The questionable outcome of the Nagorno-Karabakh war

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As for disagreement in the Azeri society, according to many political scientists, Aliyev himself does not see the Russain troops as a threat. Russian troops do not pose a danger to Aliyev as long as he is loyal to Russia. The fact that Russia is not as strong and threatening as it used to be is another essential factor to consider in understanding ongoing issues. 

The world has closely followed the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia that lasted 45 days. Azerbaijani, Armenian, and Russian representatives signed a deal on the termination of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, which, in fact, decided the future of the region. As a consequence, Russian peacekeeping troops have been deployed in the region, Armenian forces are being withdrawn from the buffer zone and seven other adjacent areas, which are going to be returned to Azerbaijan. The political status and future of Nagorno-Karabakh have not been decided yet — Azerbaijani president Aliyev claimed through an official statement. However, one issue is crystal clear for now: Russian peacekeepers will secure the Nagorno-Karabakh truce in the region, and both Azerbaijanis, who were exposed to ethnic cleansing in the area in the first Nagorno-Karabakh war 30 years ago, and Armenians will be able to live there.

Many  Armenians are demonstrating against the deal in capital city Yerevan while Azerbaijanis are celebrating the agreement jubilantly as a victory. But what are the realities behind these scenes? Why Russia gained the most through the termination of the war? Despite celebrations all around the country, public opinion about the deal is not unanimous in Azerbaijan either.

The majority believe that the cessation of military operations, war, and casualties is a positive development. However, the deployment of Russian troops to Nagorno-Karabakh does not satisfy the public at all. We must not forget that Russian soldiers are associated with two critical events in the collective memory of Azerbaijani people: first, the “Black January” —bloody events on the 20th January 1990, when hundreds of people were killed, wounded and kidnapped by Soviet troops in Baku and some other regions of Azerbaijan; second, the Khojali massacre (26th February 1992) — Armenian irregular units backed up by the Russian 366th regiment carried out the mass murder of more than 600 Azerbaijani civilians. Currently, everyone in Azerbaijan is wondering about one issue: why did president Ilham Aliyev allow Russian peacekeeping troops to enter Azerbaijan? The ordinary Azerbaijanis thought it was possible to gain victory with the support of Turkey, without involving Russia. Opposing voices against Russia’s entrance to Azerbaijan is increasing because it is considered a serious threat to state policy: Azerbaijan was the first country in the USSR which dismantled the Soviet army and its military bases after declaring independence.

Local political scientists have no response to emerging questions. Most probably, it was a part of the agreement: Russia was not going to intervene with Azerbaijani military action in Nagorno-Karabakh for a specific time, in return for placing their own peacekeeping troops there later. In the past, Russia supported Armenia in the first Nagorno-Karabakh war (which ended in a ceasefire in 1994), but it has no incentive to do the same now. Presumably, Russia wanted “to teach a good lesson” to Pashinyan due to his anti-Russia policy and rhetoric in Armenia. At the same time, Russia did not enable Azerbaijan to restore its territorial integrity fully. Consequently, Russia enjoyed the highest benefit from the war by representing itself to the West as the only peacekeeping power trying to end a bloody war, in other words, the only guarantor of peace in the region.

As for disagreement in the Azeri society, according to many political scientists, Aliyev himself does not see the Russain troops as a threat. Russian troops do not pose a danger to Aliyev as long as he is loyal to Russia. The fact that Russia is not as strong and threatening as it used to be is another essential factor to consider in understanding ongoing issues.

Why did Turkey permit Russian troops to enter Karabakh? It was apparent that Turkey had strong ambitions about the region. Seemingly, Turkey believes it has means to restrict Russia’s total control over the situation. Or maybe Turkey has received some guarantees from Russia. Yet, these are just assumptions. Political scientists reckon the emergence of Turkish power in the region could be beneficial in terms of finally restraining the “unlimited hegemony” of Russia in the Caucasus region. Paradoxically, none of the previous Turkish authorities (more democratic ones than Erdogan) did lead such an active policy in the Caucasus. Therefore, it is difficult to predict whether Turkey will maintain the same policy in the Caucasus in case there is a change in government. In short, the course of events in the Caucasus will develop in tandem with domestic politics in the countries in the region, as long as the West is busy with their own elections and the pandemic.

In all cases, it will be a mistake to deem the Karabakh issue resolved. On the contrary, the status of Nagorno-Karabakh has not been decided yet, it is not clear who will deal with the problems of the Karabakh population. Similarly, no one has any idea what will happen at the end of the five-year period, when the peacekeeping operation will end in the region, if not extended, of course. Probably both Armenian and Azerbaijani side expected either victory or loss, and the outcome was surprising for both sides. On the one hand, armed forces in the liberated regions are consolidated, and a bloodless liberation is hoped for the remaining areas. Nonetheless, the deployment of Russian troops violates state policies.

From the perspective of most political scientists in the region, Nagorno Karabakh had already become a burden for Armenia, a country that does not own many rich natural resources compared to Azerbaijan. For the sake of national pride, Armenia had been supplying enormous sums of money to Nagorno-Karabakh for 30 years — authorities provided social benefits to Armenians moving to the so-called republic. However, the biggest trouble was Russia.  Armenians have only one way to keep Nagorno-Karabakh under their own control, away from Azerbaijan: by remaining loyal to Russia. After pro-Western Pashinyan came to power, some parts of the public already understood that Armenia would lose Karabakh. Therefore, demonstrations in Armenia are not so crowded now. Yet, a vast majority of society are considerably frustrated by Russia’s “betrayal”, and they see their homeland Armenia as suffering from the unanimity of authoritarian leaders of the region.

Under these circumstances, the overthrowal of Pashinyan can also be predicted, though it is a fact that he is still supported by a large section of people. Those who aim to force him to resign care more about coming to power than Nagorno-Karabakh itself and they are exploiting the Karabakh card at the moment.

Whether it is played by Azerbaijan, or Armenia, or Russia, or Turkey, the Karabakh card always works.


Cover image: Internet

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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