The following article has links to graphic footage.
The 2nd of April 2016 marks the thawing of an unofficial ceasefire that followed the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994. Following the 1994 ceasefire, the independent Republic of Nagorno-Karabkh remained internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan despite Baku having no control over the region.
What separates this war however from its 1994 predecessor, is that Baku has had over two decades to invest its vast oil wealth into modernizing and building its military. This is a luxury that Armenia, a small landlocked and resourceless state, has not had. However, why is this small region so important geopolitically, culturally and historically?
Nagorno-Karabkh is a small enclave within Azerbaijan, however, since the end of the war in 1994, Armenian paramilitaries and the government of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabkh hold other lands in Azerbaijan proper creating an unhinged border between Armenia and the unrecognized Republic.
The embarrassing defeat to the demographically and militarily inferior Armenian forces accelerated nationalist sentiment in Azerbaijan. This led to the destruction of ancient Armenian sites in a systematic manner in an attempt to remove all cultural and historical legacies of the Armenian people in Azerbaijan and to falsify history, particularly in the Nakhichevan enclave.
This is in the same manner in which Turkey had attempted to remove all Armenian cultural and historical legacy in its land that eventually culminated into the Armenian genocide. The Azeri’s as ethnic and linguistic brethren to the Turks have continued this policy of eliminating any Armenian connection to the land.
Nationalists in Turkey and Azerbaijan, particular the far-right terrorist group the Grey Wolves who also have a chapter in Azerbaijan, advocate for a union between the two countries. Therefore the same anti-Armenian sentiment found in Turkey is also found in Azerbaijan.
The latest destabilization by Azerbaijan has prompted Turkish President Erdogan to announce that Turkey stands with Azerbaijan ‘to the end.’ This is unsurprising when one realizes that the Azeris and Turks are one and the same in its Armenia policy. Just as the Turks killed over 1.5 million Armenians in a genocide it has yet to recognize, the Azeris engaged in a violent pogrom against Armenians within its territory and engaged in a systematic destruction of Armenian sites. Turkey’s open support for Azerbaijan comes despite the Azeri’s starting this latest bout of conflict.
Therefore, what else did Nagorno-Karabakh have but to defend itself against a discriminatory dictatorship in Baku?
The role of Russia cannot be overlooked though. A 2015 report found that Azerbaijan bought 85% of its weapons in the previous 5 years from Russia. This accounted for over $4 billion worth of arms trade.
These trade deals come as Armenia hosts two Russian bases. It seems Moscow is walking a fine line between economic gain through Azerbaijan and having positive relations with its traditional ally in Armenia.
Although Russia cannot intervene directly in the Nagorno-Karabkh conflict as it would lose international political and military standing whilst its fighting terrorists in Syria, it can hold great influence over both warring parties.
With Turkey downing a Russian jet in Syria late last year, and Russia having a significant presence in Armenia, it is difficult to fathom a Turkish intervention against Armenia despite the rhetoric coming from Ankara.
Armenian memories of a genocide committed by the Turks, and pogroms along with destruction of historical sites by their Azeri kin, would resonate on why Nagorno-Karabkh cannot be lost.
With Azerbaijan following the line that it is only attempting to liberate the land it lost in in the last war, it cannot explain why its soldiers cut off the ears of its victims, a Turkish tradition dating back to the Ottoman era.
Footage also emerged of Azeri soldiers parading the head of a Yezidi fighting for Nagorno-Karabkh in scenes that would resemble something from an ISIS video. A professional standing arming that is mostly armed by Russia had beheaded a person, yet little international condemnation can be heard.
There’s also the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azeri forces that has led to the death of an innocent 12 year old boy.
The mutilations of dead bodies, beheadings and indiscriminate shelling of civilians has led to no international condemnation with media towing the line of being ‘neutral’ despite the Azeri initiating the conflict.
Meanwhile prominent Russia Today reporter, Murad Gazdiev, is in the conflict zone dismissing that Azerbaijan are adhering to a ceasefire it announced. He has also reported on Azeri forces using illegal cluster bombs.
— Murad Gazdiev (@MuradoRT) April 5, 2016
Again, there was no condemnation to the use of these weapons by Azeri forces.
The struggle in Nagorno-Karabkh is one for the very survival of its Armenian history and population. Armenian’s have seen what happened to its people and history in the Nakhichevan enclave and do not want a repeat of it.
Azeri dictator Aliyev admitted in an interview in 2002 that he ‘tried to increase the number of Azeris and to reduce the number of Armenians’ in Nagorno-Karabkh. This was coupled during the Soviet times of incentives for Azeri’s to migrate to the predominately Armenian region to engage in a demographic shift as had happened in Nakhichevan. This also goes hand in hand with Azeri falsification of history to lay claims to a land that they are recent to whilst downplaying the rich connection Armenians have to the land.
However, with the near collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Armenians still remained the majority in the region at 76.4% to the Azeris 22.4%. With the Azeri failure in demographic change, and the memories fresh in Armenian minds of the atrocities the Azeri’s and their Turkish kin have committed against them, it was no surprise they chose to fight from the grapples of its oppressors.
It is yet to be seen how the international community will respond to this conflict, but its eyes must be peeled carefully on Azerbaijan so that it does not descend into another radical Islamist hotspot. The first war saw around 1500 Afghani and Arab mujihadeen’s fight, along with thousands of Turkish volunteers including the Grey Wolves, and hundreds of Islamist Chechens. If Azerbaijan are to follow the same policy in recruiting Islamists, Azerbaijan has the potential to descend into chaos that is now seen in Syria and Iraq, all the whilst Armenian’s continue to defend their historical homeland in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Therefore the fight in Nagorno-Karabakh is not one of Azerbaijan reclaiming its internationally recognized land, but rather one of the Armenian’s fighting for its very survival in its ancestral lands. As emphasized, the memory of Nakhichevan in which the Armenian population were killed and driven away, and its historical sites destroyed, resonate deeply. A repeat of that is now being avoided in Nagorno-Karabakh so long as the Armenian fighters resist the Azeri aggression.
Although as of writing a new ceasefire has been agreed, it remains to be seen how long this will last. Azerbaijan have already embarrassingly lost countless tanks, aircraft and personnel to a supposedly inferior force.
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