The Karabakh impasse 17.10.2020

“The war is won, but the peace is not”.
© Albert Einstein.

The global media attention is still brought to the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, which began at the end of September this year. It is a "new generation" war, with the active use of drones, electronic warfare and other military know-how. However, what surprises me the most is that no one wants to understand the causes of this conflict in detail. Moreover, there are reasons, and in my opinion, they are profoundly not trivial.

As for the trivial causes of the conflict, they are well known. Historically, Nagorno-Karabakh was a territorial unit in the Azerbaijani SSR, populated by Armenians since ancient times. This policy was pursued in the Soviet Union to blend the local population and create a "Soviet man" in the future. Furthermore, such policy was pursued in the USSR everywhere. However, as you know, the Soviet Union collapsed, the experiment failed, and we have had a protracted Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict since the late 80s of the last century.

If politicians were to solve problems right, Yerevan and Baku would have agreed on borders and divided the territories based on the national and cultural aspects of the region a long time ago. Nevertheless, no one in politics wants to do things right, and as a result, we have a conflict that has lasted for more than 30 years.

We have discussed the trivial causes of this conflict, and now we will talk about the non-trivial ones. The implemetors of the current escalation of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh are not in Yerevan or Baku, and not even in Washington or Moscow, but in Istanbul and Ankara. The current "leader of the Turkish people", Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, pursues a policy of "neo-Ottomanism" both in the Middle East and in Transcaucasia, in direct violation of all the precepts of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Historically, Turkey's adversary has always been Great Britain in the Middle East and Russia in Transcaucasia. However, in contrast to Washington, London is looking at Erdoğan's actions calmly, and Moscow even saved Erdoğan once, when forces of the Turkish "deep state" tried to remove too aggressive politician, no fuss, no muss. Such actions are now very much "awakening" for the Kremlin in Karabakh, since in the case of direct aggression against Armenia, according to an agreement within the CSTO, Russia will be forced to enter the conflict against both Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Erdoğan, however, does not believe that the Kremlin will intervene in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, and few believe it since a major war in Transcaucasia for the Kremlin in the current situation is suicidal. So Moscow now faces the choice of "losing face" or "losing its head". The choice is obvious but highly unpleasant. Armenia is now in the most disadvantageous position in its modern history. The current leadership of Armenia, represented by President Armen Sargsyan and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, came into power due to the so-called Armenian velvet revolution, which was also anti-Russian. This was also the case with some personnel reshuffles. For example, David Gevorgyan, who had publicly stomped on and burned the Russian flag, was appointed governor of Aragatsotn province by the new Armenian authorities. Even the authorities in modern Ukraine, where officials were fired rather than appointed for openly insulting Russia, did not stoop so low.

It should come as no surprise that relations between Yerevan and Moscow at the start of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were, to put it mildly, "not very good". It is also worth adding that while Azerbaijan has gradually strengthened its army through multi-billion dollar investments in arms purchases from Russia, Turkey, Israel and several other countries, the Armenian military budget is rumoured to have been squandered. In any case, the Armenian army was a depressing sight when the conflict began.

Armenia also has problems in the international arena. If Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan officially back Azerbaijan, Armenia is verbally backed only by French President Emmanuel Macron, who, at least his wife, will not let him go to Nagorno-Karabakh. The rest of the geopolitical powers got away with the common phrase "for peace in the world". Meanwhile, the Armenian diaspora in the U.S., for example, is considered the second most influential after the Jewish one.

The non-trivial reason for the current conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is simple. Amid the coronavirus pandemic and its problems, the whole world simply does not care about Nagorno-Karabakh and what is happening there. Therefore, the well-known "Armenian lobby" in the US and much of Europe will not help now as long as Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, takes over Nagorno-Karabakh. Also, relations between Moscow and Yerevan are in the worst condition in the modern history of these countries, and without this factor, the Kremlin is not in the best position to enter into open confrontation with Ankara. Therefore, Yerevan can hardly count on real help from Moscow now. Moreover, the third factor is that the Armenians have not thought of their army, so someone else's has come to them.

As for Erdoğan, "a small victorious war" is very critical to him now. A "small victorious war" in Syria is "not going to happen" for him yet. Moreover, it is difficult to build a new Ottoman Empire without the army's support. So far, Erdoğan has a real problem with it. It was the military that almost overthrew him in the summer of 2016. It is the "love of the Turkish regiments" that Erdoğan is now "forging" in Nagorno-Karabakh. Such is the current geopolitics. Things are going to get a lot more interesting from here on. Stay tuned!

Dmitrii Ershov, political scientist.

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