Last April, violence erupted in a place known as Nagorno-Karabakh. If this doesn’t sound familiar, how about Armenia and Azerbaijan? No? Perhaps the furthest southwest corner of the former Soviet Union, just east of Eastern Turkey? OK, try this: the other side of the world?
When hearing of this outbreak of violence and reading something of the history, it struck me that the situation offered a real-time opportunity to consider secession, decentralization and property rights; further, the issue of culture binding people together for purposes of defense and security. But I am getting ahead of myself – first some background about the place:
Nagorno-Karabakh is a landlocked region in the South Caucasus, lying between Lower Karabakh and Zangezur and covering the southeastern range of the Lesser Caucasus mountains. The region is mostly mountainous and forested.
It may be landlocked, mountainous and forested, but I don’t believe anyone will confuse it with Switzerland.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but most of the region is governed by the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, a de facto independent nation established on the basis of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. Azerbaijan has not exercised political authority over the region since the advent of the Karabakh movement in 1988. Since the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994, representatives of the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been holding peace talks mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group on the region's disputed status.
The history of the place is the history of the region – Ottoman, Russian, Persian forces; land regularly changing hands; lines drawn to achieve political ends – think Stalin; religion – Christian and Muslim. Do you want to go back further? Turks for a thousand years and dominant for much of it, Armenians for three thousand years and dominant rarely.
Armenia, a Christian nation, is surrounded west and east by Muslim Turkic countries (Turkey and Azerbaijan, respectively), and to the south by Muslim Iran; to the north, a less-than-friendly Georgia (no, not the one with peaches).
So what of this Nagorno-Karabakh Republic?
Nagorno-Karabakh, officially the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Artsakh Republic or Republic of Artsakh is a republic in the South Caucasus recognised only by three non-United Nations (UN) states. The region is considered by the UN to be part of Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh controls most of the territory of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and some of the surrounding area, giving it a border with Armenia to the west and Iran to the south. It functions as de facto part of Armenia.
The population was and remains predominantly Armenian.
Finally, what of this war that came during the early 1990s?
The Nagorno-Karabakh War, referred to as the Artsakh Liberation War by Armenians, was an ethnic conflict that took place in the late 1980s to May 1994, in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in southwestern Azerbaijan, between the majority ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh backed by the Republic of Armenia, and the Republic of Azerbaijan.
I will skip over the reports of atrocities that occurred during the dying days of the Soviet Union. To make a long story short, in the dying days of the communist empire a referendum was held in Karabakh. The majority Armenian population voted to join with the Armenian Republic; the minority Azeris boycotted the election. One thing led to another…then war. Armenians – with memories of genocide at the hands of Muslim Ottoman Turks – did not want to live through genocide at the hands of Muslim Turkic Azerbaijan.
A cease fire was declared in 1994. Since then, sporadic gunfire has been a regular feature in the region; this changed last April with the major confrontation along the disputed regions.
Which brings me to an analysis of this recent situation, offered at The Saker:
On April 2nd, at the time of escalation of skirmishes in Donbas, with the Ukrainian military attacking and shelling Donetsk and nearby villages, Azerbaijan has attacked the Armenian-populated Karabakh.
Coincidence? Perhaps not. Three days earlier…
On March 30, 2016 Kerry met with the president of Azerbaijan Aliev and called for an ‘ultimate resolution’ of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
I should mention: Azerbaijan has oil, and Turkey – a NATO ally – obviously favors Azerbaijan over Armenia.
The author of the post suggests this is one more step in the war on Russia and China. Certainly, this region is about as close to Russia as is the Ukraine and perhaps even more dangerous given the added fuel of Muslim / Christian concerns, Russia’s very volatile South Caucasus, Turkey’s recent aggression toward Russia, trained terrorists in the region, conflict stretching from here through Iraq and Syria, eastward to Afghanistan, etc.
Finally, in case there is confusion regarding Turkey’s official position:
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey backed the Azerbaijani position “to the end,” according to a statement from his office. “We pray our Azerbaijani brothers will prevail in these clashes,” he was quoted as saying.
The only country interrupting a continuous arc of Turkic nations from Istanbul to western China is…Armenia. One hundred years ago, the Turks came close to solving this “problem.”
I accept the fog of war – which side started it, etc. Yet…since hearing of this sudden increase in the conflict…one question doesn’t leave me: what does Nagorno-Karabakh have to gain by launching an attack against Azerbaijan? To the extent I understand the situation, I can think of none – the status quo allows for the local Armenians an independence from the Azeri government. Do the Armenians believe they will conquer Baku?
What took me so long to begin writing about this most recent event – now several months old? I had to wait for a book: Armenia in Crisis: The 1988 Earthquake, by Pierre Verluise. I wanted some more information about the recent history – the history of secession.
What does an earthquake have to do with any of this? At the same time that secessionist stirring was occurring in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, northern Armenia was hit with a devastating earthquake. The story of the earthquake and its aftermath cannot be told without also telling the story of the war.
In this book are some interesting tidbits about the immediate aftermath of the war of over twenty years ago:
What would be ideal for Turkey and Azerbaijan is to draw Armenia into a brief but intense war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, with Turkey aiding the Azerbaijanis but putting up a publicly neutral face. Armenia would be subdued and forced to surrender her southern provinces, thus linking the two Turkish states to the east (Azerbaijan) and west (Turkey) of Armenia.
Again, writing regarding the earlier hot war:
The Turkish Defense Minister, Nevzat Ayaz, has denied the participation of any Turkish troops in the Karabagh conflict, although he did acknowledge that retired Turkish generals may have gone to Azerbaijan on their own initiative. At least one Turkish and one Arabic paper report more direct involvement. A story in the 5 July 1992 issue of Cumhuriet (a Turkish paper) reported that ten Turkish generals were in Azerbaijan to train military forces there. On 10 July Alshark-el-Aswat (an Arabic paper) reported the presence of over 1,000 Turkish military specialists, including 160 officers, in Azerbaijan. Alpaslan Turkesh, founder of the Turkish fascist Gray Wolves, admitted that his followers were fighting in Karabagh with Azerbaijani forces. Since that time, President [of Azerbaijan] Aliyev has imported as many as 2,000 mujaheddin fighters from Afghanistan as well as other mercenary forces.
So I still can’t get to what I intend to get to – decentralization, secession, culture etc., because what I have read from the history of twenty years ago sounds very familiar.
Azerbaijan’s latest violent escalation was gleefully egged on by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu:
The whole world should know that Turkey will stand shoulder to shoulder with Azerbaijan against these Armenian attacks until the end of the world. Our 78 million-strong population will continue to stand on Azerbaijan’s side until all of its lands under occupation have been liberated.
From a second post by Hagopian:
Spokesman for the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic David Babayan stated several days ago that evidence is emerging that strongly points to Azerbaijan once again being joined by the unsavory likes of Turkish Grey Wolves and even Islamic State terrorists fresh from the Raqqa, Syria battlefields. Firsthand accounts from witnesses in the overrun NK village of Talish claim that Armenian families and soldiers are being beheaded and brutally executed with ears cut off that confirm the pattern of barbaric foreign mercenaries fighting alongside the Azeri army.
Other accounts based on military sources also reveal that an Azeri ISIS brigade has rushed from Syria to fight another war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Finally the Iranian ARAN agency has published that ISIS has had a special training ground reserved for Azeri Islamic State recruits located on the Iraqi-Syrian border that is now fighting against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Apparently US-birthed ISIS fighters are not only coming to the west.
In case this mix isn’t toxic enough: arms sales by Russia to both Armenia and Azerbaijan; arms sales by Israel to Azerbaijan, Russian troops man the border between Armenia and Turkey (the border between the former Soviet Union and NATO); an intractable situation on the ground – no peaceful solution is acceptable to all parties, and genocide both remembered by and being threatened against the Armenian population.
A tiny enclave, in an obscure corner of the world; the poorest of the poor, barely carving out a life. If a village has one cow, it is considered a wealthy village. No oil – the Azeri oil is east of this region, in the Caspian Sea. Why would anyone outside of the region care about managing the affairs of those in the region? Frankly, why would anyone in the region care to manage the affairs of those inside?
In other words, why does it matter to anyone but the people who live there? Control. Power and authority are its own rewards. This is true for the Azeri desire to exercise political control over a very poor lot of people who do not want to be governed by Baku.
It is also true geopolitically. This conflict offers turmoil about as close as one can get to the world island of Russia and China. The objective of surrounding this island has proven sufficient to explain virtually every significant conflict in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East over the last one hundred years and more.
With all of that background information out of the way, as mentioned up front: I think this situation offers a real-world example of the benefits offered by secession, decentralization and respect for property rights.
It is the precise sentiment behind the American Revolution and also behind what is referred to as the American Civil War. It has nothing to do with racism, angry white men, or being pro-slavery – in fact, it offers the most anti-slavery possibility.
If one is looking for a peaceful method by which to resolve such conflicts, I can think of no other.