Thursday, October 9, 2008

Armenia and Azerbaijan are still in dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenia and Azerbaijan are still in dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh?

The collapse of the Soviet Union led to many tensions within the former Soviet Union and since then you have had many frozen conflicts. This certainly applies to the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. The outcome of this brutal civil war meant many deaths on both sides, however, Christian Armenians overcame their numerical weakness and managed to control this region. However, today, with increasing energy wealth, the nation of Azerbaijan may be thinking about starting a fresh war with Armenia in order to re-take Nagorno-Karabakh?

Before concentrating on this, it is important to look at the regional balance and possible dangers for Azerbaijan. Therefore, if we look at the region we see many frozen conflicts or current tensions in Abkhazia (Georgia), South Ossetia (Georgia), Chechnya (Russian Federation), Daghestan (Russian Federation), Ingushetia (Russian Federation), and the Kurdish issue in eastern Turkey. Some of these fault-lines are based on religion or ethnicity, or over the control of resources. However, with a heavy mix of ethnicity and two major faiths, Orthodox Christianity and Islam, then this region is a real melting pot.

Another dimension is the Russian Federation supporting Armenia while Turkey, a member of NATO, is pro-Azerbaijan. Also, the American angle is complex and sadly based on energy issues and self interests. After all, the Armenian lobby is very strong and potent within parts of America and the government is sympathetic. But geopolitics and realism still controls, therefore, the USA is using Azerbaijan in order to counter the influence of both the Russian Federation and Iran. This applies to energy routes which bypass both the Russian Federation and Iran.

Also, if we look back into history, then we must remember the 1915 Armenian Christian genocide (other minority Christian groups were killed, including the Assyrians) by Turkish nationalists. So past history haunts this region and this certainly applies to Nagorno-Karabakh. However, I must point out that Turkey refutes this genocide because this nation claims that most Christians died because of the war, famine, and other consequences of World War One.

If we now focus on modern times, then clearly it would appear that the economic gap between potential military spending is vastly different and this certainly favours Azerbaijan. The one main comfort at the moment for Armenia is the support they get from the Russian Federation and Iran. For Iran the situation is complex because most Azeri people are Shia Muslim, like Iran, however, Iran fears a greater Azerbaijan because of the sizeable Azeri community in northern Iran. So outwardly, Iran talks about Islamic unity, but covertly, they do not want to see Armenia weakened.

Before concluding, it is important to mention that in recent times the government of Turkey is now reaching out to Armenia. Also, Iran promised to mediate between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Therefore, rays of hope do remain and both sides need to talk openly and frankly because both communities suffered during the war. Also, the EU and Commonwealth of Independent States could also help with regards to this delicate issue.

However, increasing Azeri purchases of military equipment is alarming many Armenians. Also, you have many divisions within Armenia with regards to politics. Therefore, the current leaders of Azerbaijan may try to re-start this frozen conflict which erupts from time to time? If so, we could see a real clash of titans because the Russian Federation and Turkey have major self interests and NATO would be in a flux. So will the leaders of Azerbaijan or Armenia re-start a fresh war over Nagorno-Karabakh? Or can a deal be made over Nagorno-Karabakh based on genuine autonomy?

Lee Jay Walker Dip BA MA