The War in Artsakh and its Global Impact

Military Conflict in the Caucasus / Adobe Stock Photos

n 27 September 2020, the Republic of Azerbaijan attacked the Armenian Republic of Artsakh (also known as Nagorno-Karabakh), which is under the protection of the Republic of Armenia. Since then, an unequal war has been waged between Artsakh, with a population of about 150,000, and Azerbaijan, with a population of over 10 million people. In the meantime, some other regions within Armenia, as Artsakh's protector, have also been attacked by drones and bombs. In the middle of this crisis, the Turkish government made it evident that it stands by Azerbaijan with all its means, making the situation in Artsakh more unbearable. Thousands of people have died on both sides already. The main topic of this post is to address the roots of this disaster and the possible global consequences that it may have.

Historical background

Artsakh is an ancient Armenian territory in the South Caucasus and has a history of several thousand years. Since the 4th century, Artsakh like the other Armenian territories fell under foreign control, becoming from time to time partly autonomous. Through the recovery of the Armenian Kingdom through the Bagratid dynasty in 885, Armenia, including Artsakh, became independent again. Since the 11th century, several Turkish tribes (Seljuk-Turks, Mongol-Tatars, etc.) started the invasion of the Armenian territories, which also had an impact on Artsakh. In 1555 Armenia was divided between the Ottoman Empire and Persia and became a bone of contention between them. This situation lasted until Russia intervened. After the Russian-Persian war in 1804­–1813, through the Treaty of Gulistan (1813), Artsakh became a part of the Russian Empire. This status was further confirmed after the Russian-Persian war in 1826–1828 through the Treaty of Turkmenchay (1828), which brought East-Armenia, including Artsakh, under the rule of the Russian Empire.[1]

Throughout all of these historical events, Artsakh was always inhabited by Armenians. It remained Armenian in every respect. The rich cultural heritage of Artsakh until now is the living proof of that. Beautiful medieval Armenian churches and monasteries, cross-stones (khachkar), carpets and other cultural treasures have become an inseparable part of this territory.

Photo: cross-stones (khachkar) / Adobe Stock Photos

In 1917–1918, after the February Revolution three republics were established in Transcaucasia: the Republic of Armenia (Artsakh remained an inseparable part of the Republic), the Republic of Georgia, and the Republic of Azerbaijan. On 4 to 5 July 1921 the status of Artsakh, which was populated by over 90% Armenians, was discussed among the Russian and Transcaucasian Bolshevik governments. On 4 July 1921, it was decided, that Artsakh and another Armenian territory, Nakhichevan, should become part of Armenia, as they had always been. However, as a result of the intervention by the Bolshevik governments, especially Lenin and Stalin, it was decided on 5 July 1921 to annex both Armenian territories to Azerbaijan, giving them the status of autonomous regions in the meantime.[2]

The Republic of Artsakh (1991) and Azerbaijani attacks

As a result of the anti-Armenian policy Azerbaijan practised, from 1988–1989 conflicts began between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. In Baku, Kirovabad and other cities the Azerbaijani government started brutal massacres and the expulsion of Armenians (1988–1990). This situation led to war in 1988–1994. The Armenians did not have enough weapons, and no army, but they succeeded in defending themselves, as their desire to free their homeland Artsakh was unstoppable. On 2 September 1991, following the constitution of the USSR, Artsakh declared its independence under the Republic of Artsakh. This meant Artsakh stopped being a part of Azerbaijan already before the collapse of the USSR on 26 December 1991 (an important legal aspect). Despite this fact, the Republic of Artsakh is not currently recognised by any other state, as its status from the perspective of international law (as protection of the territorial integrity of Soviet Azerbaijan) is controversial. From the standpoint of national self-determination, the claim of Artsakhians is undeniable. The German-Armenian Lawyer Association makes clear that it is wrong to declare, that Artsakh belongs to Azerbaijan even from the perspective of international law. Seventy years after the illegal transfer of Nagorno-Karabakh to the Azerbaijan SSR by Stalin, Artsakh applied the right of self-determination in 1991, whereby the four United Nations resolutions do not affect its territory (as of 1991).

After the Azerbaijani government asked for negotiations, Armenians agreed, and the war ended in 1994. However, the conflict between Armenians in Artsakh and Azeris was never pacified. The situation has worsened, especially recently. In April 2016 Azerbaijan attacked Artsakh, and there was a short but severe war, in which many people died on both sides. The main reason for this situation is apparently the fact that the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev (President since 2003) has been trying to hide the negative consequences of his long regime under the Artsakh conflict for several years. In the meantime, supported by the regime of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Prime Minister 2003–2014, President since 2014), Aliyev has been repeating the attempts to recapture Artsakh. There have been several negotiations between Armenian and Azerbaijani politicians, where also the OSCE Minsk Group is actively involved in helping solve the conflict peacefully. Still, the talks have brought no visible results until now.

Photo: 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict map / Wikipedia

Notably, the Armenian side has always welcomed negotiations and peace, while the Azerbaijani side has often used the threat of war (even declaring, that the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, is also Azerbaijani). It is problematic that the hatred-propaganda against Armenians (there is a manipulation of the Azeri population by the government through media and social network) is so profoundly rooted in Azerbaijan during the last 25 years, that it hinders an Armenian-Azerbaijani relationship. However, it is also in part, due to the fact that the Armenians have a positive attitude towards minorities (Lezgi, Talysh, etc.) living in Azerbaijan, in order to live with them in friendly neighbourhoods.

Broader political interests

Not only Erdogan has proclaimed several times, that he supports the attempts of Azerbaijan to occupy Artsakh, blaming Armenians for the war, which in fact started because of the Azerbaijani attack on 27 September 2020, but also the Armenian and Artsakh governments have repeatedly confirmed that Turkey is actively involved in the war (through weapons, experts, etc.). In the meantime, there are several testimonies of Turkey sending Islamic Jihadists to the frontlines of the war in Artsakh, to support the Azeris. This shows that Erdogan is just pouring gasoline onto the fire. But what is his aim?

Eventually, Turkey follows the policy of Neo-Pan-Turkism and tries to abolish the Russian influence in the East (despite the fact, that Armenians have become independent from Russia). Pan-Turkism was a movement, which started in the 1880s by Turkic intellectuals from Shirvan (now in Azerbaijan) and the Ottoman Turks, attempting to achieve unification of all Turkic peoples. According to some scholars, pan-Turkism was connected with the process of ethnic cleansing[3] (e.g. Armenian, Greek and Assyrian massacres). Paul Goble states that in the last years, Turkey has shifted again from promoting Pan-Turkism in the Turkic speaking post-Soviet countries to backing Neo-Ottomanism. While he considers Pan-Turkism more secular and democratic, he sees a more authoritarian character behind the Neo-Ottomanism. The latter reflects both developments inside Turkey and Ankara's assessments of what will best work for its interests in the post-Soviet space: Some states are attracted by this ideology (including Azerbaijan), while others are conscious of what the adoption of this ideology may mean for them. Indeed, there is a danger behind this ideology, a threat to become subordinate to Turkey and lose their autonomy. As the external policy of Erdogan confirms, he shows a rather expansive policy and continuously tries to interfere in the policies of other states (e.g. Syria, Libya, Cyprus, etc.). How far Erdogan's expansion desire can go, is not clear. Recently he declared clearly "Jerusalem is our city, a city from us." This is a declaration, which should be seriously considered.

Under these circumstances, Azerbaijanis should rethink, whether they really need a war with Armenians. Recently, the famous Turkish Journalist Levant Gültekin stated, that Azerbaijan is not a state, it is a tribe, there is neither right nor democracy there, only an authoritarian government, which has much money. Until now, Azerbaijanis could not establish a normal state. Is this not a remark, that it is time to annex Azerbaijan to Turkey and thus to form a real state there? All this evidence shows that Armenia and Artsakh are in fact, not enemies of Azerbaijan. They are walls, which protect Azerbaijan from expansive Turkish ambitions. There is a threat that Azerbaijan and other neighbouring countries (Georgia) may become Turkish provinces if once Artsakh and Armenia disappear from the map. Furthermore, Azerbaijan is endangered by the involved Syrian Jihadists, which can invade its territories very soon.
Finally, it is also important to highlight, that despite the intervention of Turkey in the war on the side of Azerbaijan, Armenians keep their independence from foreign interventions. Since the Azerbaijani attack on 27 September 2020 neither Artsakh nor Armenia have ever asked for Russian support, even after drones attacked Armenia itself. In opposition to this, with their independent behaviour Armenians are trying to keep Russia out of the conflict and to expand thus their independence. The only 'intervention' of Russia by now was its attempt to achieve a cease-fire between Azerbaijan and Artsakh on 10 September 2020 (especially for the exchange of dead bodies), but even this agreement was broken through continuing Azerbaijani bombing on Artsakh.

Global alert: Armenian lives matter

The Azerbaijani attack on Artsakh has cost many innocent lives, not only of young soldiers but also of Armenian civilians. In addition to this, Armenians are blocked between their neighbouring countries, receiving only some humanitarian aid from the outer world through Iran. In this situation, Armenia and Artsakh are in mortal danger. However, some states (Israel, Turkey, Belarus, etc.) still keep selling weapons to Azerbaijan. The Azeri army uses, according to several pieces of evidence, even forbidden weapons (such as cluster bombs, etc.), which also have a dangerous environmental impact. Further, several countries do not only omit to condemn the Azeri and Turkish actions against Artsakh, but some of them even show supportive positions towards Azerbaijan.

Azeri's aggressions in Artsakh and the Turkish intervention and expansion policy are dangerous not only for South Caucasus but also for the entire world. Armenians are protecting now not only their own country and their lives. They are protecting the world from further wars, injustice and violence as well as from the environmental damage. In addition to this, Artsakh is a pioneer in the fight against the international terrorism now: it has become a protector of the world's peaceful future. Hence, every country and every organisation has the duty to support Artsakh and help stop the war, help stop selling weapons to Azerbaijan, and help establish peace in Artsakh – right now, before it is too late.

Our world is currently at a level where many countries with several institutions and organisations are aware of the importance of peace and justice and protect them. But some events, such as the war in Artsakh show, that the world has still many gaps to fill. The situation in Artsakh signals that there is a need for more political ethics in this world, for global thinking and acting, for more global concern for others, for their neighbours and even for those who live far away, because sooner or later their problem tends to become everyone's problem if the world does not help solve them in time. Pope Francis recently published a new encyclical, "Fratelli Tutti", where he suggests putting love and solidarity in the middle of politics. No matter, from whichever religious point of view, his vision on politics is indeed the only right path to secure our common home and our peaceful and sustainable future in this world.

Several politicians in France, in the USA, in the European Union and other places have already proven their global concern and raised their voices against the Azeri's aggressions in Artsakh, against the use of forbidden weapons there, against the Turkish intervention and the involvement of terrorists. However, only verbal condemnations are not sufficient, and the disaster continues. Political, economical and if needed even military sanctions are needed to stop Azerbaijan and Turkey from invading Armenian territories (e.g. by stopping military support and sales of weapons, by customs tariffs, by excluding from membership of an advantageous international body etc.). The City Council of Geneva has already adopted on 2 October 2020 a resolution (R-271), which condemns the Azeri military aggressions in Artsakh, accepts the right of Artsakh for its self-determination as well as requests to freeze Aliyevs' financial assets in Switzerland. It is time also for the other states, to go from condemnations and requests to clear actions supporting Artsakh.

Dr Mariam Kartashyan

[1] For more details on the history of Artsakh see Vahram Balayan (2002), Արցախի պատմությունը հնադարից մինչև մեր օրերը, Yerevan: Amaras.

[2] For further information on this see Ohannes Geukjian (2016), Ethnicity, Nationalism and Conflict in the South Caucasus. Nagorno-Karabak and the Legacy of Soviet Nationalities Policy, London/New York: Routledge, 66–71.

[3] Referring to the Armenian Genocide, Melson states: "It was in this context of exclusion and war that CUP made a decision to destroy the Armenians as a viable national community in Turkey and the pan-Turkic empire." Robert Melson, with a foreword by Leo Kuper (1996), Revolution and genocide: on the origins of the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 139. See also Flavia Lattanzi / Emanuela Pistoia, eds. (2018), The Armenian massacres of 1915–1916. A Hundred Years Later. Open Questions and Tentative Answers in International Law (Studies in History of Law and Justice 15), Rome/Teramo: Springer, 68f.

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