Friday, October 30, 2020

The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict /Recap 3

 Last post I briefly described what led to the Second Karabakh war, having in mind how the conflict evolved in the last 3 decades.

This post – again short and far from being exhaustive – is about the conjectural causes: as I said, the Aspera&Ardua of 2020.


1)   Clashes have become more frequent in the last 10 years. For the first time in 2016, Azerbaijan regained possession of a part of the territory after a conflict of a few days. New clashes in July didn’t secure the same result and open the floor to additional military confrontations


2)   External crises (Syria, Lebanon) caused the displacements of Armenians. Some of them, fleeing the Middle East, relocated to disputed areas, a fact repeatedly denounced by Azerbaijan


3)   Change of government in Armenia: the status quo was based on the predictability of the positions of the parties. It was not a healthy predictability, and the negotiation process stagnated. At the same time, mutual distrust turned the negotiation mechanism into a very fragile one. Any slight change, or demand for a change, could make it fell through.

The new Armenian government wanted to sign discontinuity.

In particular, the post-revolutionary Armenian government has:

- Asked to review the negotiation format, including Karabakh

- Sent discordant messages: PM Pashinyan stated that the solution had to be acceptable to Armenians, Karabakhis and Azerbaijanis, but it also claimed (perhaps for domestic consensus/struggles, but still..) that Karabakh is Armenia

-  Ask noted by Jirair Libaridian,[1] in summer “Armenia made the Sevres Treaty an important part of the country’s foreign policy. […] These declarations were followed by the statement of the Minister of Defense of Turkey, who declared that henceforth Turkey considered itself a party to the Karabagh conflict. That means that (a) now the conflict is between, on one side, Armenia and Artsakh against Azerbaijan and Turkey, on the other side, and (b) Turkey is declaring that it is now ready to provide additional support to Azerbaijan, although it is not clear what form that new support will take. It is necessary to note, nonetheless, that this statement was not made by the minister of Foreign Affairs or any other functionary, but by the Minister of Defense.”


4) The COVID19 Pandemic:

-  Legitimacy crisis: Governments in South Caucasus, like others, will be held accountable of how they handle the pandemics. The pandemic and the consequent economic crisis are creating discontent. In the case of Azerbaijan it as to be factored the volatility of the hydrocarbon market. It is important to score success elsewhere, to preserve social stability and cohesion.  

With decreased incomes Azerbaijan’s military supremacy is harder to maintain. The country is nervous because it has to invest a lot in armament, and fears Armenia being armed “for free” (actually credits, Russian supplies are not presents)

- The international community distracted by the pandemic-related urgencies, different countries’ deterrence capacity is limited as they are mostly self-focused.

- Suspension of the confidence building, negotiation and monitoring mechanisms on the ground: No meetings in person; the team of the OSCE Representative returned to Europe

- Great vulnerability of Armenia, with an alarming health, which tops all others at regional level, and consequent severe economic crisis


  5)      Other factors: Turkey and Azerbaijani are at the peak of their positive relations. Turkey has a very pushy agenda in international theatres, and was ready to unscrupulously take Azerbaijan’s side.

On the other hand, Russia is very cautious. The removal or the fall of the Pashinyan government would not harm at all Russian interests. Strong signals of Russian disaffection were sent to Yerevan, not last the increase of gas price; President Putin called ex President Kocharyan while he was in jail and visited his wife in Armenia. Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov openly expressed discontent for the Armenian investigations on Gazprom, on Russian railways.

Moreover, Russia is ally to Armenia, but partner to Azerbaijan, and not ready blow up the not-so-easy cohabitation with Turkey. Russia is really walking on a tightrope to preserve its position of unbiased mediator to the conflict, and Armenian key ally, if not security guarantor.


Interim observation:

It is hard to believe that the Armenian public is happy with the outcome of this strategic alliance, so far. There are casualties in Armenia proper, and it is undeniable that the country is at war. What is the point in being a member to the Organization for the Treaty of Collective Security and Eurasian Union if in the end no one shows up to openly side with you at the time of war?

It is not just Russia, where are all other so-called allies?

So far, the only open support came from Greece, a NATO, EU country.



Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict / Recap-2

This second post of the series dedicated to the second Nagorno-Karabakh war dwells on its causes. There will be actually two posts about the causes. The current one about long-term causes, and one post to come about conjectural ones.

So, here’s in a nutshell what happened in between the two wars, and how it created the perfect breeding ground for the resumption of military hostilities.

The most remarkable processes were the following

In Azerbaijan:

§ Frustration due to lack of negotiation results

§ Progressive retirement or sidelining of the figures who were prone to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, as the administration who signed the ceasefire was year after year replaced by a new cohort of politicians with a different background

§ Economic growth lead to the ability to purchase weapons, which in turn lead to the persuasion to have achieved military superiority over Armenia

§ A more assertive international position, backed by oil and caviar diplomacy

§ An increasingly strong cooperation with a relevant regional power, Turkey

§ Public radicalization, intertwined with a spread rhetoric of hatred, injustice, the legitimacy of military Reconquista

In Armenia:

§ From 1998 to 2018 presidents who come from Karabakh (the so-called Karabakhi clan), which brought the Karabakh prospective directly to the core of the Armenian State

§ Progressive integration into the Russian sphere, albeit with not total abdication to multilateralism

§ Exacerbation of the encirclement complex and risk of genocide due to the worsening of relations with Turkey, and the latter’s greater cooperation with Azerbaijan (the Armenian assumption that Armenia is the only obstacle to the creation of the Great Turan)

§ Public radicalization, intertwined with a spread rhetoric of hatred, uncompromising attitude

In Nagorno Karabakh:

§ Consolidation of the de facto statehood

§ Progressive change in the perception of the safety belt (See: Consequences of the First Nagorno Karabakh War)  from buffer territories to an integral part of the territoriality of the republic, settlement in the area of Karabakhi, and sometimes the growth of revanchism towards areas that were part of the conquered regions in Soviet times but still under Azerbaijani control.


This is in short how the military conflict remained frozen, but the conflict itself kept evolving in the minds and in the choices of its actors.

As for the negotiations, that also kept evolving, it is hard to draft them in brief here. I am just recalling their main features:

§ It remained impossible to deploy an interposition force that would probably have been necessary to reduce the risks of escalation, which materialized in the last ten years-the boiling decade that preceded the second war. Besides the complicated position of the parties, Iran opposed no-regional military presences in the Region (and this exclusion of no-regional actors is consistent with the approach adopted by all Caspian countries to resolve the issue of the state and exploitation of the Caspian Sea)

§ Numberless conflict resolution patterns were proposed by the Minsk Group, by Russia individually, by groups of experts: exchange of territories (e.g. NK-AM corridor for AZ-Nakhchivan corridor), Associated State, Common State, Caucasian confederation, Cyprus model, Chechnya model, asymmetric federalism model, Ã…land Islands model, Andorra model, and other examples of high level of autonomy of a region and its metropolitan state.

§ The same can be said for the range of proposals concerning security clauses, including the status to be attributed to the secessionist armed forces (e.g. national guard, no army, yes army but with Azerbaijani participation, army that cannot leave the borders of Karabakh, Karabakh exempt from participating in any war Azerbaijani-Armenian etc.)

§ Different modalities of implementation were discussed: single package, step-by-step

§ Just to recall the most recent negotiation stages: 2001 Paris Principles, 2001 Key West agreements, 2007 Madrid Principles, 2010-2011 “Kazan Document”, draft proposals 2019

§ The proposal that emerged from the negotiation crafting: a step-by-step process which foresees the return of displaced persons and reopening of contacts and exchanges. The security belt was to shift under Baku’s control, with timing and modalities to be agreed (probably, first 5 regions, then the two connecting Armenia to Karabakh). The status of Karabakh should be defined at a later stage. For Armenia and Azerbaijan this proposal represents less than they require. Armenia demand the exchange territories (assuming there is something transferable) not for security but for status, that is to say for the recognition of Karabakh. Azerbaijan cannot accept that the future status remains unclear, as it means that its territorial integrity might be questioned.


All in all, after 28 years, the chances to reach a durable peace seemed, even before the war, significantly slimmer that in 1994, when the ceasefire was achieved.

The generation that remember the peaceful Armenian-Azeri of Soviet times was replaced by generations born in a climate of mutual enmity. Economic and social interdependence, again a leftover of the Soviet times and before, were completely severed in 3 decades of blockage.

The war is reducing these slim chances to imperceptibility.

Romans said: Per Aspera ad Astra, (or Per Ardua ad Astra, as it is more spread in the English speaking countries). Hoping they were right, next post will answer the question why this lengthily incubated but procrastinated war erupted last mouth. The Aspera&Ardua of 2020.  

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict / Recap-1

It took me some time to try and understand whether it would make sense to write here about the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. Commentaries abound, and I am not really in the mood to add anything to what has been said by others.

What I think might make sense is to just recap in few posts, and in short, the main features of this war theatre. To make an effort to clear the muddy waters of this deep ponds the region is sinking into. Names and toponyms are used according to the most common versions in English sources.

So this first post will be about the CONSEQUENCES OF THE FIRST NAGORNO-KARABAKH WAR

Started with inter-ethnic Azeri-Armenian clashes in 1988, the confrontation escalated to a full war and was halted, to turn into a frozen/protracted conflict since the Bishkek Protocol was signed. The signatories were: The Ministers of Defence of Armenia, of Azerbaijan, of the Russian Federation, the Commander of Nagorno Karabakh, 1 Representative of the Russian Presidency, 1 Representative of the Community of the Independent States, and 1 for Kyrgyzstan, hosting the meeting. It was then ratified via signature by respective presidents in Armenia, Azerbaijan and de facto Nagorno Karabakh.

This is how the first war was stopped, but not ended. Its consequences were:

Nagorno-Karabakh: (Hereinafter) Karabakh was never recognized, although de facto became fully independent from Azerbaijan. In 1991 it had declared independence.

Armenia: Land borders closed, and diplomatic relations severed with Azerbaijan and Turkey. With Azerbaijan no exchanges at all (trades, flights).

Azerbaijan: it no longer exercised sovereignty on Karabakh, on the 3 regions between the Armenian border (Kalbajar, Lachin, Qubadli), on the 3 regions along the Iran border, south to Karabakh (Zangilan, Jabrail, Fuzuli), and on 1 region along the Karabakh-Azerbaijan administrative border, not turned into a line of milirary contact (Agdam)

Demography: More than 200 000 Armenians left Azerbaijan. In Karabakh and the surrounding regions, the Azeri community disappeared. The total number of Azeris who flew form the self declared Karabakh and Armenia is about 800 000 (the figure more quoted putting together displaced and refugees is 1 million).

Conflict solution measures: the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, (hereinafter) OSCE, activated the following mechanisms:

-          Minsk Group: 3 co-chairs mediators/facilitators depending on the phases or on the approaches. The composition never changed and it’s US, France, Russia. At the end of the process of mediation/facilitation there should be a Conference extended to other OSCE members (Belarus, Finland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Turkey, and a member of the OSCE Troika).

-          1 Representative of the OSCE presidency with a team permanently based in the region to monitor the respect of the ceasefire, give an assessment of the situation on the ground.

Positions of the parties:

-          Karabakh: war of independence based on the right to self determination

-          Armenia: Karabakhi war of independence, with pan-Armenian support

-          Azerbaijan: inter-state Armenia-Azerbaijan war for the control of Karabakh. Defensive war to restore the territorial integrity of the State (recognized in the four 1993 UN Resolutions).

All the parties claim that their principles are grounded in the Helsinki Final Act, OSCE, 1975.

Interim conclusions:

As for the principles, there’s a selective reading of the Helsinki Final Act on both/three sides. The document does enlist territorial integrity, right to self-determination, AND peaceful settlement of disputes, the no-use of force, co-operation between/among states - as well. 

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