Submitted by George Callaghan…
The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan re-erupted on September 26. This conflict has been going on in some form for over a century. The most recent bone of contention is Nagorno-Karabakh.
Both warning lands have close ties to Russia. They are former Soviet lands. Azerbaijan borders the Russian Federation. Armenia does not but hosts a Russian military base.
Azerbaijan has at least 500 000 guest workers in Russia. Armenia has at least 3 000 000 of its diaspora in Russia. There are more Armenians in Russia than in Armenia! Admittedly the Armenians in Russian are often half-Armenian or a quarter Armenian.
Why are the two neighours fighting over an almost desolate mountain region? Nagorno Karabakh (meaning ‘’mountainous black garden’’) legally pertain to Azerbaijan. However, it has always had an Armenian ethnic majority. This majority was slight until the 1930s. Then Moscow made two decisions. More Armenians were moved in and the region was allotted to Azerbaijan. The aim was to make the breakup of the USSR impossible. This decision did not make it impossible but did make it very bloody.
Rather than Armenian being almost 100% Armenian if Armenia had a large non-Armenian minority then independence would be unlikely. Likewise, rather than have Azerbaijan overwhelmingly ethnically Azerbaijani if there could be a large non-Azerbaijani minority then separation from the USSR would be permanently blocked.
Significantly it was a Georgian who made these decisions: Stalin. Georgia borders both Azerbaijan and Armenia. As a Georgian he might not have been overfond of these countries. He had been in Baku in the 1900s organising bank robberies to raise funds for the Bolsheviks.
The Armenians can never forget the genocide they suffered at the hands of the Ottomans in the 1890s and then again from 1915 to 1919. The Turks are the cousins of the Azerbaijanis and speak almost the same language. Almost half the Armenians in the world were killed in the space of four years. The Armenians never, ever want to run the risk of that recurring.
Azerbaijanis were also victims around this time. In January 1918 thousands of Azerbaijani civilians were slaughtered by Armenian Dashnaks.
When the Soviets established control over the Caucasus they put an end to this inter-ethnic bloodletting. For that alone they Soviets must be thanked. Until that time the South Caucasus consisted of congeries of intermingled ethnicities often embroiled in internecine warfare. The Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic was set up.
Azerbaijan and Armenian are both quondam Soviet republics. In the late 1980s as the USSR liberalised opposition parties were allowed. Both Caucasian republics experienced a recrudescence of nationalism. Say what you like about Soviet communism but it kept the lid on inter-ethnic asperities. Whether Nagorno-Karabakh was in Azerbaijan or Armenian mattered scarcely a fig until the end of the USSR. Both countries were Soviet. Almost identical policies were implemented in both. What did it matter if you mother tongue was Armenian or Azerbaijani? Russian was the prestige language. Few practised any religion. But with the revival of religiosity came the revival of religious odium. Until 1991 it was possible to sublimate Armenian identity and Azerbaijani identity into a shared Soviet identity. They could take pride in common feats most notably the defeat of Nazism. Until the late 80s plenty of Armenians dwelt even in Baku and some Azerbaijanis lived in Armenia. Inter-marriage was not unknown.
The blatant thing to say it was it not better in the Soviet era? At least the two peoples were not knocking seven bells out of each other? Hate speech was not permitted.
In 1991 both states became independent. They immediately fought over Nagorno Karabakh. Nagorno Karabakh is not geographically contiguous with Armenia. There is some of Azerbaijan proper in between Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia. Even the Armenians admit that that land morally pertains to Azerbaijan. Armenia controls 20% of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory. It is not hard to comprehend why the Azerbaijanis are a trifle miffed.
The Armenians said they were battling to save their fellow ethnic Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh. Some Armenian civilians had been killed in Azerbaijan in the late 1980s. The Armenians succeeded in taking Nagorno Karabakh. However, the Armenian Army committed several large-scale massacres. The largest scale was at Khojaly. Azerbaijani civilians fled.
Nagorno Karabakh is close to 100% Armenian. It is more ethnically Armenian than the Republic of Armenia. The Azerbaijanis say that is unlawfully occupied territory.
Nagorno Karabakh is called the Republic of Artsakh. Only Armenia recognises this country. Its flag is a version of the Armenian Flag. Armenia holds almost the whole of Nagorno Karabakh.
Armenia is extremely economically dependent on Russia. Without remittances form guest workers in Russia the country’s economy would implode.
Moscow cannot be too supportive of Armenia. If it did then it would alienate Azerbaijan totally. Moscow does not want Azerbaijan to join NATO. Azerbaijan does not do so because then Russia would throw all its weight behind Armenia.
NATO might not accept Azerbaijan because it is a dictatorship. The Turks are already very helpful to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan could end up being part of Turkey either officially or unofficially. Many Azerbaijanis would be happy with this.
In September 2020 the customary ritual sniping spiralled into heavy fighting. The usual cycle was not followed. Perfunctory exchanges of fire did not devolve into an uneasy peace. Why has Azerbaijan upped the ante? President Aliyev has bragged about the billions of dollars his country has splashed out on a new generation of arms. His army would be all dressed up and have nowhere to go if they do not attack. His country’s economy is suffering badly. He can divert attention from his incompetence, torpor and massive plunder from the treasury by channelling popular odium against the Armenians. He demands that the foe disgorge their ill-gotten land. Ilham Aliyev has vowed not to rest until such time as every last millimetre of his nation’s sacred loam is cleansed of the invader. The Azerbaijanis shall immolate the nemesis who has dared to stain their soil with his profane presence.
What can Russia do to help terminate the conflict? Moscow has mediated at talks on many occasions. There are perfunctory expressions of goodwill and no progress.
Russian companies own much of the Armenian economy. The country relies on aid from Russia.
Economic clout can be brought to bear. Russia could shut Armenia down in one day. If Armenia does not talk then Russia could cut off trade.
Moscow has called upon both sides to ceasefire and start talking. This was initially rebuffed by both. Now Nikol Pashinyan has intimated that he is open to negotiations. Why? Are the Armenians being driven back? Is Russia beginning to assert its will? Or is it a combination of the twain? It is probably not love of peace on behalf of Yerevan.
Both warring parties purchase arms from Russia. Russia sells them to Armenia at mates’ rates. Some say that Armenia is a client state of Russia. The Russians could stop arms sales to both nations. By the effect would be asymmetric. Azerbaijan can afford to source arms from elsewhere. Armenia cannot. The Azerbaijanis only buy weapons from the Russians to keep the Ruskies from being totally pro-Armenian. Therefore, terminating arms shipments would not stop the fighting. On the contrary it would grant a major advantage to Azerbaijan. That would simply embolden Baku.
There is much fight in Armenia. They are fighting for mere self-preservation. A century has just passed since a concerted attempted to annihilate them passed. Their stratagem is offensive minded. They do not know retreat since they have so little land to retreat into.
Russia has less economic sway of Azerbaijan. It is three times the population of Armenia. It also has oil and gas. This wealth allows Azerbaijan to purchase excellent armaments. Over the past few years the country has given its armed forces an upgrade. Now that Azerbaijan has a technological edge over Armenia it is attacking.
Azerbaijan outnumbers Armenia 3:1. The Turks outnumber them 26:1. Armenia’s population is falling. Turkey’s economy is wobbling at the moment but its trajectory has been one of strong growth. With wealth comes the ability to purchase state of the art weapons. The Turks do not have to use them themselves. They can simply hand them to their kith and kin in Azerbaijan. Therefore, Armenia’s numerical and technological disadvantage is going to be get worse and worse with each passing year. They are on a hiding to nothing.
Perhaps the best solution is for Armenia to join Russia. If it voted to accede to Russia and the Russians would let them join the federation that would be a good outcome for Armenia. It could the Autonomous Republic of Armenia. Russia has never tried to obliterate Armenia’s identity. The country could have Armenian and Russian as co-official languages. The Armenians would then be an indigenous ethnic minority of the federation. This would solve the country’s economic problems at a stroke. Azerbaijan would never dare attack a nuclear power.
It would then be safe to hand back Nagorno-Karabakh or at least some of it. The Armenians there could stay or move back to Armenia. If Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh were attacked Russia could intervene to save them.
At the moment the Armenians feel they cannot yield an inch. They have precious little land as it is. In their halcyon days their empire stretched from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. They are not delusional. They know that their nation shall never hold sway over such swathes of real estate again. But as their national territory is so small they cannot retreat. Nagorono Karabakh and the land of Azerbaijan Proper that they hold gives them a margin of error.
It is perhaps surprising that no one has mooted the solution of Armenian integration with Russia before.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.