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

“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.


The Tragedy of Nagorno-Karabakh – The New “Great Game” Chessboard?

“By giving certain Karabakh territories to Azerbaijan, the Karabakh conflict would have been resolved in 1997, a peace agreement would have been concluded and a status for Nagorno-Karabakh would have been determined”

(Levon Ter-Petrosian, former President of Armenia, in an interview with BBC, 2011)

Photo by Alexis Fauvet on Unsplash

Welcome to the last part of this discussion on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict,

Exactly as said for the question of Belarus, this does not mean that we will stop writing about it, but only that we have reached the present day and have analyzed past events as much as possible, so to be able to better understand what is happening today.

It was a long journey, which started at the beginning of the 20th century, but it was essential: in our time the public is generally “gorged” with news of which they understand little or nothing, it is up to us to take back the Time of History and look with others eyes what happens. Nagorno-Karabakh is no different, potentially, from hundreds of other situations, which are not just lines on a map, a bulletin of deaths, or something to put a bet on, but instead they are the flesh and blood of those who have lived, and are still living, in a scenario of perpetual war. Moreover, knowing the context, we can move better in understanding the real geopolitical situation, the one beyond the handshakes and warlike declarations of politicians.

The last time we left at the end of what is historically referred to as the Nagorno-Karabakh War, although, as we have seen, the conflict in the region dates back to the Armenian-Azerbaijani War of 1918 – 1922, and remained in the background throughout the Soviet period, since 1988. We also talked about the “Frozen Conflict“, and with good reason: the years from 1996 onwards saw a succession of peace treaties, UN resolutions and skirmishes between the two countries.

During the following years several United Nations resolutions (in particular 62/243, but also UN Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884) asked Armenia to withdraw from the occupied Azerbaijani territories, while others, such as that of the European Council , tried to find a mediation so that the displaced could return to their land in peaceful conditions, criticizing the “large-scale ethnic expulsion and the creation of mono-ethnic areas”. In 2008, the “Moscow Defense Brief” published an analysis in which it reported an arms race by Azerbaijan, paid for with oil revenues, and a possible resumption of hostilities. Which happened on March 4th of that same year.

Since February, the Republic of Armenia was experiencing a profound political turmoil, which pitted the supporters of the President of the time Robert Sedrak Kocharyan against those of the former President Levon Ter-Petrosyan; meanwhile, following the Kosovo Declaration of Independence, which according to President Ilham Alyev (son of Heydar Aliyev, and, like him, accused of taking power by electoral fraud) “encouraged the Armenian separatists of Nagorno-Karabakh”, Azerbaijan withdrew its armed contingents from the Peacekeeping mission and put them on the armenian border.

The clashes in Mardakert, as will be recalled, from the name of the place on the Contact Line where the clashes took place, will be the most serious violation of the ceasefire since ’96, with the two sides accusing each other of having started hostilities first: these clashes left the situation at the border essentially unchanged.

NKR, Mardakert, and the line of contact

The second, and most important, violation of the ceasefire occurs 8 years later, in 2016. Azerbaijan had long been building an army to prepare for this confrontation, and President Alyev (still in office) had often made statements regarding the recovery. hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, with the specific intention of recovering the region and rejecting the international mediation envisaged by the Madrid Principles.

The so-called “April War” or “Four Day War” broke out in the night between the 1st and 2nd of April, and the clashes focused mainly around the cities of Aghdara, Tartar, Agdam, Khojavend, and Fuzuli. As usual, the reconstructions accuse the other side of having started the hostilities first. The war rekindled xenophobic sentiments on both sides: Armenian President Kocharian said that Azerbaijanis and Armenians were “ethnically incompatible”, and even in Azerbaijan the discrimination against the Armenian population exceeded the warning levels. The clashes did not lead to any change in the state of things. Independent Armenian journalist Tatul Hakobyan, who visited the fighting scene during the clashes, remarked that the death of scores of soldiers of both sides was “senseless” as no real change occurred. He stated: “Azerbaijan did not win and Armenia did not lose”. Several observers noted how the hostilities had been de facto calculated to not fully escalate, in particular from Azerbaijan, and that they had no long-term goal, but only to put the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict back on the international agenda, putting pressure on Armenia.

Territorial changes after 2016 Armenian-Azerbaijani clashes.

Thus, after thirty years of more or less great violations of the ceasefire, UN resolutions and confrontations between the great international powers, we come to the present day. Hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh resumed on 27 September 2020, apparently started from Azerbaijan (as it probably was in the previous cases: after all, Armenia would have less motivation to start a conflict, being in possession of Nagorno-Karabakh from ’94 -96), the clash was fought mainly through use of air forces (drones in particular) and mutual bombing towards the cities of Stepanakert and Ganja. Moscow attempted to negotiate a ceasefire, failing twice on October 17 and the following 26.

So what is there to expect this time?

Stepanakert, the capital city of the Republic of Artsakh, has been heavily damaged by shelling during the conflict.

“War is always the main desire of a powerful government, which wants to become even more powerful. I don’t need to tell you that it is precisely during the war that … the government covers its thievery and mistakes with an impenetrable veil. Instead, I will talk to you about what most directly affects our interests. It is during the war that the executive power displays its terrible energy and exercises a kind of dictatorship, which terrifies freedom. It is during the war that the people forget the deliberations concerning their civil and political rights.”

(Maximilien De Robespierre, December 18, 1791 from “Oevres de Maximilien Robespierre“, Phénix Éditions, Ivry, 2000.)

When the news began to appear in the Western media, the reaction of those who had more or less the notion of what was happening was to evoke a “Syrian” scenario even in the Caucasus, when not directly a Russo-Turkish war. Unfortunately it is the poisoned fruit of the last few decades: every news must be seasoned with suppositions, “ifs”, “buts”, and provided with apocalyptic predictions made on unknown basis. For now, we do not know how the situation will evolve, and, as I have often reiterated, I gladly leave the predictions of the future to the astrologers.

But we can use what we know to get a clearer picture: for example, examining post-1996 conflicts, including the current one, and finding commonalities could be a good starting point. To this, we can add a look at the international and internal situation of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

First of all, all those conflict were uselessness. It is not a rhetorical statement about the futility of war (even if the whole story could well represent a metaphor) but an objective observation: the clashes have never led to a decisive change in the region, but have generally been limited to a series of targeted aggressions, skirmishes and small portions of territory that pass from one side to the other. Nothing that could barely be compared with the 1988-94 war.

But if “War is the continuation of politics by other Means”, then we can begin to see its usefulness. In particular, Azerbaijan, transformed into a petro-state after the Nagorno-Karabakh War, is continuously subject to fluctuating economic crises (just happened in 2008, 2016 and 2020) and also has a monolithic and consolidated political system around the Alyev family, which is accused by many of being at the center of the country’s political and economic corruption. In the country there are continuous and systematic violations of human rights, indiscriminate arrests and systematic application of torture. The perpetual military mobilization around the unresolved issue of Nagorno-Karabakh has certainly proved to be an excellent way to keep political and economic power safe from internal crises during the last decades.

Although Armenia is a country in some respects in better condition, the same argument can be valid. The continuing political crises, including the “Velvet Revolution” of 2018, reveal a “hybrid” political system (moreover not “blessed” by Moscow): very fragile and prey to the internal struggles of different power groups. Furthermore, the Armenian economy largely depends on Diaspora Organizations around the world and also suffers from continuosly ups and downs. The constant threat of Azerbaijan has certainly helped some of the Armenian power circles to remain intact without excessive effort.

Secondly, there is obviously the geopolitical question, in which the clash is used to “prove” one’s own strength and political relations. Although both countries have had good relations with both NATO and the CIS, the main confrontation has been between Russia and Turkey (as a NATO member), since the time of the collapse of their respective empires. This is an established fact, as we have seen in the previous article, since the early days of the fighting, with threats from the former Soviet countries regarding a possible intervention by Turkey in the conflict. Once again we have a proxy war of this type, even though Turkey is essentially acting unilaterally, without the formal support of NATO. As we know, the main battleground with Russia is now in Syria, but also with regard to Nagorno-Karabakh, both factions support their respective proteges: Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia, Armenia.

This time, however, there is an unexpected element. The same countries that are fighting each other by proxy are in turn in severe crisis: both Turkey and Russia have isolated themselves internationally and are suffering deep crises, at an economic and social level. It is therefore they this time who find themselves with a precarious internal position, to be stabilized “on the outside”.

This could lead to two completely opposite scenarios: a rapid escalation followed, however, by an equally rapid collapse (Turkey does not have NATO behind it, and does not have the economic means it boasts to support so-called Neo-Ottoman ambitions, and Russia at the same time. way barely manages to support the Syrian war effort, as well as being hit very hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, although officially denying problems of this type), or to a scenario that deflates very quickly, also taking into account that much of the war is fought on the propaganda front, as previously said to “put the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict back on the international agenda” with belligerant proclamations, which in the West generally have a certain hold on the news.

Unfortunately, now the attention of Western Countries is now focused on a much more serious threat for their own stability, with the citizens of the European countries and those of the United States having far more serious problems on their agenda than Nagorno-Karabakh and the hypotesis of an escalating conflict (we no longer even talk about Libya or Syria, a sign of how, as long as this health emergency is not mitigated, we will have no serious developments in addition to Presidents who insult each other).

The third issue concerns precisely the global pandemic that afflicts all the countries of the world: Armenia has been hit quite hard, not a good start for the government of Nikol Vovayi Pashinyan, leader of the aforementioned protests in 2018; while Azerbaijan was striken less, “thanks” to the possibility of implementing draconian measures (and to the lack of media transparency) , but it has certainly suffered from the lower demand for fuel due to the cessation of industrial activities which lasted several months, and considering that its survival is based on those revenues, it is not difficult to imagine a certain discontent.

Could this umpteenth clash be the way to shift problems that instead concern the internal situation of the two countries into Foreign Policies?

is there a possibility that the confrontation has become so endemic that it has become a stabilizing factor in the region, rather than the other way around? At the beginning of the writing, a quote from the former Armenian president Lev-Petrosian leads us to reflect: what is the reason why a possible resolution of the conflict is a priori discarded? Perhaps the main reason is to be found within the dynamics between the two countries, rather than outside, and in their political, social and economic dynamics, which seem to be the dominant factor in the outbreak of what have been micro-conflicts. occurred since ’96.

Maybe this “inverted view” can be taken as a starting point for new research on the subject. In the meantime, i will thank you all for reading these lines and those that preceded them, help me by letting me know what you think where you prefer.

That’s it for this time, see you next week.