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The Nagorno-Karabakh Deadlock

Thursday 8 October 2020, by siawi3

Source: https://shuddhashar.com/opinion-the-nagorno-karabakh-deadlock-gunel-movlud/

The Nagorno-Karabakh Deadlock

Gunel Movlud

October 1, 2020

Armenia and Azerbaijan so far have rejected international calls for negotiations. Azerbaijan’s Ministry of External Affairs claimed that the government will continue fighting until Armenia leaves the occupied territories. Russia has urged both sides to negotiate and sign an immediate ceasefire and expressed willingness to host the negotiations. Sergey Lavrov, the Minister of External Affairs, spoke to his colleagues from Azerbaijan and Armenia over the phone. Ultimately, officials from both conflict sides are planning to meet in Moscow soon.

Total war has broken out between Azerbaijan and the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia, the historical and ethnic homeland of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, is one of the sides in the ongoing war. Videos and photographs circulating in the media provide evidence of the direct support to both sides by regional powers such as Russia, Turkey and Iran. However, to understand the bigger picture, we should start by looking at the early history of the conflict.

Brief Background

Nagorno-Karabakh was officially a territory of Azerbaijan up until the last decade of the 20th century. According to official statistics, Armenians were the ethnic majority in this disputed territory, the main reason behind why Armenia has never given up on its claim on Nagorno-Karabakh.

The disintegration of the USSR provided Armenians residing in Nagorno-Karabakh with a historic opportunity to demand independence for Nagorno-Karabakh. Ethnic solidarity propelled the Republic of Armenia to back up their claims. As a consequence of heightened tension between the two nations, migrants from both countries returned to their homelands: Armenians, living in Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku and Sumgait, moved to Armenia; similarly, Azerbaijanis living in Armenia moved back to Azerbaijan. Consequently, five hundred thousand Armenians and two hundred and fifty thousand Azerbaijanis had to leave their homes. During the Nagorno-Karabakh war, which ended in 1994, Armenia carried out an ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding regions. Most of the sufferers were Azerbaijani, who were internally displaced: seven hundred and fifty thousand people fled from Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas to the Republic of Azerbaijan.

In 1994, a ceasefire was signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh declared its independence, though it failed to gain recognition from the international community, as well as from the Republic of Armenia itself. Although the ceasefire was broken sporadically in the last 26 years, there has never been a situation where both sides mobilised their militaries and engaged in direct conflicts.

Events leading to the war

The circumstances in the region changed in the last two years. Armenia backed up by Russia in the past, experienced a peaceful revolution, as a result of which pro-European Nikol Pashinyan and his party came to power. Initially, Pashinyan, intending to receive international support, took steps in resolving the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh peacefully. However, his popularity has started to decrease in the last six months, and, to gain national appreciation, he has seized upon the Nagorno-Karabakh issue: “Karabakh is Armenian area! That is all!” Not surprisingly, the statement, followed by similar actions by him, received sharp criticism from Azerbaijan. War rhetoric escalated on both sides. Short-term clashes increased in Tovuz, a region in Azerbaijan, which is located not on the border between Azerbaijan and the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, but between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Tensions escalated in the frontline.

On social media channels, video footage of military trucks entering from Turkey to Nakhchivan, an autonomous Republic and an exclave of Azerbaijan, was released but not confirmed officially. Since then, many citizens have started to voluntarily enlist themselves in the army in Azerbaijan. In the meantime, photos of Anna Akopyan, Nikol Pashinyan’s spouse, and the first lady of Armenia were shared widely, which showed her participating in military training.

The war broke out

Since then, the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan attacked the disputed areas. In a short time, they regained control over seven villages, which were under the control of Armenian separatists in the last 26 years. Turkish government officials declared full support to Azerbaijan. On the other hand, images of military equipment in the Iranian border, destined for Nagorno-Karabakh separatists, were shared on the internet. Vladimir Putin has stated that his country would not intervene in the ongoing war, however, on social media channels, it was claimed that planes full of military equipment provided by Russia were sent to Nagorno-Karabakh via Iranian airlines.

On September 29, military mobilisation was announced both in Azerbaijan and Armenia: reserve officers and soldiers, as well as volunteers, were transported to the frontline.

Both sides covered news about the death of civilians.

What happened in reality, and where does the war lead to?

As can be seen from the course of events, Turkey wishes to establish its full hegemony in the region and, therefore, declared its full support to Azerbaijan. Prospering thanks to oil revenues, tourism, and its political stance in the last few decades, Turkey perceives Azerbaijan as an ideal ally. Yet Turkey’s direct support is not considerable; in fact, there is no video or photo proof of claims of Turkish army fighting on behalf of Azerbaijan. The most robust backing observed from Turkey is still written support statements by Turkish public figures from different spheres, including politicians.

Despite traditionally claiming the total hegemony in the region, Russia has not yet lent any direct support to Armenia. It seems that Vladimir Putin is busy with the conflicts in Ukraine and Belarus. In the meantime, Russia’s sympathy for Armenia has waned, since in Armenia, a traditional ally of Russia, pro-European politicians have come to power, and anti-Russian sentiments are on the rise. Another reason could be the unwillingness of Russia: A worsening economy, combined with the significant expenses it has incurred in different conflicts, does not allow Russia to join another battle. It entails that Russia at the moment does not consider the Caucasus as crucial as before. However, on social media, users from Azerbaijan and Iran are widely sharing pictures of trucks full of arms; however, there is no official confirmation about Russian military support (across the Iranian territory). Moscow is yet to verify the authenticity of these claims.

The West does not seem particularly willing to intervene in the conflict directly. Several factors, namely the Coronavirus pandemic, not having direct flights, being occupied with their internal problems, have complicated the chances of international intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The consequences of hate propaganda

After almost 30 years of a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, rampant propaganda permeates in both societies. Both Armenian and Azerbaijani politicians and media have only spewed out hatred towards the other. Peacebuilding attempts made by organisations and individuals have been foiled; they have been called traitors, mocked and discredited. Consequently, it has caused both societies to hate each other, to forget about their peaceful co-existence in the past, and not look for negotiations to reach a peaceful end to the conflict. A stream of people is enlisting themselves in the army, and the strong support for the military from civilians on both sides shows that not only governments but both societies want war.

Armenia and Azerbaijan so far have rejected international calls for negotiations. Azerbaijan’s Ministry of External Affairs claimed that the government will continue fighting until Armenia leaves the occupied territories. Russia has urged both sides to negotiate and sign an immediate ceasefire and expressed willingness to host the negotiations. Sergey Lavrov, the Minister of External Affairs, spoke to his colleagues from Azerbaijan and Armenia over the phone. Ultimately, officials from both conflict sides are planning to meet in Moscow soon.

What is worse, even if officials from Baku and Yerevan come to an agreement, it will take decades to allow internally displaced people to go back to their homes, integrate them into these two societies and then teach them again how to live together peacefully.

Photo: Aziz Karimov

Gunel Movlud was born in 1981 in Azerbaijan. As a pursued Azeri journalist, translator, and poet, she has been living in Norway as an ICORN writer since 2016, where she has won the “Words on Borders” poetry prize in 2017. In 2019, she was published in Aschehoug anthology of refugee poets, To kiss a desert. To kiss a wall. Gunel is a women’s rights activist and writes against violence, oppression, and injustice.

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