The war launched by Azerbaijan and Turkey against the Armenian Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) in the South Caucuses on September 27 has been halted through an agreement, which was brokered by Russia and imposed on Armenia. Based on the circulating agreement, Armenians must relinquish most of their homeland in Artsakh to Azerbaijan by December 1, forcing any Armenians living in those regions to depart before that date.
During their indiscriminate shelling of Artsakh, the aggressors – Azerbaijan, and Turkey, accompanied by Syrian jihadist forces – have committed many war crimes against Armenians. They have murdered civilians and injured journalists. They have burned villages, forests, and churches. They have tortured and beheaded Armenians, and executed prisoners.
BBC reported on October 24:”One video posted on a messaging app shows what appears to be two Armenians in military uniforms being captured by troops from Azerbaijan.A second video seemingly shows the same Armenians being shot with their hands behind their backs.Armenian authorities have identified the men as Benik Hakobyan, 73, and 25-year-old Yuri Adamyan.”
Azerbaijani forces also used cluster munitions and white phosphorus against Artsakh. “Azerbaijan has repeatedly used widely banned cluster munitions in residential areas in Nagorno-Karabakh,” according to an October 23 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). “Cluster munitions have been banned because of their widespread indiscriminate effect and long-lasting danger to civilians,” it added.
The false, obsessive belief that Artsakh belongs to Azerbaijan has resulted in an ethnic cleansing against indigenous Armenians from their lands.
The area called Artsakh, originally one of the ancient provinces of Armenia, has preserved a majority Armenian population throughout the centuries. Despite this, Artsakh was annexed by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to the New Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan in the early 1920s. Armenian peaceful requests for self-determination were violently punished by Azerbaijan.
Under Azeri control, Armenians were subject to severe persecution such as pogroms in Sumgait and Baku from 1988 to 1990. The Soviet Union collapsed the following year, and Azerbaijan, Armenia and Artsakh declared independence. Azerbaijan, however, rejected Artsakh’s independence claim and chose to launch a war in 1992, which lasted two years and cost the lives of approximately 30,000 people.
26 years later, Armenians in Artsakh are once again assaulted by Azerbaijan. This time, arms supplies and diplomatic support from Turkey helped give Azerbaijan the upper hand in the conflict. Several news agencies, governments and the United Nations have also reported that Turkey sent jihadist terrorists from Syria to support Azerbaijan in its fight against the Armenians.
“We now have information which indicates that Syrian fighters from jihadist groups have (transited) through Gaziantep (southeastern Turkey) to reach the Nagorno-Karabakh theatre of operations,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at an EU summit in Brussels. “It is a very serious new fact, which changes the situation.”
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights)also reported on November 11:
“The UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries said there were widespread reports that the Government of Azerbaijan, with Turkey’s assistance, relied on Syrian fighters to shore-up and sustain its military operations in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, including on the frontline. The fighters appeared to be motivated primarily by private gain, given the dire economic situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, the UN experts said. In case of death, their relatives were reportedly promised financial compensation and Turkish nationality.
“‘The way in which these individuals were recruited, transported and used in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone appeared consistent with the definition of a mercenary, as set out by relevant international legal instruments, including the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, to which Azerbaijan is a party,’ said Chris Kwaja, who chairs the Working Group.
“‘Moreover, reports indicate that Turkey engaged in large-scale recruitment and transfer of Syrian men to Azerbaijan through armed factions, some of which are affiliated with the Syrian National Army. The alleged role of Turkey is all the more concerning given the similar allegations addressed earlier this year by the Working Group in relation its role in recruiting, deploying and financing such fighters to take part in the conflict in Libya,’ Kwaja added.”
The UN report was released two days after the treaty was signed, but Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was always transparent about his support for the war against Artsakh. “We support Azerbaijan until victory,” Erdogan said on October 6. “I tell my Azerbaijani brothers: May your ghazwa be blessed.”
Ghazwa in Islam refers to a battle or raid against non-Muslims for the expansion of Muslim territory and/or conversion of non-Muslims to Islam.
In another speech on November 1, Erdogan said, “We are in Syria, Libya, Azerbaijan. We have displayed the same dignified attitude from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, from Syria to Libya, from Cyprus to Karabakh.”
Prior to the war, Artsakh’s population was around 150,000. Turkish and Azeri aggression against the region has caused massive destruction on civilian infrastructure including homes and hospitals and the displacement of about 90,000 Armenians. On October 23, a group of genocide scholars issued a statement “on the imminent genocidal threat deriving from Azerbaijan and Turkey against Artsakh.”
Completely abandoned by the international community and faced with an existential threat, Armenia had to sign an agreement which allows Azerbaijan to take over much of Artsakh. With 60% of Artsakh destroyed and the remainder of land to be surrounded by hostile Azeri forces, many indigenous Armenians who have lived in Artsakh for generations see no choice other than to flee their homeland.
Meanwhile, during the war, hundreds of Turks and Azeris took to the streets in the French city of Lyon, looking for Armenians. They marched with Turkish flags, chanting Allahuakbar (Allah is the greatest), and “Where are you Armenians? Where are you? We are here… sons of bitches.”
Jonathan Lacôte, French ambassador to Armenia, announced that French police were protecting Armenian community centers in France from Turkish and Azeri attacks and vandalism.
In another move to counter Turkish aggression, the French Interior Ministry banned a Turkish ultra-nationalist group known as the Grey Wolves after a memorial to victims of the 1915 Armenian Genocide was defaced.
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the decision, saying that “there is no such a movement called ‘Grey Wolves’. Attempts to resort to imaginary decisions presuming the existence of such a movement or formation based on some individuals and their actions, reflects the latest contradictory psychology that this country lives in.”
The Grey Wolf movement, however, does exist. The Grey Wolves (Turkish: Bozkurtlar), officially known as Idealist Hearths (Turkish: Ülkü Ocakları) is a Turkish far-right, racist organization and movement affiliated with Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The movement has been involved in many acts of violence against civilians as well as political and religious figures. This includes the Alevi massacre in the city of Maras in southeast Turkey in 1978 and the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981.
Attacks against Armenians in the South Caucasus and Europe demonstrate that this war is not only about land. It is about pan-Turkic, expansionist aspirations of Turkey and Azerbaijanas well as their unrelenting, genocidal hatred against Armenians.
As was the case during the 1915 Armenian genocide by Ottoman Turkey, the international community has once again abandoned Armenians, who are an indigenous and peaceful people. If new and effective steps are not taken by the civilized world immediately, neo-Ottomanism, pan-Turkism and jihad will win through the agreement imposed on Armenia.
Meanwhile, some opposition to the agreement has begun emerging in Europe. On November 11, France 24 reported that the French presidency said it was studying the parameters of the Russian-brokered ceasefire, adding that a long-term deal should also “preserve Armenia’s interests.” Macron’s office quoted him as saying that efforts should be made “without delay” to try to come up with a “lasting political solution to the conflict that allows for the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh to remain in good conditions and the return of tens of thousands of people who have fled their homes.”
To guarantee the return of Armenians to their ancient homeland and to prevent the complete erasure of the remaining Armenian cultural heritage by totalitarian Azerbaijan, Western governments must officially recognize Artsakh. The West must let dictators know that their war crimes and genocidal ambitions will not go unpunished.
Thorny path towards peace and reconciliation in Karabakh
On January 11 the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a deal to develop cross-border transportation routes and boost economic growth to benefit the South Caucasus and the Wider Region. This meeting took place two months after the Moscow-brokered armistice between Armenia and Azerbaijan ended a 44-day war over Nagorno-Karabakh.
This ethno-territorial conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has drawn dividing lines between Armenia and Azerbaijan for almost 30 years. Some estimates put the number of deaths on both sides at 30,000 after the First Karabakh war before a ceasefire was reached in May 1994. As a result of this war, one fifth of the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan was occupied and the entire Azerbaijani population of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) and seven adjacent districts (Lachin, Kalbajar, Agdam, Fizuly, Jabrail, Gubatli and Zangilan) was forcibly expelled by the Armenian armed forces. Incidentally, due to sporadic frontline skirmishes and clashes, both military personnel and civilians have been killed along the Line of Contact, devoid of any peacekeeping force, since 1994.
Over the years, Armenia and the separatist regime that emerged in the occupied Azerbaijani territories refused any final status short of independence for Nagorno-Karabakh and tried to preserve this status quo and achieve international security guarantees on the non-resumption of hostilities while avoiding the withdrawal of its armed forces from the occupied territories and preventing the safe return of expelled Azerbaijani inhabitants to their permanent places of residence. However, such a policy, in its turn, polarized the region and reduced to naught any meaningful regional cooperation between the three South Caucasus states.
The Second Karabakh war, which took place from September 27 to November 9, 2020, and the subsequent Russia-brokered peace deal on November 10, significantly changed the facts on the ground and created a new political reality that replaced the “no war, no peace” situation that had been hanging over the region for almost 30 years. As a result of this war, more than 6,000 soldiers died on both sides in fighting.
This war came to an end because of a clear victory for Azerbaijan, which has restored its territorial integrity and sovereignty. Owing to the humiliating defeat of Armenia,the myth of the invincibility of the Armenian armed forces has been shattered and the Prime Minister of this country has been under continuous pressure from the opposition to step down.
Thus, after the Second Karabakh war, the pendulum has swung from devastating war towards actual peace. The question, is, however, whether the conflicting parties will beable to achieve lasting peace in the coming years: How can a relationship that has been completely destroyed owing to this protracted armed conflict and previous wars be restored?
The fate of all inhabitants of both the highlands and lowlands of Karabakh, irrespective of their ethnic origin, is crucial in this context. Security arrangements for the Armenian minority residing in this area are currently organized through the deployment of 1,960 Russian peacekeepers for at least five years to monitor the implementation of the trilateral statement signed by the heads of state of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the Russian Federation on November 10 (hereafter, the trilateral statement). At the same time, the return of the former Azerbaijani inhabitants to their permanent places of residence previously occupied by the Armenian armed forces is envisaged by the trilateral statement and the UNHCR has been assigned to oversee this task.
It is paramount that Azerbaijan has to demonstrate a policy of “strategic patience” in the coming years to entice the Armenians of Karabakh region into closer incorporation through attractive political, economic, social, and other development.
On the other hand, Armenia has to concentrate on its own internationally recognized sovereign territory. Today, it is important that this country changes its external minority policy and withdraws its territorial claims against Azerbaijan. As a next step, both Armenia and Azerbaijan can recognize the territorial integrity of one other.
Such rapprochement can lead to the opening of the borders between Armenia and Turkey and Armenia and Azerbaijan, which would increase economic opportunities for landlocked Armenia. It can thereby contribute to regional stability, development, and trans-regional cooperation among the three South Caucasian states. At the same time, it would create an enabling environment that could be more conducive for future dialogue and interactions between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.
We must face the fact that a stable equilibrium between these two nations has never previously been achieved. However, despite ups and downs, there was peaceful coexistence between the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities in Karabakh as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan’s respective minorities in Azerbaijan and Armenia. This protracted conflict has, however, led Armenians and Azerbaijanis to live in parallel realities for almost 30 years.
In light of the recent past, we cannot soon reconcile our different narratives. It is a long process; however, reconciliation is not only an outcome, it is also a process. Although the gestation period might be long, the process of reconciliation itself can be extremely rewarding.
In fact, the Armenian and Azerbaijani inhabitants of Karabakh have lived together in this region in the past. However, for almost 30 years this was impossible. Will and determination should be put to good use in order to arrive at such a peaceful coexistence once again.
Dawn of great power competition in South Caucasus
The pace of geopolitical change in the South Caucasus is staggering, with the recent Karabakh war only underlining several major geopolitical trends in the region.
The first noticeable trend being the undercutting of democratic ideals and achievements of the region’s states. Take Armenia, its young democracy had high hopes following the 2018 revolution, but now it will be more even more dependent on Russia.
It is not a matter of whether a democratic model is better or not, the matter lies in the incompatibility of an aspiring democracy with a powerful nondemocracy such as Russia.
The Armenian leadership will now have to make extensive concessions to Moscow to shore up its military, backtracking on its democratic values. Building a fair political system cannot go hand in hand with the Russian political model.
The war also put an end to any hopes of Armenia implementing a multivector foreign policy, an already highly scrutinized issue. Mistakes were made continuously along the way, the biggest being an overreliance on Russia.
In the buildup to 2020, Armenia’s multiaxial foreign policy efforts gradually deteriorated, with the 2016 fighting showing the limits. Armenian politicians attempted to develop ties with other regional powers in the aftermath, but Russian influence had already begun to incrementally increase.
Tipping the scales in a no longer balanced alliance culminated in the 2020 war with Azerbaijan thanks to Yerevan’s maneuvering. More crucially, the war has obliterated Yerevan’s multiaxial policy efforts for years to come.
Now, Armenia’s dependence on Russia would be even more pronounced with no viable geopolitical alternatives.
With no more foreign policy diversification, the three South Caucasus states are divided by larger regional powers, further fracturing the region.
The return of Turkey and the growth of the Russian military could resurrect the great power competition, in which a nation’s military power, infrastructure projects and economic might are directly translated into their geopolitical influence over the region, ultimately deterring long-term conflict resolution.
The Western stance
The Karabakh war highlighted a regression in Western peacekeeping standards. The Western approach to conflict resolution based on equality rather than geopolitical interests has been trumped by the Russian alternative.
Moscow is not looking to resolve the conflict (it never does in territorial conflicts); instead, it is seeking to prolong it under its close watch in a bid to increase its influence.
Looking at the situation from the Russian perspective, it is clear the country will continue to influence Armenia and Azerbaijan, only now to a far greater extent than before.
The West’s inability to accommodate fluid geopolitical realities in the South Caucasus also raises questions about its commitment to resolving the issues at hand. The second Karabakh war was in a way a by-product of the West’s declining engagement in the region over the past several years.
The West can no longer treat the South Caucasus as a monolithic entity, and a diversified foreign policy should be applied in line with realities on the ground.
Policies should reflect each individual state, and the West should, perhaps, be more geopolitical in its approach.
Turkey’s recent suggestion to create a six-nation pact bringing together the South Caucasus states, Russia, Turkey and Iran, shows the regression of Western influence in the region. But the geopolitical vacuum is never empty for long, and Turkey and Russia approach.
Georgia could act as the last bastion of dominant Western influence, but even there, the West should be cautious. The country is on the cusp of Europe, making it susceptible to foreign influence.
Bordered by Russia and Turkey, two powers often discerning of Europe, Georgia also feels the pressure to adapt to the changing circumstances on the ground.
The lack of Western resolve in the region and the Black Sea could propel Tbilisi if not toward a total reconsideration of its foreign policy, toward diversifying its foreign ties – one could call a “rebalancing.”
The war also solidified that the Caspian basin and South Caucasus are inextricably linked to the greater Middle East.
Russia and Turkey are basing their strategies in the region on developments in the Middle East and the Black Sea region. Not since the end of the Soviet Union has the South Caucasus been such a critical point for the West, especially the incoming Biden administration.
But time is critical and any further delay in active U.S. policy could spell disaster for Georgia, which serves as a door to the Caspian and on to Central Asia.
The West has been in regression in the region for quite some time now; the Karabakh war only brought it to the light, and it must be proactive if things are to change.
Much will depend on the U.S. and its new administration, but the West will have to come to an understanding with Turkey, even if it be limited, to salvage its deteriorating position in the region.
After all, the South Caucasus has always been the only theater where Turkish and Western interests have always coincided. Considering its limited presence in the region, the West could consider backing Turkey.
Not only would it serve as a reconciliatory gesture pleasing Ankara, but it would also limit Russia’s movement in the region. With the ink about to dry on who will influence the region, the West must immediately adapt its approach if it wishes to have any input in the rapidly changing geopolitics of the South Caucasus.
Author’s note: first published in dailysabah
An Impending Revolution
Even on the end note, the year contains surprises enough to deem it as a year of instability and chaos given every nook and cranny around the globe is riddled with a new crisis every day. Latest down in the tally is the country of Belarus that has hardly streamlined over at least half a decade but now is hosting up as a venue to rippling protests in almost all the districts of its capital, Minsk. The outrage has resulted from the massive rigging imputed on the communist party in ruling for almost three decades since the split of Soviet Union in 1994. With Europe and Russia divided on the front as the protests and violence continue to rage: a revolution is emerging as a possibility.
The historical map of Belarus is nearly as complex as the geographical landscape which might only stand next to Afghanistan in terms of the intricacies faced by a landlocked country as such. Belarus is located in the Eastern European region bordered by Russia to the north-eastern perimeter. Poland borderlines the country to the West while Ukraine shares a border in the South. The NATO members, Lithuania and Latvia, outskirt the borders of Belarus in the Northwest, making the region as a prime buffer between the Russian regime and the western world. As Belarus stands as a junction between the European Union (EU) and Russia, the proximal nature brings about interests of either parties in the internal affairs of Minsk. However, the nature of the bond shared between the trio is by no means a triangle unlike other former soviet nations since Belarus has casted its absolute loyalty to Russia since the split of Soviet Union and ultimate accession to power of president, Alexander Lukashenko, the leader of the Communist Party of Belarus. Along with the alliance, however, came the unwanted dependency since over the 26-year rule of Lukashenko, he crippled the economy and the political writ of Belarus, using every last ounce of authority to subdue the opposition and the democratic mechanism of the country, earning him the nefarious title ‘Europe’s last dictator’.
The outburst of protests today stems from this very problem that is more deep-rooted than what comes across as apparent. The excessive and draconian use of power and autonomy has invalidated the independence of Belarusians and turned them haplessly at the mercy of Russian aid and support while blocking out any western support in the name of guarding national sovereignty. The ongoing surge of dissent was triggered earlier in August when the elections turned about to be absurdly rigged in favour of Alexander Lukashenko, granting him an indelible majority of 80% of the total vote count along with a lifetime of rule over the country despite his blatant unpopularity across the country. The accusations were further solidified when one of the popular opposing candidates, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, casted a complaint with the authorities regarding the falsification of election results. Instead of being appeased, she was detained for 7 straight hours and was even forced to exile to the neighbouring country of Lithuania. This resulted in major tide of riots and protests erupting all across Minsk, preceding over 3000 arrests over the election night.
On the official front, however, an aggressive stance was upheld along with a constant refusal of Lukashenko from stepping down from the long-held office or even considering a review of the polls counted despite exorbitant reports of unfair results. Heavy use of rubber bullets and tear gas was an eccentric protocol adopted by the local police force which instead of placating the rioters, further ignited the protests in more districts of the capital city. The anti-government relies also entitled ‘March of Neighbours’ transitioned into a high scale protest with many of the state employees resigning from their positions to stand upright against the long overdue corrupt regime. With the protests raging over months and the Lukashenko government getting more and more aggressive with their policies, the fear that once sparkled in the eyes of the natives is dwindling exceedingly and is turning into a cry for an outright revolution, which would be a ground-breaking one ever since the revolution of Iran back in 1979.
European counties have taken their conventional passive position in the crisis sinceEU is well aware of the Russian influence in Belarus and does not want to interfere with a probability of a direct conflict with Russia. However, they did call out their protest over the rigged elections, slapping sanctions over Belarus yet have not accused Lukashenko directly but instead have proposed a thorough international dialogue. Russia, on the other hand, faces a complex position since the dependence of Belarus bought Moscow a base against the West along with other regional rogues like Ukraine. However, high scale protests and rising chances of a full-blown revolution is hardly the choice Russian intends to opt. As the situation continues to unfold, economic reforms, as promised by Lukashenko, appears to be the only option that both EU and Russia could encourage as a bipartisan plan. Despite that, with six months of protests erupting as an outrage over a tyranny of 26 years, the reform-offering might be a bit late an offer since its no more about the country anymore, it’s about a struggle between a liberal or a communist Belarus.
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