Will Violence Increase Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?
The International Crisis Group recently published a comprehensive report titled “Nagorno-Karabakh’s Gathering War Clouds.” One of the key messages of the report was the looming threats of large-scale war in the South Caucasus. The report also referred to the growing militarization in the South Caucasus and the stalemate stemming from the unsuccessful negotiation process, which was indeed bogged down due to Armenia’s unconstructive position and the political procrastination of the mediator countries. The protraction of the status quo in the conflict zone emboldens the parties to the conflict to bolster their military capabilities. The period since April has marked another “lost year” for settling the conflict. Both sides have “nuclear weapons” of sorts, but it is unlikely that they would use those weapons against one another in a haphazard manner. Iskander tactical missiles (which can carry nuclear warheads too) were donated to Armenia by Russia, and are a frequently discussed topic in terms of their potential threat to regional stability. Meanwhile, the acquisition of Iskanders is usually justified by the Armenian side through misleading arguments about trying to tie it to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But Armenia’s ability to wield a military arsenal does not empower official Yerevan to abscond international law in the framework of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region is internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan occupied during the 1988–94 Karabakh War by Armenian armed forces and separatist forces, which is supposed to be part of the self-proclaimed “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” established on the basis of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and the surrounding occupied regions of Azerbaijan. Their so-called “statehood” is not recognized by any international actors or states—not even by Armenia. The unilateral institutional secession of the oblast from the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic was conducted by both the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic and the oblast in 1988 and 1992, first under the thesis of “reunification” with Armenia, but later under a “self-determination” clause. It was rejected by Azerbaijan, and the Supreme Soviet of the USSR did not authorize the proposed unification/secession without Azerbaijan’s consent.
After the Gulistan and Turkmenchay peace treaties between Russia and Iran, very rapid massive resettlement of Armenians in the region took place and the subsequent artificial territorial division emerged. After the Bolsheviks invaded the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (1918–20), the Russian Communist Party decided to grant Nagorno-Karabakh the status of an “autonomous region” within the territory of Azerbaijan. The administrative boundary line of the oblast was defined in such a way as to carve out Azerbaijani villages and artificially create a new demographic situation in the region. Armenia’s territorial claims towards Azerbaijan, besides Karabakh, extended to the Nakhchivan region and also to the Akhalkalaki and Borchali regions of Georgia. The demographic picture of the region changed between 1828 and 1973, at the expense of immigration by Armenians living in Iran and Turkey, and the forcible resettlement of the Azerbaijani population from Armenia to Azerbaijan, as well as large-scale massacres against Azerbaijanis from 1905–18. Soviet authorities remained blind to the artificial change of demographic composition of the region and the massacres, which consequently set at odds both Azerbaijan and Armenia.