This paper illustrates the historical issues underlining the current relationship between Azerbaijan and Armenia, briefly pointing at the impact of geography upon the history, roots of Armenian-Azerbaijani enmity and the impact of Soviet and Russian national policies. Aiming to examine the basic reasons behind this conflict, the paper is presenting the different interpretation of history. Following essential topics about the evolution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute guiding a reader to discover this conflict’s regional dynamics and exploring the factors, presented by scholars and officials. To illustrate the development of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, the paper is emphasizing on perspectives and interests of external powers. As an essential point, this paper also illustrates the significant impact of the energy resources of Azerbaijan and policies of several countries who desire to influence the outcome of the Karabakh conflict. The conclusion of this paper draws a framework for the efforts involved in solving this conflict, trying to find the possible solution, and briefly states the latest state of Karabakh conflict.
The Karabakh dispute is uncured wound; this conflict is desperation for peace, in addition, it is a struggle for freedom of both nations, for Azerbaijan and Armenia. Unfortunately, external efforts and powers cannot solve this dispute, as in this issue, only the two nations can come to the solution, which can be the result of willingness for unity and peace. Everyone needs peace and freedom, so do these two nations-Azerbaijan and Armenia. The dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia has reached its worse culmination since past 20 years. According to Gerard Chaliand, “efforts of the past twenty years to mediate an end to the Karabakh conflict are trying to withdraw military forces from Karabakh,” assuming that this act would stop the conflict. (Gerard Chaliand, p.43) The same efforts are predicting that this could help to return the refugees and war will end. From point of view, this cannot be a solution as countries are not willing to negotiate; the victory of one country is a defeat of another. This notion is deeply flawed; true peace must not be confused with peaceful coexistence, which is what a political settlement perhaps essentially aims to achieve.
Historical Issues Underlining the Current Relationship between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia started in the late 19th century when the Russian Empire used its forces and power to enslave all poor nations. By the time countries of Caucasus, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia were in the middle of czarist “volcano’, where is the division of ethics and cultures were the primary aims of Russian Empire. The main aim of Russian Empire was to weaken already weakened ethics, so the last ones would live and “prosper” for the sake Russian Empire. Because the Armenian nation existed since hundreds of years before Azerbaijan become a nation, “Armenia had higher social and economic position.”(Andrew Bell, p.143) At that time, “Azerbaijan had no recognition, nor a stable economy; therefore, the majority of Azerbaijanis lived under the Armenian rich society.”(Bell, p143)
However, this was true thousands of years ago and it is true now, that we desire freedom more than anything else that life can give us. Therefore, in Czarist regime, Azerbaijan was living under the oppression of rich Armenians, while Armenia was living under the pressure of Russian Empire. However, Azerbaijan became a slave of Armenia. “These factors created enmity between the two ethnic groups.”(Bell, 143) The czarist regime of “divide-and-rule” sought to promote jealousy and division among these neighboring ethnic groups in order to ensure, once again, the monarchy’s grip on power. According to Christopher Walker, “When central authority decreased during the Russian Revolution of 1905, the tensions built between the Azerbaijanis and Armenians exploded into violence throughout the Caucasus region.” (Walker Christopher, p.3) However, the two nations always have their own reasoning for such an issue. Both Azerbaijanis and Armenians, have right to believe what they think is the right fact behind this hatred. The two nation never come to “golden middle’ when things come to explain historical backgrounds and causes of this dispute. From Armenian perspectives, this conflict rooted in Ottoman and the Russian Empires, “reinforcing the Armenian’s sense of solidarity.” (Walker, p-vii) Armenians claim that they have sustained themselves for millennia on the feeling that they were unique every nation is unique, despite being subject to the disruptive effects of their geographical surroundings. However, Armenians forgetting the fact that after the collapse of Czarist regime, all Caucasus nations, including Georgia, Ossetia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Dagestan, Chechnya, etc., had been united and lived in peace, as fine neighbors. Moreover, after the WWI these nations displayed willingness for peace and solidarity between each other.
On another hand, Azerbaijani perspectives believe that, regardless of Ottoman and Russian empires’ influence, the enmity is not just a subject of a geopolitical surrounding, but a struggle over the power in this region. Some may wonder, “Why would two neighbors struggle for power?” It could be obvious that the main aim of Russian Empire brainwashed these nations and lighted the fire of enmity between them, so the small ethnic groups would have no solidarity, which was the potential weapon against Czarist regime. However, as this enmity already has entered into the brain cells of both nations, Azerbaijanis believe that this issue has its roots only within the two ethnicities, excluding the influence of Russian and Ottoman empires.
Development of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Dispute
For many years, since the Russian Revolution, the two nations continued to be the subject of “divide-and-rule”. At the time of USSR, like many of the USSR republics, Azerbaijan and Armenia were potential “dangers” to the Soviet authorities. The diverse ethnic population of entire Caucasus region was a “bone in a throat” of the Soviet government. Therefore, the Soviet government made an effort to destroy a good relationship between two ethnics by ‘awakening” enmity between Azerbaijan and Armenia, almost constantly giving Karabakh lands to Armenia and after some time vice-versa. This double game, of course, awakened old issues between the two nations and grow into violence. Soviets wanted to destroy cultural diversity and have one and only culture- the Russian culture. As a fact, Soviets forced to change the last names of all members of 15 Republics (excluding the members of Russian culture) in order to have one nation. For example, an Azerbaijani last name “Gara” (ethnically belong only to Azerbaijan) have changed to Garayeva, believing that this act would create one Russian Culture.
However, changing people’s names or last names did not create “one and only Russian culture”, but Russian government kept trying to achieve this goal; dividing ethnics and creating diversity. After many years of “give-and-take”, it was Gorbachev’s turn to use this issue as a political “toy”. Besides, Armenians trusted Gorbachev, hoping he will assign Karabakh lands to Armenia. However, “Those Armenians were completely disillusioned and for them, it was the end of the ‘Gorbachev myth’.”(Gerard, p125-126) Some people believe that USSR had always sided with Azerbaijan during this time. In contrary, Gorbachev assigned Karabakh to Armenia “in the form of additional aid to appease the parties.” (Andrew, Bell, p.29) With the breakup of the USSR in 1989 and the declaration of independence by Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1991, these issues were quickly brought to light. By mean, having Karabakh as separate “additional aid”(Bell) appeared to be not efficient for the Armenian Republic, as Armenia wanted this land to be officially under the rule of Armenian government and not as the independent Karabakh Republic. Initially, Armenia’s official position on Karabakh was to neither to claim sovereignty nor recognize Karabakh’s independence.
However, this issue has had its controversial views over the Post-Soviet period. In the Post-Soviet phase, Armenia and Azerbaijan emerged from the shadows of the Soviet empire as independent states on the international stage for the first time in more than seven decades. According to Walker, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were no longer any barriers to pent-up ethnic tensions; the dispute over Karabakh started a new phase. The Soviet Union abandoned significant amounts of military equipment in the region, which were used by both sides in the escalating conflict. The surrounding countries- Russia, Iran, and Turkey were deeply concerned by the new military activity and by the potentially destabilizing effect on the region. (Walker, p 121)
Russia as with the former USSR has a desire to maintain influence in the region, both as a buffer to Western influence as much as to benefit from the potential trade and energy, (both oil and gas) that can be exploited. The energy resources of Azerbaijan are considerable. These resources have played an important role throughout this conflict. It is important to note that up until the dissolution of the USSR had always sided with Azerbaijan, when it became apparent that Azerbaijan was looking to develop these resources with a consortium of primarily Western companies, Russia began to support Armenia with arms and funds, which had a significant impact on the outcome of the war. In addition to this, Russia attempted to block the validity of this contract stating, “… Azerbaijan had no legal right to exploit the oilfields on the Caspian shelf without consulting other legal states” (Herzig, Edmund. p.116)
On another hand, Iran also has desires to increase its influence in the Caucuses, while also fearing of the reemergence of Turkey as a power broker. Iran sought to become the hub of energy resources in the region and threatened by the optional energy routes, which could be developed. In addition, Iran has traditionally sided with Russia as seen with their support of Russia in the attempt to dissolve the energy contract fearing the impact of additional western influence in the region.
However, Turkey has had and continues to this day to have strong ties to Azerbaijan. Turkey has close ethnic ties with the primarily Turkic population of Azerbaijan and supports the Azeri position of territorial integrity. With the breakup of the USSR Turkey saw this as an opportunity to increase its political presence in the region. In addition, Turkey is fearful of the impact of instability in the regions and the potential impact that this could pose both with its trading partners and with ethnically diverse regions within Turkey itself.
Consequently, one might conclude that Karabakh land and its issue have awakened “appetites” for something bigger than just a land; watching closely the development of this conflict and having a “standby” position is likely for mentioned countries and each has their still unrevealed ambitions beyond their interested on Karabakh.
Directions of the Conflict
It is interesting that almost all civil wars or ethnic disputes have somehow attached to the “oil” issue. Therefore, this conflict seems like circling around Azerbaijan’s oil reserves. Nevertheless, what do ordinary citizen would know about true ambitions of war and its compromises? Reading history and watching TV news cannot be enough to discover the truth. When things come to the Karabakh issue, oil factors mostly are hidden behind “forbidden” signs of Azerbaijan authorities and its supporters. The only information one can collect is by general knowledge of some scholars, economics, experts, etc. Nevertheless, how much of truth do they know? Even in this essay, it is almost impossible to cover facts and reality, as it still general, even cited or quoted from scholars. One has to “deep” himself into this issue from the very beginning of the dispute more than 100 years ago, so every fact and told story will be based on history. Who says that history is always true and right?
As for Azerbaijan and Armenia’s Karabakh “game”, the oil factor is the part of history and present day.Azerbaijan’s oil revenues and steady economic growth have reduced any inclination for compromise with Armenia. Azerbaijan has exponentially increased its military spending, to which Armenia has responded with its own build-up. Let not forget that the people of both countries were in economic crisis and millions were living on “salt and bread” rules. Perhaps the fact that human nature needs constant competition brought US and Russia, Azerbaijan under one umbrella. However, US-Russian competition over the flow of Caspian oil is a contributing factor to the possible resolution of Karabakh conflict. Consequently, in 1990’s, Azerbaijan was not able to have a direct relationship with the US, as Russia always stood between the two.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan rejected Russian new policy over Caucasus region; therefore, Russia favored the Armenian position. In 1992-1993, the new Armenian army utilized its superior training and organization to drive the Azerbaijanis out of Karabakh, as well as capturing large territories to the south and west of the Karabakh. A massive Azeri counteroffensive was initiated in winter 1993, but with marginal territorial gains. Several international scholars believe that the President of Azerbaijan H.Aliyev made explicit use of the promising and untapped oil fields on Azerbaijani territory to acquire an advantage in the Nagorno-Karabakh war. The underlying principle was straightforward: if Azerbaijan could get powerful countries to invest in its oil sector, the support of the same countries could be utilized for securing a favorable diplomatic victory in Nagorno-Karabakh. Unfortunately, the victory escaped Azerbaijan, leaving its territories occupied.
Between 1988 and 1994, the conflict followed a pattern of interrupted escalation against continuous efforts to negotiate a cease-fire on the part of a range of mediators. However, in May 1994, the sides agreed to a cease-fire brokered by Russia, and in July of the same year, Armenia and Azerbaijan committed to maintaining the cease-fire and seeking a negotiated settlement. When the ceasefire was finally agreed upon, in May 1994, the Armenian army effectively occupied 20% of Azerbaijan. (The Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Kingdom of Belgium. Facts)
Conclusion: Efforts, Prospects, Current Status
It is ironic that how much we are going back and forward to the history in order to find what we have missed in past and what was our mistake. This essay illustrated causes and effects of the Karabakh war, unfortunately leaving behind what called a “human sense”. It occurs, maybe because this war has nothing to do with millions of people; their lives, their struggle, and their sorrows. This war was and still about a group of people trying to sell and buy the Karabakh lands not for its recourses, nor for its geographical location, but for Azerbaijan’s oil reserves. “Since its violent resurgence, the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan has brought untold destruction and hardship to the region.” (Herzig, p.129) Both nations, displaced from their homes, have worsened the conflict and the drain on their economy. Indeed, the Karabakh conflict has amplified substantially, the negative effects of the Soviet breakup in both republics. More importantly, it has struck at the heart of both people’s sense of identity and statehood.
Today, in Azerbaijan, most opposition parties advocate a tougher stance than that of President Ilham Aliyev; some are convinced that time and oil revenue are so clearly on Azerbaijan’s side, that is better to wait for the balance to shift in order to secure a more favorable outcome or to exercise the military option. In addition, International peacekeepers have attempted to resolve this conflict. The OSCE is committed to providing a support once the sides have agreed on force separation and repatriation, but an agreement has still not been reached, and its parties face each other at short range along the cease-fire line. (The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Permanent Council. NÂ°761) The United Nations and the international community have supported the OSCE efforts.
Nevertheless, while Armenia and Azerbaijan have found it difficult to make meaningful compromises on the path to a peace settlement, perhaps it should not be regarded as an impossibility that an agreement would be signed in the near future. The bloodshed that has stained the region for the past 22 years has blinded most Armenians and Azerbaijanis to the fact that, before being subjected to Russian rule and czarist policies aimed at promoting division among ethnic groups, their peoples lived together in peace for hundreds of years prior to the 20th century. Although collective memories of recent brutalities will not be “undone” easily, the reunion should be regarded as an attainable goal.
Unfortunately, there is little indication of a change in attitudes in Azerbaijan or Armenia. Indeed, if there is anything on which the government and opposition in both countries agree, it is on where to draw the line vis-à-vis Karabakh. With so many unsolved problems and with so much enmity between the two nations, there might be no solution for this issue. This issue is as deep as the black plague that perhaps would need a political and moral doctor in order to be cured.
As latest news points it out “Delays in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict create a dangerous situation and there is a risk that it could lead to great wars” (Mubariz Gurbanli, NAP News, 12 March 2010), people of Armenia and Azerbaijan have a long way to a peace settlement. Every other day of this peace delay is a path to a new war. Crossing fingers for peace in both countries.