According to the trilateral agreement, Armenia surrenders not only the southern territories claimed by the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (which Azerbaijan recaptured during the six-week war) but also two districts in the north that it didn’t lose in combat. During the Soviet era, when Nagorno-Karabakh was an autonomous region and an ethnically Armenian enclave inside the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, these areas were not part of the region, but Armenian combatants seized them in 1993. Before these events, the districts were home mostly to ethnic Azerbaijanis who subsequently became refugees. In the past 25 years, these northern areas have remained only sparsely populated.
Under the new truce, Armenian Karabakh still exists, but its boundaries have radically contracted and its political status is mentioned nowhere. In a national address after the settlement was announced, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said, “I offered [the Armenians] autonomy, but they wanted independence. Karabakh is ours!”
Pashinyan confirms that he initially rejected these terms a month earlier when Baku proposed the surrender of southern and northern territories claimed by the Karabakh Republic that were not part of the region during the Soviet era. Armenia’s prime minister says he refused to capitulate in early October before military defeat was apparent. In particular, the loss of two cities — Hadrut and Shusha — made it apparent that the fight against Azerbaijan had become hopeless.
When Russia announced that it would deploy peacekeepers to patrol Nagorno-Karabakh’s boundary, it was unclear which boundary the settlement recognized. The confusion owed to Azerbaijan’s decision in 1992 to expand its western regions (particularly the Kalbajar District, seized by Armenian forces in 1993 and due to return to Azerbaijani control by November 15, 2020) at the expense of Nagorno-Karabakh’s other territory. If the new truce were based on Baku’s post-1992 administrative divisions, it would have reduced the breakaway Karabakh region to almost nothing (the boundaries would look like this). According to the map released by Russia’s peacekeeping mission, however, the trilateral agreement uses the old Soviet demarcations (meaning that Armenia’s withdrawal isn’t quite as drastic as it might have been).
Nevertheless, Armenian Karabakh managed to save less than a third of the territory it controlled before September. These lands will now rely on roughly 2,000 Russian peacekeepers for protection. Moscow’s mission in the region has a five-year lifespan with the potential for extensions if neither Yerevan nor Baku withdraws from the settlement within the next 4.5 years.
Almost immediately after the truce was announced, President Aliyev revealed that Baku also intends to invite Turkish peacekeepers to participate in the Karabakh truce, though the Kremlin has described Ankara’s role in far more limited terms, arguing that Turkey is sending observers, not peacekeepers, who will monitor compliance with the ceasefire from a joint center on Azerbaijani territory outside Karabakh.
Still inhabited predominantly by ethnic Armenians, the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has no formal status under the new settlement and it loses its contiguous border with Armenia, with the entire Lachin District falling under Baku’s control by December 1. Russian peacekeepers will guard the Lachin Corridor, however, to preserve Armenia’s connection to Nagorno-Karabakh, and Azerbaijan has pledged not to impede the movement of people or freight along this road.
In exchange for permitting the continued existence of a compact Armenian Karabakh (without formal status, guarded by Russian peacekeepers), Azerbaijan effectively gained territory in Armenia itself, winning a transportation corridor from the mainland to its western exclave, the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, which has a small shared border with Baku’s close ally, Turkey. Border guards from Russia’s Federal Security Service will protect the corridor through Armenia.