Crisis in the South Caucasus: Why NATO Allies Should Strive for Peace Between Azerbaijan and Armenia Following the Attack on Nagorno-Karabakh

On September 19, Azerbaijan launched an assault on Nagorno-Karabakh–an enclave within Azerbaijan’s territory in the South Caucasus that Armenian separatists had self-governed for decades.[1] In just 24 hours, Azerbaijan took control of the enclave and its weapons, prompting the exodus of almost all of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population.[2] The enclave’s population was almost entirely ethnic Armenian, and most of the 120,000 ethnic Armenians living in the region have fled since Azerbaijan seized control.[3] Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing, but Azerbaijan has stated that the Armenians are welcome to return to the region.[4] Rather than propping up both nations for war, NATO allies should focus on helping Armenians return to their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh and working toward peace between the two nations.

There are growing fears that a full-scale war will break out between Armenia and Azerbaijan following the attack on Nagorno-Karabakh.[5] Just a month following the attack, NATO member Turkey joined Azerbaijan for military exercises in Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhichevan, another formerly Armenian-populated region to Armenia’s west.[6] These exercises included the arrival of Turkish F-16’s in Azerbaijan.[7] The last time such a large military exercise took place in 2020, it preceded a 44-day war between Azerbaijan and Armenian-backed separatists.[8] At the same time as these joint military exercises, France–another NATO member–started supplying Armenia with weapons and defense systems like radar.[9]

While tensions are rising in the South Caucasus, there is also hope for a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.[10] NATO allies should jointly focus their efforts on this potential peace, instead of separately focusing their efforts on preparing each side for a potential war. The first step in such an endeavor is facilitating the safe return of Armenians to Nagorno-Karabakh.[11] Azerbaijan has stated it will allow Armenians to return to the region and freely integrate with Azerbaijan, so the international community should push this issue.[12] To ensure the peaceful return of the Armenians and stability in the region, NATO allies should provide peacekeepers to the region to protect the safety of both sides.[13] If most of the ethnic Armenians return to Nagorno-Karabakh and are able to live free of persecution with international protection, this would likely help to quell a significant amount of the fears present on both sides.[14] In turn, the ability of such a large number of ethnic Armenians to peacefully integrate into Azerbaijan could demonstrate to both parties how peace between them is possible.

In addition to the benefits to Armenia and Azerbaijan, there are potential benefits for NATO allies in facilitating peace between the nations as well. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are former Soviet republics.[15] Russia has often exercised control over and mettled in the two nations’ affairs since the fall of the Soviet Union.[16] Because of the impact from the war with Ukraine, Russia’s ability to act as a guiding figure for Armenia and Azerbaijan has been severely lacking.[17] NATO allies can use this opportunity to take over Russia’s role in the region, diminishing Russia’s international power and bolstering NATO’s.

At the time of the attack on Nagorno-Karabakh, there were already Russian officials in the region tasked with the role of peacekeeping.[18] Despite this prerogative, those Russian peacekeepers have been criticized for their failure to do anything in response to the attack on Nagorno-Karabakh.[19] If NATO officials could successfully act as peacekeepers in facilitating the safe return of ethnic Armenians to Nagorno-Karabakh, this would not only be a major step toward peace between the two nations but it also would be a victory for NATO’s interests.

Some NATO allies have focused on preparing Armenia and Azerbaijan for war in response to the attack on Nagorno-Karabakh.[20] NATO allies should focus instead on the potential for peace between the two nations. NATO allies should start with working to facilitate the safe return of ethnic Armenians to Nagorno-Karabakh and their peaceful integration into society in the region under Azerbaijan’s rule. If NATO allies successfully do so, this could lead to a broader peace between the nations altogether and more stability in the historically tumultuous South Caucasus. At the same time, NATO allies could strengthen their joint international security interests and gain more power in the region.

[1] Thomas Grove & Matthew Luxmoore, Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict: What to Know About Nagorno-Karabakh, Wall St. J. (Sept. 28, 2023),

[2] Polina Ivanova, Azerbaijan’s Victory Over Armenian Enclave Raises Fears of Another War, Fin. Times (Oct. 22, 2023),

[3] Iran Hosts Armenia-Azerbaijan Talks: Russia Says Main Issue Resolved in Nagorno-Karabakh, Reuters (Oct. 23, 2023),

[4] Id.

[5] Harriet Marsden, Why Fears of Another War Between Armenia and Azerbaijan are Growing, Yahoo News (Oct. 25, 2023),

[6]  Simon Maghakyan, Azerbaijan Could Invade Armenia. The U.S. Must Intervene, Time (Oct. 24, 2023),

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Ciaran McGrath & Maria Ortega, Emmanuel Macron’s Army ‘Extremely Vigilant’ as Turkey Military Exercise Poses Threat, Express (Oct. 24, 2023),

[10] Armenia’s Pashinyan Hopes Peace Deal with Azerbaijan will be Signed ‘In the Coming Months’, Euronews (Oct. 26, 2023),

[11] Guarantee Right to Return to Nagorno Karabakh, Hum. Rts. Watch (Oct. 5, 2023),

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Iran Hosts Armenian-Azerbaijan Talks, supra note 3.

[16] See Cenap Çakmak & M. Cüneyt Özşahin, Explaining Russia’s Inertia in the Azerbaijan-Armenia Dispute: Reward and Punishment in an Asymmetric Alliance, 75 Euro.-Asia Stud. 972 (2023).

[17] Iran Hosts Armenian-Azerbaijan Talks, supra note 3.

[18] Jessie Williams, Ethnic Armenians who fled Nagorno-Karabakh long for home, decry Azerbaijan, Aljazeera (Oct. 6, 2023),

[19] Id.

[20] Marsden, supra note 5.