Make Sense of the Previous and New Armenia-Azerbaijan Battle

Historical past by no means ends, a minimum of within the Previous World. On February 18, Reuters tells us that “leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan bickered over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh.” Azerbaijan has blocked the Lachin Hall, a mountain highway that hyperlinks Armenia and the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies in Azerbaijan.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally acknowledged as a part of Azerbaijan, however its 120,000 inhabitants are predominantly ethnic Armenians. They broke away from Baku within the early Nineteen Nineties and Yerevan supported their fellow Armenians. This led to a struggle by which Armenia emerged on prime. By 1993, Armenia not solely gained management of Nagorno-Karabakh but in addition occupied 20% of Azerbaijan.

In 2020, struggle broke out once more. Because of Turkish drones and large-scale army operations, Azerbaijan regained a lot of the territory it misplaced within the early Nineteen Nineties. Now, its blockade of the Lachin Hall is inflaming passions but once more.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken received Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev to fulfill in Munich. The post-Davos Munich Safety Convention was a handy excuse for the leaders to get collectively. Each side claimed that they’d made progress in the direction of a peace deal. But a disagreement broke out. Aliyev “accused Armenia of occupying Azerbaijan’s lands for nearly 30 years.” Pashinyan claimed that “Azerbaijan has adopted a revenge coverage” and was utilizing the assembly for “enflaming intolerance, hate, aggressive rhetoric.”

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Map dated 2016 ©

A Tortured Previous: Christianity, Islam and Communism

Each Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia inform us that Armenia grew to become the primary nation to ascertain Christianity as its state faith. Apparently, in 300 CE as per the previous and 301 AD as per the latter, Saint Gregory the Illuminator satisfied King Tiridates III to transform to Christianity. The Armenian Apostolic Church is an impartial Oriental Orthodox Christian church and has many similarities to the Russian Orthodox Church.

If Armenia is Christian, Azerbaijan is Muslim. Within the early sixteenth century, Ismail I, the founding father of the Safavid Dynasty conquered Azerbaijan. Ismail I proclaimed the Twelver denomination of Shia Islam because the official faith of the Persian Empire. Whereas Iran is sort of completely Shia and Sunnis are persecuted, Azerbaijan follows a extra syncretic model of Islam. The US State Division’s 2021 Report on Worldwide Spiritual Freedom tells us that Azerbaijan’s “structure stipulates the separation of faith and state and the equality of all religions earlier than the legislation.” It additionally tells us that of the 96% Muslim, 65% is Shia and 35% Sunni. There may be little internecine Muslim battle although non-Muslims nonetheless have a tough time within the nation.

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Within the nineteenth century, Russia began gobbling up Azerbaijan because the Persian Empire weakened below the Qajar dynasty. Sunnis fled from Russian-controlled territory to Azerbaijan. As Russia took over, a contemporary Azeri nationalism arose. It emphasised a standard Turkic heritage. Ties with Ottoman Turkey deepened whereas these with Qajar Persia weakened. To today, Azerbaijan stays nearer to Turkey than to Iran.

Azerbaijan additionally retains shut ties with Moscow. It has spent a lot of the final two centuries below Moscow’s thumb. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, Azerbaijan declared independence in 1918. This didn’t final lengthy. Beneath Moscow’s relatively heavy hand, the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic was shaped.

Armenia too is intently intertwined with Moscow. Till World Warfare I, Armenia was a part of the Ottoman Empire. But struggle infected suspicions in regards to the loyalty of Amenians to Istanbul. Some Armenian volunteers had been serving within the Imperial Russian Military. The  notorious 1915 Tehcir Legislation ordered the pressured relocation of the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian inhabitants to the Ottoman provinces of Syria and Iraq. Demise marches into the desert and massacres led to the deaths of 800,000 to 1.5 million folks. Pressured Islamization of ladies and youngsters sought to erase Armenian cultural identification and make them loyal topics of the Ottoman sultan who was then the caliph of all the Islamic world. This mass homicide and cultural destruction has come to be often called the Armenian genocide.

World Warfare I went badly for each Ottoman Turkey and Tsarist Russia. The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres “supplied for an impartial Armenia, for an autonomous Kurdistan, and for a Greek presence in jap Thrace and on the Anatolian west coast, in addition to Greek management over the Aegean islands commanding the Dardanelles.” The Turks rejected this unfair treaty and fought again. Peace solely got here with the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that established the boundaries of contemporary Turkey. A yr earlier, the Soviet Purple Military had annexed Armenia together with Azerbaijan and Georgia. Universalist communism snuffed out nationalism on this a part of the world.

Communism Collapses, Nationalism Rises

In 1923, the Soviet Union established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast inside Azerbaijan. About 95% of its inhabitants was Armenian. For the subsequent 60 years, the area was peaceable due to the heavy-handed Soviet rule. Throughout the disastrous 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghanistan Warfare, Moscow’s authority weakened considerably. In 1988, Nagorno-Karabakh’s regional legislature handed a decision to hitch Armenia. Tensions rose however the Soviets saved issues below management.

Soviet Union nationwide flag waving within the wind on a deep blue sky. Prime quality cloth. Worldwide relations idea.

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When the Soviet Union collapsed, all hell broke free. Armenia and Azerbaijan achieved impartial statehood, and went to struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenians on this area declared a breakaway state of Artsakh. This was unacceptable to Azerbaijan. Just like the collapse of Yugoslavia, the outcomes had been tragic. The struggle induced over 30,000 casualties and created a whole lot of hundreds of refugees. As said earlier, Armenia held the higher hand. 

By 1993, Armenia had gained management of Nagorno-Karabakh and occupied 20% of Azerbaijan’s geographic space. Peace solely got here in 1994 when Russia brokered a ceasefire that has come to be often called the Bishkek Protocol. This left Nagorno-Karabakh with de facto independence with a self-proclaimed authorities in Stepanakert. Nevertheless, this enclave was nonetheless closely reliant on shut financial, political and army ties with Armenia.

Each Armenia and Azerbaijan had been financial backwaters below Soviet rule. In 2011, Azerbaijan struck gold within the type of gasoline. Baku launched what has come to be often called the Southern Fuel Hall. Azerbaijan wrangled a take care of the European Fee to produce gasoline as distant as Italy. The nation used gasoline proceeds to purchase arms from each Turkey and Russia in addition to modernize its army.

In early 2016, a four-day struggle broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh. Most analysts say that Azerbaijan triggered this battle with the tacit, if not overt, acquiescence of Moscow. For a few years, Baku had “been promising to liberate the territories occupied by the Armenians.” Neither had been the Azerbaijani troops in a position to break by means of Armenian defenses in Nagorno-Karabakh, nor had been the Armenians in a position to launch a counteroffensive. The truce reestablished the established order.

In 2018, #MerzhirSerzhin—anti-government protests which have come to be often called the Velvet Revolution—broke out in Armenia and swept the outdated elites out of energy. Serzh Sargsyan reluctantly stepped down as prime minister and Pashinyan took over. The brand new authorities sought to loosen ties with Russia with out antagonizing Moscow, strengthen relations with Europe, and enhance relations with neighboring nations, together with Iran and Georgia.

Democracy in Armenia didn’t result in peace within the area. As said earlier, battle broke out once more in 2020. Azerbaijani forces crossed not solely into the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh of Nagorno-Karabakh, but in addition into Armenia. Azerbaijani artillery strikes hit cities and villages deep inside Armenian territory. Greater than 7,000 folks died and a whole lot, if not hundreds, had been wounded. Azerbaijan recaptured many of the territory it had misplaced within the Nineteen Nineties. Three ceasefires brokered by Russia, France and the US failed. 

Ultimately, Russia pushed by means of a ceasefire and despatched 2,000 of its troops as peacekeepers. Armenia needed to assure “the safety of transport hyperlinks” between the western areas of Azerbaijan and its exclave of Nakhichevan that lies inside Armenia.

A Unusual String Quartet: Russia, Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan

Since 1991, Russia had been Armenia’s fundamental safety and power supplier. The shared Orthodox Christian custom has lengthy made Yerevan Moscow’s most dependable companion within the area. Armenia is “the only real Russian ally within the area, the one host of a Russian army base, and “the one South Caucasus nation to belong to the Russian-led Collective Safety Treaty Organisation.”

But plainly avenue protests for democracy despatched alarm bells ringing within the Kremlin. Russian large Gazprom hiked gasoline costs in 2019, forcing Armenia to make overtures to its southern neighbor Iran. Worse, Russia become a main weapons provider to Azerbaijan. This led to “a relatively shocking disaster in Armenian-Russian relations.” Intelligence sources talk about a deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to again Azerbaijan as a result of the previous wished to show Armenia a lesson.

Turkey declared the 2020 ceasefire deal to be a “sacred success” for its ally Azerbaijan. In his characteristically colourful language, Erdoğan described Ankara’s help for Azerbaijan as a part of Turkey’s quest for its “deserved place on this planet order.” In a nutshell, Armenia-Azerbaijan has change into a theater the place huge powers are but once more enjoying one other model of the nice sport. As soon as, the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Empire and the Russian Empire met right here within the Caucasus, and jostled for dominance. One other jostling has now begun with Turkey, Iran and Russia—successors to the three empires—enjoying key roles.

Others have gotten concerned. Unsurprisingly, one in every of them is the US. On September 11, 2022, Mikael Zolyan of the Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace defined how the West had sidelined Russia in mediating the Nagorno-Karabakh battle. In actuality, the EU is enjoying a distant second fiddle. As negotiations in Munich have simply demonstrated, the US is looking the photographs, a minimum of as of now. Naturally, Russia is just not too happy.

Different actors are concerned too. Azerbaijan is permitting Ukraine’s army to acquire gas from its gasoline stations for free of charge. Moreover, Ukraine has at all times supported “the integrity of Azerbaijan’s internationally acknowledged territory all through the Nagorno-Karabakh battle” regardless of having the fifth largest Armenian diaspora on this planet. Georgia is in Ukraine’s camp and is pursuing each EU and NATO membership. Armenia is residence to a serious Russian army base that has floor forces, tanks, air protection, missiles, helicopters and Mig-29 multi-role fighters. These are Armenia’s insurance coverage towards whole Turkish-Azerbaijani domination. Regardless of heartburn over Russia’s betrayal in 2020, Armenian public opinion nonetheless favors Russia over Ukraine within the present ongoing battle. The waters within the Caucasus have gotten very muddy.

A Actually Worldwide Battle Membership

Involvement of distant powers is making the waters muddier. Over the previous couple of years, Pakistan has been self-consciously trying as much as Turkey to craft its Islamic identification. The northern a part of the Indian subcontinent was conquered by mamluk (i.e. manumitted slave) Turks in 1192. Lately, Pakistan has been turning to those distant Turkish roots and Erdoğan is much more widespread than the Turkish cleaning soap operas which can be enthralling Pakistan. The Turkish chief is seen as a real consultant of the Muslim world simply as historic tv drama Dirilis Ertugrul is considered as glorifying “the Muslim worth system and the Ottoman Empire.” 

You will need to keep in mind that Muslims in British India, modern-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, launched the 1919 Khilafat motion to revive the caliph to his throne in Turkey. They thought of the Ottoman sultan to be their religious chief. Erdoğan has emerged as a brand new caliph for Pakistanis, a lot of whom are keen to battle and die for him.

The Truthful Observer Intelligence (FOI) Risk Monitor concluded that Turkey and Pakistan had been institutionalizing strategic relations and creating the traits of a army alliance. With the persevering with deterioration of Pakistan’s financial and political scenario, the availability and willingness of younger males to volunteer for jihadi causes is growing too.

Sadly for Armenia, Pakistan has the potential to help Turkey and Azerbaijan with massive numbers of well-trained common or irregular troops in any future battle. Pakistani common army personnel already complement native forces in Saudi Arabia and different Arab nations. The Pakistani state has wealthy expertise of coaching jihadi volunteers in unconventional warfare after which sending them to battle in help of Islamic causes all over the world. These irregular forces have appeared in Afghanistan, India, and Yemen, generally working with Pakistani particular forces. With acceptable incentives, these fighters might be deployed towards Armenia to help Azerbaijani and Turkish aims, presumably together with components of the Pakistani Military.

Fortunately for Armenia, India has determined to help this beleaguered Christian nation. In September 2022, the 2 nations signed a $245 million value of Indian artillery methods, anti-tank rockets and ammunition to the Armenian army. Two months later, Armenia signed a $155 million order for 155-millimeter artillery gun methods. Aliyev, who succeeded his father to change into the strongman president of Azerbaijan in 2003, declared India’s provide of weapons to Armenia as an “unfriendly transfer.” India made this transfer solely after years of provocation by Erdoğan who has sided with Pakistan on Kashmir. In line with Glenn Carle, FOI senior companion and retired CIA officer, India’s sale to Armenia makes strategic sense and is a play for excellent energy standing.

In a nutshell, the Armenia-Azerbaijan battle over Nagorno-Karabakh has ramifications far past the area. The US desires Armenia to emulate Georgia and Ukraine, and be part of the ranks of free democracies. The EU desires peace within the Caucasus and low cost Azerbaijani gasoline to switch disrupted Russian provides. Russia desires the Pashinyan authorities, which is more and more unpopular after defeat in 2020, to fall. But it can’t and won’t enable Armenia, an Orthodox Christian nation, to be fully subjugated by its Muslim neighbors.

Because of faith and ethnicity, Turkey and Azerbaijan see Armenia as a historic enemy. Each need to educate Yerevan a lesson. So does Ukraine and maybe even Georgia. Curiously, mullah-run Iran desires to counter the rising affect of fellow Muslims—largely Sunni Turkey and majority Shia Azerbaijan—within the area. It fears {that a} highly effective Azerbaijan might attempt for the combination of Nakhchivan, the Azeri enclave in Armenia, and Azeri-majority areas in Iran. Subsequently, Tehran is promoting gasoline to energy-hungry Armenia. Because of Pavlovian cultural deference to Turkey, Pakistan sees the Armenia-Azerbaijan battle as jihad and its madrassa-trained younger males may present cannon fodder for this battle. In the meantime, India is responding to the pan-Islamism menace of Turkey and Pakistan by supporting a doubtlessly worthwhile ally. 

The die is solid for a riveting saga, which guarantees to have extra twists and turns than Dirilis Ertugrul.

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Truthful Observer’s editorial coverage.