An Analysis of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict – RAMIN AHMADOGHLU

Photo via Wikimedia

After our blog post celebrating the exchange students we were happy to host from the countries of Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia, we got some comments that our readers would like to know more about the conflicts that have torn these neighbors apart.

Your wish is our command, below is an overview of one of the conflicts between these nations written by an Azerbaijani friend of Niagara. We have tried to maintain balance and nonpartisanship while giving our readers an overview. We welcome your feedback or comments! 

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia

The Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as a part of the Republic of Azerbaijan, but has been under Armenian occupation since the end of the Cold-War. The region sits entirely surrounded by Azerbaijan, but is the home of a majority Armenian population. The dispute for this region has mostly been at a standstill between the two nations since a cease-fire brokered by Russia in 1994, but just a few weeks ago a conflict broke out that caused the death of at least fifteen soldiers. This escalating conflict has brought the Nagorno-Karabakh region to the forefront of Caucasus politics once more. Before talking about what has happened since late July and any future peace prospects, it would be helpful to briefly remember the past two decades of “cold war” between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Historical Background: Changing Power Balance

The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia between the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh has its roots in pre-Soviet nationalist struggles. However, after the occupation and annexation of both countries by the Soviet Union in 1920s, the violent relations between the two communities gave its way to cold friendship, marked with inner skepticism and mistrust. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union has reignited the century-old dispute. 

The Nagorno-Karabakh decided to join to Armenia in 1988. Azerbaijan’s rejection of the decision of the Karabakh Armenians turned the dispute into a full-fledged war. By the time Russia brokered a ceasefire between the two nations in 1994, one fifth of Azerbaijani territories—the Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts—were under Armenian military occupation, with approximately 20,000 casualties, and almost a million of dislocated Azerbaijani refugees seeking shelter in the rest of the country. 

Today, we are observing the twentieth anniversary of the ceasefire in 2014, without any real change despite numerous attempts by third parties to bring the leaders of the two sides together to search for a solution. However, looking at the regional power politics, one could conclude that the solution is far beyond the reaches of the two countries. The public debates, especially during the times of elections, demonstrated that Armenian public is tired of isolation and economic costs due to its claims in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Armenia is surrounded by Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Iran. Georgia is a rising ally of Azerbaijan, while Turkey has closed its borders to all kinds of transaction with Armenia, requiring evacuation of the occupied Azerbaijani territories as a precondition for any change. We need to consider the interest of neighboring countries in explaining the stalemate in the peace negotiations and stagnation in Armenian economy, namely, Russia and the Armenian diaspora, primarily, in the United States and France. 

Armenia has, primarily due to economic and military dependence, remained the only loyal friend of Russia in the South Caucasus. Being a strategic partner with Armenia is important for Russia, as we are familiar with Georgia’s pro-Western tendencies and Azerbaijan’s increasing engagement with the US and Europe. From this perspective, an unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains an important tool for Russia in controlling Armenia and Azerbaija. An example of this Russian control includes, when the Ukrainian crises erupted, some Armenians suggested the annexation of Crimea to serve as a model for the Nagorno-Karabakh as well.

The other key player in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the Armenian diaspora abroad. While their link to the territory can be explained with “romantic diaspora nationalism,” their financial support remains a considerable source for surviving Armenian economy. 

A major change in the last decade, one that may also alter the power balance in the conflict, is Azerbaijan’s economic revival linked to its export of oil to the West. The completion of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, carrying Azerbaijani oil to Europe via the Turkish port in the Mediterranean, has rescued Azerbaijan from dependence on Russia, to some extent, in exporting its oil via old and underperforming Russian pipes, and has turned Azerbaijan to an oil-rich country building artificial islands in the Caspian Sea and competing with the Gulf states in constructing aesthetic and tallest buildings. However, the new pipelines, while limiting Russian influence on Azerbaijan, and contributing to the country’s military might, has at the same time, increased Western interest in maintaining peace in the region and solving the dispute peacefully, to secure the billions of dollars in investment of oil transportation.

August Mystery

The sudden and random military clashes in late July and early August of 2014, the worst since the ceasefire in 1994, still remains a mystery. Both sides accused the other of breaching the ceasefire; and the gap between official number of casualties and unofficial reports remained wide. It has not been possible to verify the rumor that Azerbaijan recaptured a few small villages back from the Armenian occupation.

The direct clashes between the armies ceased as the leaders of the two countries, Ilham Alivey, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and Serzh Sargsyan, the President of Armenia, came together in the coastal Russian city of Sochi under the auspices of Vladimir Putin on August 9. The August meetings under Russian supervision have become a routine since 2008, and can be considered as Russia’s attempt to maintain its say in the region. However, this time the meeting may not be a replication of the previous years. Increased international pressure on Russia, due to the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, and Azerbaijan’s increasing economic wealth and military might may give way to a new rapprochement between the two nations at the expense of Armenia. Indeed, the statements of the leaders after the meetings are supportive of this view. However, we will need more time to see if it is a planned step towards solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

via Ramin A.

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