Submitted by George Callaghan…
In the middle of July sporadic fire across the ceasefire line between Azerbaijan and Armenia grew into heavy fighting. The two Caucasian countries are scrapping over Nagorno Karabakh. This region is almost exclusively ethnically Armenian but legally pertains to Azerbaijan.
The present exchange of fire is not in Nagorno Karabakh. At least 18 people have been killed in five days of exchange of views. This figure of 18 is the total of the fatalities admitted by the protagonists. Both have claimed rather higher figures of deaths inflicted on the other side than the antagonist had acknowledged. This is the most intense fighting in four years. Even a major-general has been killed. In this part of the world senior officers seldom jeopardise themselves.
Nagorno Karabakh’s name speaks of its unusual history. The name is a melange of languages. ‘Nagorno’ is Russian for ‘mountainous’ and ‘Karabakh’ means black garden in Turkish and Persian.
In the 1930s Comrade Stalin was reorganising the borders of the Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic. The only reason any of these lands were within the Soviet Union is they had been conquered by the Russian Empire. Lenin promised them independence at the October Revolution. Azerbaijan and Armenia duly declared independence. The Soviet Government reneged on its promise and invaded these unoffending countries shortly after it has recognised them. Even during the brief period of Azerbaijan independence 1918-20 the Bolsheviks had troops occupying Azerbaijan’s capital. Baku’s oil was to precious to let go. Don’t let anyone tell you that communists are anti-imperialists.
Josif Vissaroniovich Stalin wanted to make the breakup of the USSR impossible. As a Georgian he understood the complexities and the inter-ethnic asperities of the region. He endeavoured to enmesh the peoples together. He served Nagorno Karabakh from Armenian and allotted it to Azerbaijan. Stalin took an Azerbaijani majority region and awarded it to Georgia.
The Soviet Government moved Russians and Ukrainians into the Caucasus republics. It also moved some Azerbaijanis and Armenians out. Armenia was 95% ethnically Armenian in 1917. By 1991 it was 80% ethnically Armenian. In Azerbaijan the % of non-Azerbaijanis was much higher at 25%. In Baku it was almost 50%.
Stalin moved a lot more Armenians into Nagorno Karabakh. It already had an Armenian majority in the 1930s. But he turned it into a huge majority.
As we know the dissolution of the USSR was possible. It was enormously messier and bloodier than it need to have been. That was due to problems purposively created by Moscow.
In the late 1980s non-communist parties were allowed in the USSR for the first time. Armenian and Azerbaijani nationalist parties were founded. The Armenians agitated for Nagorno Karabakh to be returned to them. The Azerbaijanis were vehemently opposed.
Armenia is one of the most ancient nations in the world. The Armenians have had writing for millennia and they have always had the same core of their homeland. They are the first officially Christian nation in the world. They adopted the Christian faith even before Rome did. One would have thought that Christian evangelicals would embrace the Armenian cause because of that. But when did logic or consistency ever get in the way of Christian evangelicals seeking cheap oil?
Like most countries the borders of Armenia have waxed and waned. At time the frontiers of Armenian stretched from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.
Today Armenia is a landlocked and largely poverty-stricken country. Everyone can read and they almost all have electricity and running water. But it is one of the poorest countries in Europe if indeed you count it as Europe at all. The land is devoid if natural resources and it not even very fertile.
Because of the unfavourable geography of their homeland the Armenians have always been an exceptionally enterprising people. This canny nation has produced many an affluent merchant. Business acumen does not endear one to others who are less industrious or quick minded. There is some racial prejudice against Armenians in the region. Some regard them as sharpsters, shysters and spivs.
Armenians settled in Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Russia, Iran, the USA, France, India, Singapore, Argentina, Cyprus and Australia. There are 9 000 000 people of Armenian stock scattered outside their ancestral home.
Of all the former Soviet countries Armenian was the most canine in its fidelity. Why? Armenia has no other allies. It cannot afford modern weaponry.Armenia has only four neighbours: Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia and Iran. It is in a frozen conflict with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is Turkey’s ugly sister so Armenia has an adversarial relationship with the Turks. Armenia has little to offer Iran so the Iranians don’t risk irking Azerbaijan and Turkey be treating Armenia too well. Armenia has a decent relationship with Georgia. There can be no real chaleur with Georgia because this would annoy Russia too much.
Anastas Mikoyan was an Armenian who was the Soviet head of state in the 1960s. Armenians who moved to Russia often intermarried and integrated. Sergei Lavrov the Russian Foreign Minister is half Armenian. But this makes him extra careful not to be partial to his mother’s birthplace.
There are 1 500 000 people of Armenian blood in Russia. Some are Russian citizens and some are not. Remittances from Armenians in Russia is vital for the economy. Yerevan cannot afford to irritate Moscow lest the guest workers be expelled.
Armenia is a member of the Collective Treaty Security Organisation (CTSO). This is based around Russia.
Russia has a military base in Armenia. Armenia buys most of its arms from Russia. The Russian helped them build a nuclear power station.
In the current round of fighting Moscow has called for restraint on both sides. This has bitterly disillusioned many Armenians. They perceive Russia as a faithless ally. Moscow’s pronouncements seem like weasel words. An ally does not accord blame equally. They want Russia to fight their corner.
But Armenia is in a bind. Without Russia they are done for. Without the economic benefit of Russian amity and without arms shipments they would be dead meat.
Many Turks will never forgive the Armenians for having been victims of Turkish genocide. There are a few very brave and intelligent Turks who recognise what the Ottoman Government did over 100 years ago.
Armenia’s population is 2.9 million and falling. Low fertility and immigration mean that at this rate there will be no one in Armenia in 200 years. By contrast Azerbaijan’s population is growing.
Azerbaijan practically floats on oil. For 36 out of the last 50 years Azerbaijan has been ruled by the Aliyev dynasty. Heydar Aliyev was a KGB man who was general-secretary of the Communist Party there in the Soviet era. After some time in the politburo he returned to his homeland in 1994 to seize power. As president he led the country to fight Armenia to a standstill.
Heydar Aliyev spent most of his life arresting and torturing Azerbaijanis for advocating even real autonomy. When independence came he reinvented himself as an ardent nationalist.
In the 1970s Heydar delivered a paean to Stepan Shaumpanian who was a Bolshevik revolutionary. Heydar even noted that this man was an Armenian. Once He became president his speech of fulsome praise about Shaumpanian was stricken from the record.
Heydar Aliyev died in 2003. Two months before he croaked he shoehorned his only son into office. Ilham Aliyev became president.
The urbane Ilham grow up in Moscow. He attended MGIMO – the top university in the USSR. He spoke fluent English as well as Russian. He was not fluent in Azerbaijani until he was in his 40s.
The Aliyev dynasty runs a kleptocracy. They are happy to divert public attention by banging on about the conflict against Armenia.
The Azerbaijani Government falsifies the chronicles and pretends that Armenians were only ever guests in the region. Baku even claims most of Armenia and even Georgia.
Baku is correct in stating that legally Nagorno Karabakh belongs to it. However, the Azerbaijani regime is no respecter even of its own laws.
The Aliyev crime family uses flagrantly fraudulent elections, a preposterous cult of the personality, censorious media policies, anti-Armenian bile and and an ubiquitous network of secret police to maintain control. The regime allows just enough wealth to percolate down to the masses to forestall revolution.
One of the few good things that came be said about the Aliyev dynasty is that it is secular. You can eat what you want, drink what you want and wear what you want.
It is the curse of the resource rich country. Almost all the wealth comes from oil and gas. Most of the lucre goes to the president and his camarilla. The country is run by nepotism. Other sectors of the economy do not develop.
The 1991-94 war brought others to fight. Armenia had Greek intelligence helping them. The Greeks saw this as a way to open a front on Turkey.
Some Afghan Islamists came to Azerbaijan to fight the infidel. The Azerbaijanis are 80% Shia. One of the mujahideen warlords who came to help them was an ultra Sunni. But killing Christians made it worth it for him to help.
The Armenian Army deliberately killed at least hundreds of Azerbaijani civilians. The Azerbaijani Government inflates the figures and exploits this to maintain hatred of their neighbour.
If the Aliyev dynasty really cared about Karabakh it would help the refugees. In fact they mostly live in shacks.
The Aliyev family embezzles liberally. It has an extensive property portfolio. Heydar Aliyev Junior – the president’s son – is tipped to be succeed his father one day.
Why has fighting flared up now? It comes down to economics. It usually does.
Turkey gets most of its oil and gas from Russia. Ankara is keen to reduce its energy dependency on Russia. The pipeline from Azerbaijan has helped the Turks reduce this. The Turks are less susceptible to energy pressure from Russia than ever. If the Azerbaijanis went too far against the Armenians then Russia could cut off energy to Turkey who in turn would tell their friends the Azerbaijanis to cool it. At the moment energy is so cheap and there is less need for it that the Turks can happily afford to buy all their oil and gas from Azerbaijan if Russia cuts them off. The Russian economy is hurting so they are less inclined than ever to miss out on hydrocarbon sales.
Azerbaijani has spent a few years upgrading its military. Now they are tooled up. They are all dressed up and want somewhere to go. The regime also senses that this is a good means of distracting attention from coronavirus and the terrible economic situation.
Turkey gets a lot of Russian tourists. A spat between the two leads to fewer tourists. But there will be no tourism season to speak of this year anyway. Therefore, annoying Russia has no downside this year.
Turkey and Russia have an immensely complicated history. At the moment they agree on Syria and are even on joint patrols there. They sharply disagree on Libya.
Armenia is a fairly free country. There is more media freedom and more of an independent judiciary than in any adjacent country except Georgia. Armenian elections are not genuine.
The current Prime Minister of Armenia is a Western minded man. As he is less pro-Russian than his predecessors Moscow is lukewarm about him. The Azerbaijanis figured that the Russian response to attacks on Armenia will be feeble because of their lack of enthusiasm for Nikol Pashinian.
Russia is never going to let Armenia be overrun unless say the Turks offered the Russians everything that they would ever want such as naval bases on the Mediterranean. Armenia is too useful for Russia. It will not be abandoned because of its strategically important location.
Armenia would like to join the EU. But that can only happen if Georgia does. Georgia is locked in a dispute with Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The Armenians can never join NATO. Turkey would never allow it. If the Turks can occupy North Cyprus so they ask: why can’t the Armenians liberate Nagorno Karabakh?
In 1915-20 a third of the Armenians in the world were wiped out. The Armenians can never run that risk again. That is why they take a very pro-active attitude to their own preservation.
Armenia is a small country. It has no room for retreat. That is why they have an offensive minded defence policy.
The US criticises Armenia over occupying Nagorno Karabakh. But the United States is hypocritical for expediting Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. The US also occupies Guantanamo Bay. The US supports Israel’s occupation of some of Syria and Lebanon. The US is an ally of Turkey despite the North Cyprus situation.
There is a noisy Armenian lobby in the US. They are impressive considering that Armenian-Americans are 0.5% of the populace. Despite the words of Cher and Andre Aggasi the US Government does not take action in this country’s favour. The US recognises the Armenian Genocide for what it was. But Washington DC is not going to go anything to help Armenia. The other regional players are richer and mightier. Therefore, they merit consideration.
The stalemate in Armenia and Azerbaijan will likely continue for decades. With the growing strength of Turkey and Azerbaijan it seems that time is not on the side of Armenia.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.