Shusha, the historic hilltop town in the heart of the enclave, called Shushi by the Armenians, which is of great cultural importance, and which previously had a majority Azerbaijani population.
Russia, which crafted the deal, is also a winner. Unlike in other conflict zones in the former Soviet Union, it never managed to secure “boots on the ground” in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. Now it has done just that: 1,960 peacekeepers are being deployed. That suddenly gives Russia a greatly enhanced military presence in a region where it was losing influence.
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.
Thomas de Waal (@Tom_deWaal) is a senior fellow with Carnegie Europe and the author of “Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War”
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Biden wrestles with politics in effort to depoliticize the Justice Department – CNN
Yates and Jones
America's Covid politics, historical revisionism and why Cold War conformity isn't the answer – NBC News
Americans are losing their jobs, getting sick and dying because of inaction by the federal government and by their governors and because of resistance — sometimes violent resistance — to the few public health measures that are in effect.
How did we end up with a new member of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who used her first moments in Washington to criticize masks? Why has the federal government given up on a national response to the Covid-19 pandemic? Why are people threatening violence against governors who propose even modestly restrictive public health measures?
Why are we being so reckless about something so important?
The short answer is that public health has become politicized, and political conflict makes us stupid.
The short answer is that public health has become politicized, and political conflict makes us stupid. Most people know almost nothing about public policy, and when we make political arguments, we reason in ways that would be embarrassing in other contexts. Being smart offers little protection, and it can even make us more vulnerable to distorted political reasoning.
In 2013, Yale researcher Dan Kahan worried that politics could quickly pollute the science communication environment about vaccines. Even though beliefs about vaccine science and immunization policy were not then strongly associated with political identities, he was concerned that this could change quickly. Something similar had happened before: In the 1990s, beliefs about climate change were not significantly politically polarized; that consensus evaporated in the first decade of the 2000s.
In 2020, it has become clear that Kahan was right to be worried. Americans’ willingness to accept vaccines and their feelings about vaccine laws are increasingly split along party lines. The same is true for views about Covid-19 lockdowns, mask mandates and social distancing. The new Covid-19 vaccine could be political dynamite.
A common explanation for some people’s resistance to public health measures is that previous generations were more virtuous than we are. You might point to the example of the school-age Polio Pioneers who participated in vaccine testing and to Jonas Salk’s (supposedly) altruistic refusal to patent the polio vaccine.
But it is a self-congratulatory fiction to attribute the public health compliance of earlier generations to a now-lost commitment to fairness and solidarity. A truer story would focus on the fact that earlier Americans had more in common and were more obedient to authority figures.
Consider that, until the 1970s and the 1980s, patients rarely provided informed consent to medical procedures. While the medical abuses of the Holocaust illustrated that patients and research subjects should have the right to make their own decisions, American doctors largely rejected the 1947 Nuremberg Code’s call for informed consent and continued to practice more paternalistic medicine — they would continue to treat patients over their objections or otherwise disregard patient preferences — until the law forced their hand.
America also used to be a more collectivist place, at least in much of the post-World War II era. Most people were bound by a shared civil religion of patriotism (including a Cold War hatred of communism), and their private religious beliefs were more often connected to churches that occupied centrist positions in political life. Among white Americans, there was greater economic equality, more optimism about improving standards of living and greater trust in social institutions (including government, medicine and science). Racism and, more importantly, the influence of white supremacy — in education, housing and the workplace, among other things — shaped a shared experience for white Americans and imposed a similarly common oppressive way of life on nonwhite Americans.
Cold War conformity and Jim Crow terrorism are not good models for contemporary social cooperation. We applaud the accomplishments of the civil rights and patients’ rights movements. We are glad to live in more pluralistic and diverse communities.
However, the loss of common identities and shared political aspirations has led directly to rising levels of political polarization around policies that used to be less controversial.
Common enemies often generate a sense of shared purpose. Perhaps the Covid-19 pandemic will become so severe that our mutual vulnerability will cultivate recommitment to public health measures. For example, some Republican governors have recently reversed themselves and embraced mask mandates. But even if this trend continues, it is not likely to be a stable basis for an ongoing public health consensus after the pandemic.
It seems more likely that opposition to a foreign enemy — say, China — could cultivate longer-lasting common political commitments in a diverse America. Political leaders of both parties support America’s imperial projects, and most citizens seem open to bipartisanship in the name of resisting (supposed) existential threats to the country. This kind of shared political identity could be more stable, but only if the struggle lasted a long time and only if it did not result in catastrophic wars. But this is a dangerous and unethical basis for political consensus.
We hope, instead, that Democrats and Republicans can find common cause in conceptions of freedom that express our shared values. We all ought to be free from restrictions on what we say and believe, and we have good reasons to protect valued spheres of civic life from the corrupting influence of politics and the unwelcome oversight of government. We all also ought to be free to live in healthy and peaceful communities, participate in well-functioning economic systems and have access to targeted social welfare programs. Whether America can re-create stable public health governance depends on whether Americans can promote these kinds of freedoms in our ongoing work of living together.
All Santa Wants for Christmas Is to Stay Out of Politics – The New York Times