The borders of Nagorno-Karabakh or “how broad is the conflict?”

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“I sit on a man’s back, choking him, and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by any means possible, except getting off his back.”

(Lev Tolstoj, Writings on Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence, 1886)

An Armenian soldier stands among the ruins of a house destroyed by the recent shelling of Martakert

Welcome back to Unpredictablepast,

In the last article on Nagorno-Karabakh I put forward the hypothesis that the determining reason of the post-96 conflicts was linked to the internal stability of the two countries, rather than having very specific war objectives. I am still convinced of this, but given the many questions about which other countries were more or less directly involved in the conflict, I realize that I have been lacking in explaining that part of the problem. I hope this piece will clarify some points left unclear.

While remaining convinced that a more obvious involvement of the countries in question remains a distant hypothesis, this does not mean that their governments are not trying to take advantage of the situation to “resolve” some internal issues. And obviously, in doing this they put an already problematic situation into a more precarious balance, and the fact that the conflict will probably not fully escalate doesn’t mean that it will be less terrible.

Georgia

The Caucasian country closest to the two contenders has always remained neutral within the clash. Nonetheless, the fact of hosting numerous communities of Armenian and Azerbaijani refugees makes it vulnerable and exposed to destabilization, should the two minor ethnic groups become radicalized to the point of clashing or starting to support their side in a violent way. In addition, the government of Tbilisi fears that the supplies of arms and aid from Turkey and Russia, which must necessarily pass through the national territory, put the country in the difficult position of not being able to maintain its neutrality in order to preserve its national sovereignty.

Turkey

As explained in the previous article, Turkey and Azerbaijan are two countries united by very deep ties, so much so that they consider themselves “one nation”. But these are certainly not the reasons that push Turkish President Erdogan to help the Azerbaijani “brothers”: exactly as for his intervention in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts, what matters most to the country’s enstablishment is to avoid confronting the deep economic crisis that affects the country since 2018, and keep the population “mobilized” in order to avoid internal turbulence. This is a task entrusted above all to propaganda, which continues to attribute the country’s problems to external “machinations”, and to spread this theory of a “Neo-Ottomanist” project, in which many, even among seasoned Western observers, firmly believe.

But in my opinion it is a bluff.

Basically, in addition to hitting the Kurds in northern Syria and sending around mercenaries picked up from the ranks of what was Daesh, Turkey has done very little else. The fact is that to wage a serious war, one must be able to afford it, and Turkey, in addition to it’s economic crisis, has to deal with growing international isolation, following Erdogan’s authoritarian squeeze in response to the attempted coup d’etat in July 2016, which was only the culmination of a democratic involution that the country has been experiencing for some time, and which has substantially alienated the country from the sympathies of its allies: while remaining formally within NATO, I do not believe that the other member countries would be willing to support Turkey and its President in any way.

Russia

Russia has traditionally supported Armenia (while selling armaments to both sides over the years), and even today its funding is directed there. Despite this, Russia can only limit itself to threatening and little more: the country has been severely hit by the global pandemic, both in terms of the number of victims and economic repercussions, due to the lower demand for raw materials. The war effort to keep Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime going is already quite grueling, not to mention the internal problems in neighboring Belarus, and ultimately within itself.

Russia and Armenia have a mutual defense pact, as the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian tried to recall (as already mentioned, who came to power without the consent of Russia, after the so-called “Velvet Revolution”), but in the Kremlin they pointed out that this is valid only if the clashes were to cross the borders of the Armenian territory, and therefore do not include the territories of the Republic of Artsakh, namely those of Nagorno-Karabakh. This quibble suggests that Russia is firmly determined to avoid direct involvement in the conflict, in addition to the fact that it does not tolerate the new Armenian administration, less prone towards it, and, who knows, hoping that as the conflict progresses it will be able to get rid of it.

Of course, the looming presence of Russia keeps a possible greater commitment by Turkey at bay, and, as has happened in the past, its military presence in the region is capable of stopping Azerbaijan’s advance at any moment. But, despite this, it is a hard blow for the Russian enstablishment not to have a greater say in the matter and not be able to broker even a ceasefire, fearing to see what once considers as his own areas of influence pass under the protection of other patrons.

Bloodstained stretchers outside a military hospital near the front lines of the Nagorno-Karabakh. Photo by: AP

Iran

In its attempt to establish itself as a regional power, Iran also finds itself involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Given its position, it has always been, but now obviously the question is different: the rivalry with Turkey in trying to polarize Muslim countries around it, and the indirect confrontation that the two states fought during the Syrian civil war and in northern Iraq have worsened theirs relations, and this now also reflects on the Nagorno-Karabakh question. In fact, the area north of Iran is mainly populated by a Turkish population of Azerbaijani origin, which in the last month has often protested against the passage of Russian supplies and weapons directed to Armenia, passing through the territory of the Islamic Republic. Obviously the Ayatollahs see Turkish interference in these protests, and have reacted with brutal repression, fearing that a separatist movement could also arise in its Azerbaijani-majority regions if things in Nagorno-Karabakh will see a significant change.

Israel

Few people know this, but the relations between the State of Israel and the Republic of Azerbaijan are long-standing (think, for example, that post-Soviet Azerbaijan is one of the few Muslim countries to have recognized Israel as a nation) . Mainly these are trade agreements that see oil supplies from Baku in exchange for military supplies from Tel Aviv, and which are still ongoing. This has sparked some debate, as Armenia claims a “moral” affinity with Israel, as both Jews and Armenians have been subjected to a massive planned genocide. But Benjamin Netanyahu’s realpolitik has shown us several times that he is not inclined to be convinced by this type of argument, and indeed, given the proximity (and as we have said, the hostility) between Azerbaijan and the Iranian arch-enemy, the Israeli government will do everything to keep such a valuable ally in a strategic position.

China

China has very strong economic interests in the region: as mentioned, for several years it has been trying to free the regions of the Caucasus from Russian influence, and in some ways, through the “Silk Road” project it is somehow succeeding, in discreet way we are used to, preferring commercial relations to armed threats. This time, however, there seems to be something slightly different: the weakening of Armenia would mean a further, and advantageous, weakening of the Russian presence in the area.

In addition to this, there is the fact that China tends to support countries that claim the principle of their own territorial integrity, rather than those that claim the Principle of Self-determination, having within it numerous regions that claim their own autonomy from Beijing (in order of time we have seen the oppression of the Uighurs of Xinjiang and the repression of anti-Chinese protests in Hong Kong) and, in contrast to the usual institutional silence, the Deputy Secretary General of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Wang Jingqing, openly declared himself in favor of the return of the Nagorno-Karabakh under the control of Azerbaijan, of whose territory it would officially belong.

Conclusion

In the midst of this game of opposing forces, there are military and civilian casualties, the number of which continues to rise (even if the two sides are often reluctant to report correct data), and, for the moment, is not seen on the horizon. the possibility of a lasting ceasefire achievable in the short term.

For my part, I hope the situation is clearer to those who have asked me about it. Also I would like to remember what was said above, namely that this is not some kind of game just because we watch it from afar: it is much more important to focus on the issue from a human and humanitarian point of view: exacerbated nationalism, ethnic hatred. and the Enemy’s “stabilizing” desire are much closer than we think, as John Donne said in his famous sermon:

…And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

(Meditation XVII, 1624)

Thank you for reading these lines, in which I have tried to summarize the situation surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh War, I hope they have answered your questions, for the rest, you can contact me as you prefer.


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