Reignited Armed Conflict Between Armenia and Azerbaijan: Could Violence Spread?.

On 27 September 2020;  military forces from Azerbaijan moved into six villages held by Armenian forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh area.  The Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pachinian in a television broadcast warned that the two countries were “on the edge of war with unforeseeable consequences”. 

The President of Azerbaijan;  Elham Aliev;  declared martial law and called up reserve military. There have been calls for a cease-fire from Russia; however Russia is generally thought to favor Armenia.  The President of Turkey;  Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeated his support for Azerbaijan.

Minsk Group.

On 30 September 2020;  the United Nations Security Council passed a unanimous resolution; calling on Armenia and Azerbaijan to halt fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh;  and urgently to resume talks without preconditions.  There have been previous talks;  held under the leadership of the “Minsk Group” (Russia, France, USA), founded in 1994; of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

However;  these talks have not modified the ever-tense situation. On 29 September; the Association of World Citizens had sent an Appeal to the authorities of Armenia and Azerbaijan;  for a ceasefire and the start of negotiations in good faith.

The Nagorno-Karabakh issue arises from the post-Revolution -post Civil War;  period of Soviet history;  when Joseph Stalin was Commissioner for Nationalities.  Stalin came from neighboring Georgia;  and knew the Caucasus well.  His policy was a classic ‘divide and rule’;   carried out with method; so that national/ethnic groups would need to depend  on the central government in Moscow for protection.

Thus in 1922;  the frontiers of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia;  were hammered out of what was  the Transcaucasia Federative Republic. (1) 

Soviet Armenia.

Nagorno-Karabakh;  an Armenian majority area;   was given a certain autonomy within Azerbaijan;  but was geographically cut off from Armenia.  Likewise an Azeri majority area, Nakkicheran;  was created as an autonomous republic within Armenia;  but cut off geographically from Azerbaijan. 

Thus;  both enclaves had to look to  Moscow for protection.  This was especially true for the Armenians.  Many Armenians living in what had been historic Armenia;  but which had become part of the Ottoman Empire;  had been killed during the First World War by the Turks.

Armenians living in “Soviet Armenia” had relatives and friends among those killed by the Turks;  creating a permanent sense of vulnerability and insecurity.  Russia was considered a historic ally of Armenia.

Karabakh Committee.

These mixed administrative units worked well enough or, one should say;  there were few public criticisms allowed until 1988;  when the whole Soviet model of nationalities;  and republics started to come apart.  In both Armenia and Azerbaijan nationalistic voices were raised. 

A strong “Karabakh Committee” began demanding that Nagorno-Karabakh be attached to Armenia.  In Azerbaijan;  anti-Armenian sentiment was set aflame. Many Armenians;  who were working in the oil-related economy of Baku;  were under tension and started leaving.  This was  followed somewhat later by real anti-Armenian programs. Some 160,000 Armenians left Azerbaijan for Armenia;  and others went to live in Russia.

Liechtenstein of the Caucasus.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union and the independence of Armenia and Azerbaijan;  tensions focused on Nagoya-Karabkh.  In 1992;  full scale armed conflict started in and around Nagorno-Karabakh;  and went on for two years. During the two years of fighting, 1992-1994;  at least 20,000 persons were killed;  and more than one million persons displaced. 

In 1994;  there was a cease-fire largely negotiated by Russia.  Nagorno-Karabakh has declared its independence as a separate State.  No other State – including Armenia – has recognized this independent status;  but in practice;  Nagorno-Karabakh is a de facto State;  with control over its population and its own military forces. 

Some in Nagorno-Karabakh hope that the country might become the “Liechtenstein of the Caucasus”. 

The Association of World Citizens.

Armed violence has broken out before;  especially in 2016.  Many in Nagorno-Karabakh do not want to be at the mercy of decisions made in distant centers of power;  but to decide their own course of action. 

However;  the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent State;  raises the issue of the status of other de facto mini-states of the area;  such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia;  and Transnistria in Moldova.

Finding appropriate administrative structures;  which will permit real trans-frontier cooperation between Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan and Armenia will not be easy;  but it is a crucial step if peace is to be established.

The Association of World Citizens has proposed forms of con-federation and trans-frontier mechanisms in such cases;  and will continue to make such proposals for Nagorno-Karabakh.


  1. For a good analysis of Stalin’s nationality policies, see Helene Carrere d’Encausse  The Great Challenge: Nationalities and the Bolshevik State 1917-1930 (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1992)

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

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