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 Friday, April 12 2024 11:45
Marianna Mkrtchyan

Azerbaijan`s military continues to threaten Armenia`s existence -  Freedom House 

Azerbaijan`s military continues to threaten Armenia`s existence -  Freedom House 

ArmInfo. To counter the gains that authoritarians have made over the last 20 years, democratic  governments must broaden their approach to democracy promotion.

In addition to their traditional focus on free elections, rights protection, trade pacts, and institutional reform, they must be ready to invest more substantially in military preparedness and provide Ukraine with the arms necessary to defeat Moscow's invasion of its sovereign territory. Failure to do so would only perpetuate the  current negative trends and make it more costly to check authoritarian expansion in the future, both in this region and around the world, reads the report "Nations in Transit 2024" by Freedom House. 

In the South Caucasus, Armenia's democratization efforts were  adversely affected by the Azerbaijani regime's brutal offensive in  Nagorno-Karabakh, which prompted the more than 120,000 ethnic  Armenians living there to flee west. They have now settled mostly in  Armenia itself, where the government is attempting to address their  humanitarian needs while also defending its own territory,  consolidating power amid domestic criticism, and responding to the  demands for better governance that sparked the country's 2018  revolution.  

Over the past year, the 29-country region stretching from Central  Europe to Central Asia experienced further democratic setbacks amid  escalating authoritarian attacks on basic rights and liberties.  Moscow's war to destroy Ukraine and the Azerbaijani regime's military  conquest and ethnic cleansing of Nagorno- Karabakh laid bare the  deadly consequences of autocracy's expansion. These events have  critically undermined a fundamental assumption by the creators of  Nations in Transit, that all the countries in the region are  progressing toward the same end point of peaceful, democratic  consolidation. Instead, many are moving, or being forced to move, in  the opposite direction.

Moscow's ongoing attempt to destroy Ukraine and the Azerbaijani  regime's inhumane conquest of Nagorno-Karabakh demonstrated once  again the deadly consequences of autocracy's expansion. These and  other events in recent years have accelerated a geopolitical  reordering in the region, with countries sorting themselves into two  opposing blocs: those committed to a liberal, democratic order and  those that violently reject it. 

In the South Caucasus, Armenia's democratization efforts were  adversely affected by the Azerbaijani regime's brutal offensive in  Nagorno-Karabakh, which prompted the more than 120,000 ethnic  Armenians living there to flee west. They have now settled mostly in  Armenia itself, where the government is attempting to address their  humanitarian needs while also defending its own territory,  consolidating power amid domestic criticism, and responding to the  demands for better governance that sparked the country's 2018  revolution.  

In Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, genuinely existential security  threats are putting governments under enormous pressure to reform in  exceedingly difficult conditions, with the goal of obtaining the  protection associated with full membership in democracy-based  organizations like the EU and NATO. As the current centrifugal trends  continue to intensify, each of these countries will have to choose  its path carefully, and democratic powers will need to fine-tune  their influence to ensure the best outcomes. 

The Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was by no means  the main cause of the Azerbaijani regime's final assault on  Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023. Azerbaijani president Ilham  Aliyev had long been explicit about his intent to erase the ethnic  Armenian enclave's de facto independence, having already seized some  territory in a 2020 war that ended with a Russian-brokered  cease-fire. Still, the Russian attack on Ukraine opened the door to  the conquest, as the Kremlin's attention and resources were diverted  from peacekeeping duties in the Caucasus, and the democratic world  was similarly absorbed with its efforts to support Kyiv.  

In the South Caucasus, Armenia's democratization efforts were  adversely affected by the Azerbaijani regime's brutal offensive in  Nagorno-Karabakh, which prompted the more than 120,000 ethnic  Armenians living there to flee west. They have now settled mostly in  Armenia itself, where the government is attempting to address their  humanitarian needs while also defending its own territory,  consolidating power amid domestic criticism, and responding to the  demands for better governance that sparked the country's 2018  revolution.  

Aliyev's victories-political and military-may have simply whetted his  appetite. His inauguration speech included renewed demands for  additional Armenian territory. Absent any credible deterrents imposed  by the United States or the EU, there is an obvious potential for  more authoritarian aggression in the Caucasus.  Moscow has  effectively abdicated as the area's security guarantor, leaving  Armenia in a race against the clock to secure new alliances in the  democratic world.

The Russian and Azerbaijani wars of aggression are the two most  glaring examples of the disdain that today's autocrats hold for  fundamental human rights and pluralist societies. These regimes  cynically demand respect for their own states and sovereignty even as  they violently reject their neighbors' domestic political autonomy,  unique histories, and right to exist. Democracies have been  inconsistent and often reluctant in defending international norms  against such behavior, allowing autocracies to circumvent or  disregard any efforts to hold them accountable. 

The sudden collapse of the territory's government and defenses  prompted the entire population of 120,000 ethnic Armenians to flee  for their lives. Azerbaijani troops opened a route for their exit,  which made it easier for Baku to take complete control of the land  and facilitated what amounted to ethnic cleansing.  Many of the  refugees had already been displaced multiple times in the last four  years. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan's military continued to threaten the  existence of the Republic of Armenia, having occupied slices of that  country's territory after multiple clashes in recent years.

Democratic policymakers have also deprioritized or ignored glaring  contradictions and liabilities in their attempts to end Europe's  dependence on Russian gas supplies, turning to other authoritarian  exporters- including Azerbaijan-to fill the gap. In his inauguration  speech, Aliyev indicated that he would fully exploit this  relationship, pledging to step up military spending and boasting that  his regime would "have zero chance of being affected by foreign  influence."

The full report is available here:  https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2024/region-reordered- autocracy-and- democracy?fbclid=IwAR26VTqBx3u6CE1Kw9xj23ZP74dxJbC4cVENewZmWKYhgUvkilk_oDP8guY_a em_AWdjn2KIMBmwKkI_U3eQ_WsqPLIW_gmiSPEfROTTA1KnOfvRBP2VQ_W-HPxJ8yJ1bkr1- 4UAZtYlXoiSV-AneuFU#the-diversity-of-hybrid-regimes  

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