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

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Europe, NGOs, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on September 30, 2020 at 8:04 PM

By René Wadlow

On September 27, 2020, military forces from Azerbaijan moved into six villages held by Armenian forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh area. The Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, warned in a television broadcast that the two countries were “on the edge of war with unforeseeable consequences”. The President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, declared martial law and called up reserve military. There have been calls for a ceasefire from Russia; however, Russia is generally thought to favor Armenia. The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has repeated his support for Azerbaijan.

Nikol Pashinyan

On September 30, 2020, the United Nations (UN) Security Council passed a unanimous resolution calling on Armenia and Azerbaijan to halt fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh and urgently 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 September 29, the Association of World Citizens sent an Appeal to the authorities of Armenia and Azerbaijan for a ceasefire and the start of negotiations in good faith.

Ilham Aliyev

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)

Stepanakert, the capital city of Nagorno-Karabakh. (C) Kylar Loussikian

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, Nakhichevan, 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 historical ally of Armenia.

The flag of the Flag of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.

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 pogroms. Some 160,000 Armenians left Azerbaijan for Armenia and others went to live in Russia.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union and the independence of Armenia and Azerbaijan, tensions focused on Nagorno-Karabakh. 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 ceasefire 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”.

Azerbaijani refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh during the 1992-1994 war.

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 ministates 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.

Note

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)

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

  1. Thank you for keeping me posted. Consider me a ‘student’ of yours as to be honest I know precious little of what is going on in this part of the world. I DO read all of your posts though in an effort to learn more – thanks!

    *Albert Einstein when asked by a reporter, “how does it feel to be the smartest man in the world..?” Einstein replied, “I don’t know, you should ask Nikola Tesla!” *

    On Wed, Sep 30, 2020 at 3:05 PM Association of World Citizens wrote:

    > Association of World Citizens posted: ” On September 27, 2020, military > forces from Azerbaijan moved into six villages held by Armenian forces in > the Nagorno-Karabakh area. The Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, > warned in a television broadcast that the two countries were “on the edge” >

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