The Tragedy of Nagorno-Karabakh – The Black Garden of Caucasus
La Tragedia del Nagorno-Karabakh - Il Giardino Nero del Caucaso

La Tragedia del Nagorno-Karabakh - Il Giardino Nero del Caucaso

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“War and peace are not separate compartments. Peace depends on threats and force; often peace is the crystallisation of past force.”

(Geoffrey Blainey, Le cause della guerra, 1973)

Vi do il benvenuto ancora una volta,

In questa parte ci occuperemo di quella che viene propriamente chiamata la guerra del Nagorno-Karabakh, anche se come abbiamo visto, a questo punto gli scontri tra Armenia e Azerbaigian si protraevano con più o meno intensità da circa 70 anni. Tuttavia, lo scioglimento dell'Unione Sovietica aprirà un nuovo capitolo all'interno dello scenario caucasico, differenziando questo scontro da quelli avvenuti in precedenza nell'area.

First, the absence of the Soviet “gendarme” sparked the arms race in the region. From this point of view, Azerbaijan was in an advantageous position, since, in the defensive programs of the Soviet Union, the resistance to a possible attack by Turkey (a member of NATO) would be concentrated, while the Armenia was destined to be a “Combat Zone”: therefore the Azerbaijani military forces were more numerous, prepared, and supported by the aviation. In addition to this, the divisions sent to the Caucasus by the MVD (МВД, Министерство внутренних дел – the Ministry of Internal Affairs) were made up of poor conscripts from other regions of the Soviet Union, who quickly inaugurated a black market of all equipment in their possession, in order to be able to leave the Caucasus. Weapons also arrived in large quantities from abroad: Turkey, Israel, Arab countries and from members and organizations of the Armenian Diaspora, especially those in the United States.

The ranks of the two armies also began to swell, following the Operation “Ring”, volunteers and mercenaries lined up on one and the other front: in Armenia, in addition to the compulsory conscription, there were many volunteers who, inspired by the guerrillas of the Armenian-Azerbaijani war of the beginning of the century, they formed autonomous squads called jokats, even if unlike the fedayi these men were mostly interested in the looting and profit they could make by reselling what they stole on the black market. A great many women also joined the Nagorno Karabakh army, both as fighters and as auxiliaries. Anatoly Zinevich, a former Soviet general, remain in the region and served on the armenian side for five years, becaming the Chief of Staff of the Republic of Artsakh armed forces.

Come accennato in precedenza, l'esercito azero era leggermente meglio organizzato, con 30.000 regolari oltre a circa 10.000 paramilitari delle milizie OMON e diverse centinaia di volontari del Fronte popolare. A loro si unirono i gruppi Pan-Turchi ed ultranazionalisti dei Lupi Grigi, comandati da Isgandar Hamidov, e molti mercenari pagati con le entrate che l'Azerbaigian otteneva dallo sfruttamento dei suoi giacimenti di gas nel Mar Caspio. L'esercito azero era assistito anche dal comandante afghano Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, all'epoca leader dei Mujahideen e futuro Primo Ministro del suo Paese.

Il 31 dicembre 1991, con lo scioglimento ufficiale dell'URRS, nulla poteva impedire ad Armenia e Azerbaigian di impegnarsi in una guerra su vasta scala.

Saranno le truppe azere ad aprire le ostilità, dopo che il loro governo tentò di annullare l'autonomia del Nagorno-Karabakh nel novembre 1991, ottenendo in risposta un referendum dalle autorità locali in cui la popolazione armena votò a stragrande maggioranza per l'indipendenza (poi ufficialmente dichiarata il 6 Gennaio 1992). Proprio nell'inverno 1991-92 l'esercito assediò Stepanakert, capitale del Nagorno-Karabakh, iniziando a bombardarla con artiglieria e aviazione per diversi mesi, colpendo indiscriminatamente obiettivi militari e civili, come ospedali e abitazioni. , anche nelle zone limitrofe alla città. In alcuni giorni sui cittadini armeni sono piovuti fino a 400 missili GRAD.

“Anyone could just get up with a hangover, after drinking the night before, sit behind the Grad and fire, fire, fire at Stepanakert without any aim, without any coordinates.”

 Azerbaijani soldier Aiaz Kerimov, as reported in the book “Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War” by Thomas De Waal, NYU Press, 2003

La neonata Repubblica d'Armenia iniziò a sentire la stretta mortale attorno al suo territorio, nonostante fosse entrata a far parte della Comunità di Stati Indipendenti creata dopo lo scioglimento dell'URSS, era ancora in balia dell'embargo operato dall'Azerbaigian e temeva che dall'Occidente prima o poi sarebbe arrivato l'attacco della Turchia, che sosteneva apertamente la causa azera.

he counterattack of the Armenian Forces focused on the only strip of land that connected the region to Karabakh, the “Lachin corridor”, and which could only be reached by helicopters. The Azerbaijani town of Khojaly was first targeted: firstly it was one of the artillery positions from which Stepanaket was daily bombed, and secondly it had the only airport in the region. On February 26, assisted by a contingent of the CIS, the Armenian Army stormed the city, conquering it and at the same time attacking the fleeing civilian population of Azerbaijani ethnicity, killing at least 161 people (an episode that became known as the “Massacre of Khojaly “).

Il sentore della guerra imminente aveva portato gran parte della popolazione azera a rifugiarsi nella città fortezza di Shusha: da lì, l'esercito azero organizzava attacchi ai villaggi armeni circostanti e preparava il terreno per un'offensiva più pesante su Stepanakert, la cui popolazione viveva ora nei bunker e nei sotterranei della città. La resistenza delle milizie armene attorno a Shusha impedì agli azeri di organizzare un'offensiva: al contrario, i capi militari del Nagorno-Karabakh approfittarono della situazione per attaccare l'ultimo avamposto azero nella regione.

L'8 maggio 1992, l'Esercito Armeno tentò un assalto alla città e, nonostante fosse in inferiorità numerica e senza armi rispetto alle forze azerbaigiane, la maggiore preparazione militare permise loro di prendere la città il 9, dopo una giornata di sanguinosi combattimenti in strada, costringendo i loro nemici a ritirarsi e ad abbandonare la città.

A small parenthesis: as we have said, the Azerbaijani armed forces were larger and better equipped, but, due to strong discrimination within the Soviet army, they had never fought a real war; the Armenian army of Karabakh, on the other hand, was made up for over half by veterans of the terrible Soviet-Afghan War. The only professional soldiers Azerbaijan could count on were the Chechen militiamen commanded by Shamil Basayev, trained by the Russians to fight in Abkhazia against Georgia, who will remember that as their “only defeat” and will soon begin to desert the fighting in as in their vision they had a “too nationalist and not very religious” connotation.

The capture of Shusha forced the Azerbaijani President Mutalibov to resign (just the time to find a scapegoat for the failure and be reinstated on May 15th), and worsened the relations of the Armenian Republic with Turkey, slightly improved in the period following independence from the Soviet Union. Although the then Turkish Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel said he was in favor of an intervention in favor of Azerbaijan, this never happened due to the tensions still present between NATO and the CIS: leading exponents of the former Soviet armed forces clearly stated that the intervention by a NATO country in the Caucasus would have brought everyone “to the brink of World War III” (curiously, the same situation will recur with the Civil War in Yugoslavia, but at that time the threats of the former Eastern Bloc could appear much more concrete compared to just a few years later).

Il 18 maggio l'Esercito Armeno prese la città di Lachin, raggiungendo così l'obiettivo che si era prefissato: ottenere un corridoio sicuro per ricollegare la Repubblica di Armenia con il Karabakh. Ciò pose fine al regime di Mutalibov, che fu rovesciato da un colpo di stato organizzato dai membri del Fronte Popolare, che elessero il proprio Presidente, Abulfaz Elchibey, e presero il controllo del parlamento, al fine di prendere le distanze dalla Russia e avvicinarsi alla Turchia.

With the cessation of internal conflicts, the Azerbaijani army organized its own counterattack: Operation “Goranboy” (named after a region in northern Karabakh) should have represented, in the minds of its creators, the one that would have sanctioned the final victory. about the Armenians. On June 12, 1992, Azerbaijan launched a large-scale offensive in the direction of the Askeran region, in the center of Nagorno-Karabakh, managing to take control of several important settlements, and then marching towards the Goranboy region, defended by handful detachments of Armenian militias, which resisted until July 4, 1992, when the Azeris took Mardakert, the main city in the region.

Le forze armene poterono solo ritirarsi a sud verso Stepanakert, insieme a 30.000 civili armeni. Il 18 giugno venne dichiarato lo stato di emergenza in tutta la Repubblica del Nagorno-Karabakh, una chiamata alle armi di tutti coloro che erano in grado di combattere, riuniti insieme alle varie milizie in un'unica struttura, l'Esercito di Difesa della Repubblica del Nagorno-Karabakh.

The offensive of the Azerbaijani army was stopped by the Russian air force, which, given the pro-Turkish tendencies of the Azerbaijani government, decided to take sides, even if it never officially declared it, on the Armenian side, providing weapons in addition to the support of the airborne divisions . This gave the Armenian Army time to reorganize and launch a counter-offensive against the Azeris, whose “blitzkrieg” had run out of office and whose soldiers were exhausted: their general, Suret Huseynov, preferred to abandon the most precarious positions and retreat to Ganja, allowing the RNK Defense Army to reverse the situation by regaining lost ground, beginning to regain territories from February-March 1993.

The Tragedy of Nagorno-Karabakh – The Black Garden of Caucasus, An Unpredictable Past
Carri armati azeri abbandonati nel Nagorno-Karabakh, foto di Nicholas Babaian

In the midst of all this, there were several attempts to broker some kind of peace: the first was Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsnjani, who convinced the two sides to sign an agreement known as the “Tehran Communiqué” on May 7, 1992: needless to say, the capture of Shusha and the Lachin ovvensive made the whole thing void in less than two weeks. Attempts were also made by the CSCE (the organization that would later become the OSCE) to try to bring NATO and the CIS to a table, with the idea of ​​creating a peacekeeping force that would include both and that could to intervene as a “Peace Force” also in Moldavia, Chechnya, Ossetia, Abkhazia and above all in the Yugoslav Civil War. Of course, none of this was accomplished, particularly due to strong opposition from Russia, which saw the intrusion of European countries as an attempt by NATO to enter the country’s affairs through the “Back Door”.

Despite the easing of hostilities during the winter of 1992 – 93, the material losses and the embargo caused great suffering in the Armenian population, both that of the Republic and that of Nagorno-Karabakh: the economy was collapsing and the he single pipeline was reduced to a minimum due to the renewed clashes in Georgia against the Ossetian and Abkhaz separatists. Numerous families even ran out of hot water. The country was helped by the organizations of the Armenian Diaspora, the European Union and Iran, the latter definitively antagonizing Azerbaijan. The latter was certainly not faring better: full of internal and external refugees living in desperate conditions, and also with a collapsing economy, due to the failure in an attempt to revive its oil industry, given that no company he intended to invest in a country in constant conflict.

“No wars are unintended or ‘accidental’. What is often unintended is the length and bloodiness of the war.” (Geoffrey Blainey, The Causes of War, 1973)

Le sofferenze invernali, però, non sembrarono poter placare gli animi delle parti coinvolte: nonostante i tentativi effettuati dal presidente russo Boris Eltsin e dal presidente americano George H. W. Bush, le ostilità nella regione ripresero a crescere. La stessa Russia, che da una parte cercava di mediare la pace, dall'altra finanziò l'esercito armeno con armamenti per un miliardo di dollari, cosa che permise loro di occupare nuovamente i villaggi del Karabakh persi l'anno prima e ancora nelle mani degli azeri, che, da parte loro, stavano vivendo un momento politico travagliato: i militari insistevano perché anche l'Azerbaigian chiedesse sostegno alla Russia, ma il presidente Elchibey era inamovibile ed i generali azeri furono rimossi dal loro incarico.

To secure the northern border of Karabakh and prevent it from being used to install artillery positions, between 2 and 3 April the Armenian army attacked the neighboring region of Kalbajar, mostly Azero-Kurdish, wiping out the few and evil armed troops in his defense and taking possession of the region, as well as numerous armored vehicles in use by the Azerbaijani army. The conquest of Kalbajar was marked by indiscriminate violence, killings and the mass exodus of civilians from the area. President Elchibey could not help but declare a state of emergency and order the universal conscription, but on July 18 he was overthrown by a coup d’etat hatched by General Huseynov, who on July 1 was appointed Prime Minister, while the office as President it passed to the MP Heydar Aliyev.

The Tragedy of Nagorno-Karabakh – The Black Garden of Caucasus, An Unpredictable Past
Profughi azeri del Kalbajar, foto di Ilgar Jafarov, 1993

Obviously the Armenians took advantage of the political chaos inside the Azerbaijan republic to launch a series of offensives during the summer of 1993: the Karabakh front was open and defenseless, and it was not difficult for the Armenian army to advance rapidly in the region. while the Azerbaijani army retreated without even fighting. At the end of June, the Azeris were driven out of Mardakert, thus losing their last settlement in the region. Given the right moment, the Armenians decided to continue the advance to the Agdam region, just outside Nagorno-Karabakh, with the intention of making it a “barrier zone” that would protect their cities from artillery fire. Azerbaijani. When the bombing began on the 4th of July, civilians and military began to evacuate Agadam, and President Aliyev, faced with political and military collapse, decided to turn to the international community for help, while the Armenians were preparing the offensive against the regions south of Karabakh, the Fizuli and the Jebrail.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Tansu Çiller, tried to threaten the Armenians, demanding the immediate withdrawal of troops from the territories of Azerbaijan and sending the army to the border with the Republic of Armenia. Her plan foresaw that, with the victory of the coup leaders during the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, the troops deployed on the border with Armenia would be withdrawn: in particular, it seems that she had made an agreement with one of the leaders of the revolt against Yeltsin, Ruslan. Khasbulatov, who, once he gained power, would have allowed Turkish forces to make raids in Armenia and northern Iraq, under the pretext of prosecuting Kurdish PKK guerrillas. But the coup failed and the Turkish army did not move, fearful of the confrontation with the 20,000 Russian soldiers stationed on the Armenian border.

All'inizio di settembre, le forze militari azere erano allo sbando, abbandonando sul campo armi e mezzi militari che andavano a rafforzare la controparte. Il presidente Aliyev era così disperato che decise di reclutare tra 1000 e 1500 mujahadeen afgani ed arabi, mentre le grandi compagnie petrolifere straniere, come la MEGA-OIL, richiesero il supporto di contingenti armati dell'Esercito Americano come clausola per continuare il loro lavoro nei giacimenti petroliferi azeri.

In October, Aliyev, now formally elected President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, strove to restore order and organize the counter-offensive, managing to achieve some small successes: in January 1994, the Azerbaijani army, with the help of the Afghan guerrillas, recaptured some of the neighboring regions of Karabakh, but the offensive quickly died out in the face of the intervention of the Armenian Army. Moreover, it had a tremendous cost in terms of human lives: boys aged sixteen and up, without any training, werw recruited for completely ineffective “human wave” attacks. The small victories of the winter campaign cost the lives of 5,000 Azerbaijani soldiers. Likewise, the attempt to recapture the Kalbajar district proved to be a disaster: the initial success turned into carnage, with Azerbaijani divisions isolated and surrounded by Armenians, killing more than 1,500 in a single fight. From that point on, the Azerbaijani forces lost any desire to fight again.

Nel suo libro del 1997, Sulle rovine dell'Impero, Russian professor Georgiy I. Mirsky try to explain the lack of purpose and commitment to fighting the war by the Azerbaijan population, stating that “Il Karabakh non è importante per gli azeri quanto per gli armeni. Probabilmente, questo è il motivo per cui i giovani volontari dell'Armenia sono stati molto più desiderosi di combattere e morire per il Karabakh di quanto lo siano stati gli azeri” and also the physicist and Nobel laureate Andrej Sakarov remarked that “For Azerbaijan, the issue of Karabakh is a matter of ambition, for the Armenians of Karabakh, it is a matter of life or death.”

E così, dopo sei anni di guerra, entrambe le parti hanno concordato un cessate il fuoco. L'Azerbaigian in particolare, a corto di uomini e consapevole che gli armeni avevano la strada spianata per marciare direttamente su Baku, chiese l'intervento dell'OSCE o della Russia (essendo entrati anche loro nella CSI) per mediare un accordo. Il 5 maggio 1994, con la Russia nel ruolo di mediatore, le parti hanno concordato una tregua da attivare a partire dalla mezzanotte del 12 dello stesso mese, firmata dai rispettivi ministri della difesa delle tre principali parti in conflitto: Armenia, Azerbaijan e Repubblica dell'Artsakh.

The Tragedy of Nagorno-Karabakh – The Black Garden of Caucasus, An Unpredictable Past
The final borders of the conflict after the 1994 ceasefire was signed. Armenian forces of Nagorno-Karabakh currently control almost 9% of Azerbaijan’s territory outside the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, while Azerbaijani forces control Shahumyan and the eastern parts of Martakert and Martuni.

Unfortunately, like other times, this too was only an “apparent” end to the conflict, which in fact remained as one of the many “frozen” high-tension situations in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and the Caucasus in particular. In addition to the enormous cost in human lives, and to a number of refugees of about one million people, the war (this one in particular, but it can be valid in general) has fueled an irrational and rooted hatred among the opposing sides, which has manifested in sporadic successive clashes but above all in the interethnic hatred still strongly found both in Armenia and in Azerbaijan.

Ma di questo parleremo meglio nell'ultima parte, quella che ci porterà ai giorni nostri e ai motivi che hanno, ancora una volta, riacceso il conflitto nella regione.

Grazie per aver letto questo scritto e, sperando che al di là della storia di una guerra vi abbia anche fatto riflettere, vi saluto e vi do appuntamento lala prossima volta. Come al solito, se avete domande, non avete che da scrivermi.

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