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.
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)
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.
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.
- 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.