12 November 2020   Leave a comment

Russia has brokered a cease-fire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia who have been fighting recently over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave within the territory of Azerbaijan that is populated primarily by Armenians, an unstable situation aggravated after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Council on Foreign Relations provides a background to the conflict:

“In the 1920s, the Soviet government established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region—where 95 percent of the population is ethnically Armenian—within Azerbaijan. Under Bolshevik rule, fighting between the two countries was kept in check, but, as the Soviet Union began to collapse, so did its grip on Armenia and Azerbaijan. In 1988, the Nagorno-Karabakh legislature passed a resolution to join Armenia despite the region’s legal location within Azerbaijan’s borders. As the Soviet Union was dissolving in 1991, the autonomous region officially declared independence. War erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region, leaving roughly thirty thousand casualties and hundreds of thousands of refugees. By 1993, Armenia controlled Nagorno-Karabakh and occupied 20 percent of the surrounding Azerbaijani territory. In 1994, Russia brokered a cease-fire which has remained in place since.

The terms of the cease-fire solidifies significant Azerbaijani military successes on the ground and represents a serious defeat for Armenian aspirations. Russian President Putin has asserted that about 5,000 people had died in the most recent outbreak. Both Russia and Turkey gained concessions in the cease-fire, notably the ability to position troops in the territory as well as transit routes through the territory to the Caspian Sea for the Turks.

Significantly, the success of the Azerbaijani forces can be attributed to its advantage in the use of drones, the first time the technology has proven to be decisive in the outcome of a conflict. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan were too poor to invest heavily in modern air forces, but drones are comparatively cheaper than fighter jets and gave significant tactical advantages to Azerbaijan. The Washington Post observes:

“‘Drones offer small countries very cheap access to tactical aviation and precision guided weapons, enabling them to destroy an opponent’s much-costlier equipment such as tanks and air defense systems,’ said Michael Kofman, military analyst and director of Russia studies at CNA, a defense think tank in Arlington, Va.

“’An air force is a very expensive thing,’ he added. ‘And they permit the utility of air power to smaller, much poorer nations.'”

It is highly unlikely that the cease-fire will end the conflict. The loss of Shusha, a city dear to the hearts of Armenians, will not be easily accepted. Stepan Piligian, writing for The Armenian Weekly, summarizes the feelings of many Armenians toward the outcome:

” The OSCE Minsk Group failed miserably and abdicated (or was simply ignored) to Russia and Turkey. While they expanded the rhetoric of “both sides,” Russia and Turkey put Armenia in a corner while everyone else watched. It is no coincidence that the unconditional surrender (my view) was “signed” after Shushi fell. In this way the Azeris can further humiliate the Armenians by losing their cultural capital. This is tragically reminiscent of Stalin giving territorial favors to Attarurk such as Igdir (Mt. Ararat) in an attempt to crush the Armenian psyche. At the end of this chapter, criminal behavior and moral decay prevailed over justice. It is that reality that has numbed our bodies with open wounds and paralyzing emotion. That emotion will eventually fade and our understanding will improve. It is then that our honorable people will adjust and live for another day. This much I am certain of. Imagine how the Armenians must have felt after the battle of Avarayr in 451—an epic defense but we lost the battle. The resistance continued for another 33 years and then our will prevailed. They mourned, analyzed and continued the good fight. Different time, same story. How do you think our people felt in December of 1920 when the First Republic was crushed by the same players—Russians and Turks. Some were relieved the fighting had stopped. Others wished to carry on (February revolt of 1921), but it was one of the darkest moments in our history. Artsakh lost. Nakhichevan lost. Ararat, Kars, Ardahan and Javakhk lost. Yet we endured to live for 1991. This book has not yet been completed.”

There have been protests in Armenia against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for signing the cease-fire which is regarded as a betrayal by many Armenians. It is unlikely, however, that Armenia can do very much without the support of outside allies. We can expect the Armenia constituency in the US to place pressure on American foreign policy to redress the perceived injustice.

Posted November 12, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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