Peace in Ukraine as a 'matter of rights'?
A possible lesson for ending the war may come from current talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan after their war.
No one knows how the war in Ukraine will end, whether Russia loses or gains control of territory – or whether talks lead to a hybrid political compromise. A glimpse of the latter is now playing out across the Black Sea in negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The longtime rivals may be showing what’s at stake in Ukraine.
A year and a half after their 44-day war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, the two neighbors are negotiating something more than borders or ethnic sovereignty. Having lost the war, Armenia has put a novel issue on the table: whether 20,000 to 25,000 Armenians left living under Azerbaijani control should be granted a guarantee of basic rights such as equality and freedom of religion.
In other words, should they be treated as individuals first and not as an “other” with a group identity, but rather as people who fully enjoy the protection of democratic values?
“The Karabakh issue is not a matter of territory but of rights,” declared Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in a remarkable speech in April that dropped demands for ethnic self-determination of Armenians living in that region.
His new framing of the issue was endorsed in May by the European Union, which is mediating between the two countries – a role that Russia once had when it helped end the war in 2020. It is necessary, said President of the European Council Charles Michel, “that the rights and security of the ethnic Armenian population in Karabakh be addressed.”
Azerbaijan holds the upper hand in the talks, which makes it uncertain if it will agree to Mr. Pashinyan’s proposal. Many Armenians oppose the idea and are protesting in the capital. Yet as the Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev, told the BBC at the end of the war: “Do you know that there are villages in the neighboring Georgia, where Armenians and Azerbaijanis live together in the same village? They live together in Russia, they live together in Ukraine, they live together in Azerbaijan, in many other parts of the world. ... Why can they live there and cannot live here?”
It remains to be seen if he will be magnanimous in victory. Yet as Ukraine battles with Russia over what the Kremlin claims is a fight for restoring the greatness of ethnic Russians, perhaps Azerbaijan and Armenia might show that a civic identity, grounded in universal principles, helps ensure long-term peace.