Demise of the Armenian dream in Nagorno-Karabakh was predictable however not inevitable

Demise of the Armenian dream in Nagorno-Karabakh was predictable however not inevitable

Thirty-five years in the past, greater than 100,000 Armenian protesters took to the streets to persuade Soviet chief Mikhail Gorbachev that Nagorno-Karabakh – an ethnically Armenian enclave caught geographically within the neighboring republic of Soviet Azerbaijan – should be joined to Armenia.

In current days, greater than 100,000 individuals have taken to the streets once more. However this time it’s Karabakh Armenians fleeing their houses to search out refuge in Armenia. They’ve been decisively defeated by the Azerbaijanis in a brief and brutal army operation within the enclave. Their dream of independence seems over; what’s left is the fallout.

As a longtime analyst of the historical past and politics of the South Caucasus, I see the chain of current occasions in Nagorno-Karabakh as depressingly predictable. However that’s not to say they weren’t avoidable. Relatively, higher flexibility from either side – and fewer demonization of the opposite – may have prevented the catastrophic collapse of Artsakh, as Armenians known as their autonomous republic, and with it the efficient ethnic cleaning of individuals from lands they’d lived in for millennia.

A legacy of Lenin

What started as a wrestle to meet the promise of Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin, that all nations would get pleasure from the appropriate to self-determination inside the united states, become a conflict between two impartial, sovereign states that noticed greater than 30,000 individuals killed in six years of preventing.

The 1988 demonstrations had been met by violent pogroms by Azerbaijanis in opposition to Armenian minorities in Sumgait and Baku. Gorbachev, cautious {that a} shift in territory would foster related calls for all through the Soviet Union and probably enrage the united states’s thousands and thousands of Muslim residents, promised financial support to and safety of the Armenians, however he refused to alter the borders.

The dispute grew to become a matter of worldwide regulation, which assured the territorial integrity of acknowledged states, in 1991 – with Azerbaijan declaring independence from the Soviet Union and rejecting Nagorno-Karabakh’s autonomy vote. The authorized precept of territorial integrity took priority over the moral precept of nationwide self-determination.

This meant that below worldwide regulation, state boundaries couldn’t be modified with out the mutual settlement of either side – a place that favored Azerbaijan. All nations on the earth acknowledged Nagorno-Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan, even, finally, Armenia.

An unsolved diplomatic drawback

However that didn’t imply the standing of Nagorno-Karabakh was ever settled. And for all their efforts, exterior powers – Russia, France and the US most significantly – did not discover a lasting diplomatic resolution.

The First Karabakh Battle, which grew out of the pogroms of 1988 and 1990, led to 1994 with an armistice brokered by Russia and the Armenians victorious.

Moscow was Armenia’s principal protector in a hostile neighborhood with two unfriendly states, Azerbaijan and Turkey, on its borders. In flip, Armenia was normally Russia’s most loyal and reliable – and dependent – ally. But, post-Soviet Russia had its personal nationwide pursuits that didn’t at all times favor Armenia. At occasions, to the dismay of the Armenians, Moscow leaned towards Azerbaijian, often promoting them weapons.

Solely Iran, handled as a pariah by a lot of the worldwide neighborhood, offered some further assist, sporadically, to Armenia.

The US, although sympathetic to Armenia’s plight and infrequently pressured by its American-Armenian foyer, was far-off and anxious with extra urgent issues within the Center East, Europe and the Far East.

What might need been

The catastrophe that has befallen Nagorno-Karabakh was not inevitable. Options and contingencies at all times exist in historical past and, if heeded by statespeople, may end up in totally different outcomes. Analysts together with myself, advisers and even the primary president of impartial Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, proposed compromise options which may have led to an imperfect however violence-free resolution to the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.

But the triumphant Armenian victors of the Nineties had few quick incentives to compromise. As a substitute, after the First Karabakh Battle, they expanded their holdings past the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh, driving an estimated a million Azerbaijanis out of their houses and making them hostile to Armenians.

Mourner on the gravesite of a 1992 bloodbath of Azerbaijanis fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh.
David Brauchli/AFP by way of Getty Photographs)

The best error of the Armenian leaders, I imagine, was to provide in to a deadly hubris of considering they might create a “Larger Armenia” on territory emptied of the individuals who had lived there. In any case, wasn’t this how different settler colonial states, similar to the US, Australia, Turkey, Israel and so many others had been based? Ethnic cleaning and genocide, together with pressured assimilation, have traditionally been efficient instruments within the arsenal of nation-makers.

In the meantime, Azerbaijani nationalism smoldered and intensified across the difficulty of Nagorno-Karabakh. Many decision-makers in Azerbaijan considered Armenians as boastful, expansionist, existential enemies of their nation. Both sides thought-about the contested enclave a chunk of their historic homeland, an indivisible good, and compromise proved not possible.

Armenian leaders additionally failed to totally comprehend the benefits that Azerbaijan held. Azerbaijan is a state thrice the scale of Armenia with a inhabitants bigger by greater than 7 million individuals. It additionally has huge sources of oil and gasoline that it has used to extend its wealth, construct up a Twenty first-century army and finesse into higher ties with regional allies and European nations thirsty for oil and gasoline.

Armenia had a diaspora that intermittently aided the republic; but it surely didn’t have the fabric assets or the allies shut at hand that its bigger neighbor loved. Turks and Azerbaijanis referred to their relationship as “one nation, two states.” Subtle weapons flowed to Azerbaijan from Turkey – as they did from an Israel inspired by a shared hostility with Iran, Armenia’s ally – tipping the scales of the battle.

Democracy versus autocracy

Armenians carried out a widespread democratic revolution in 2018 and introduced a former journalist, Nikol Pashinyan, to energy. A novice in governance, Pashinyan made severe errors. For instance, he boldly, publicly declared that “Artsakh” was a part of Armenia, which infuriated Azerbaijan. Whereas Pashinyan tried to guarantee Russia that his motion was not a “coloration revolution” – like these in Georgia and Ukraine – Vladimir Putin, no fan of widespread democratic manifestations, grew hostile to Pashinyan’s makes an attempt to show to the West.

Whereas Azerbaijan had grown economically – with the capital metropolis of Baku glittering with new development – politically, it stagnated below the rule of Ilham Aliyev, son of former Communist Get together boss Heydar Aliyev.

The autocratic Ilham Aliyev wanted a victory over Armenia and Ngorno-Karabakh to quiet rumbling discontent with the corruption of the family-run state. With out warning, he launched a brutal conflict in opposition to Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2020 – and received it in simply 44 days due to drones and weapons provided by his allies.

Men in uniform and holding guns stand by a concrete barrier.
Azerbaijani servicemen guard the Lachin checkpoint.
P Photograph/Aziz Karimov

The aim of the victors then was equally hubristic as that of the Armenians a era earlier. Azerbaijan’s troops surrounded Nagorno-Karabakh and in December 2022 lower off all entry to what was left of the self-declared Republic of Artsakh, ravenous its individuals for 10 months. On Sept. 19, 2023, Baku unleashed a brutal blitzkrieg on the rump republic, killing lots of and forcing a mass exodus.

This ethnic cleaning of Nagorno-Karabakh – first via starvation, then by drive of arms – accomplished the Azerbaijani victory. The defeated authorities of Artsakh declared it might formally dissolve the republic by the tip of 2023.

Studying from defeat and victory

Battle sobers a individuals. They’re pressured to face laborious info.

On the identical time, victory can result in prideful triumphalism that in its personal approach can distort what lies forward.

Aliyev seems to have tightened his grip on energy, and Azerbaijanis at this time communicate of different objectives: a land hall via southern Armenia to hyperlink Azerbaijan correct with its exclave Nakhichevan, separated from the remainder of the nation by southern Armenia. Voices have additionally been raised in Baku calling for a “Larger Azerbaijan” that might incorporate what they name “Western Azerbaijan” – that’s, the present Republic of Armenia.

Armenians would possibly hope that Azerbaijan – and the worldwide neighborhood – take significantly the precept of territorial integrity and shield Armenia from incursions by the Azerbaijani military or any extra forceful transfer throughout its borders.

They may additionally hope that the U.S. and NATO, which proclaim that they’re defending democracy in opposition to autocracy in Ukraine, will undertake an analogous strategy to the battle between democratic Armenia and autocratic Azerbaijan.

However with Russia occupied with its devastating conflict in Ukraine and stepping again from its assist of Armenia, an influence vacuum has been fashioned within the Southern Caucasus that Turkey could also be wanting to fill, to Azerbaijan’s benefit.

An opportunity for democratic renewal?

The quick duties dealing with Armenia are monumental, starting with the housing and feeding of 100,000 refugees.

However this may additionally be a second of alternative. Freed of the burden of defending Nagorno-Karabakh, which they did valiantly for greater than three a long time, Armenians are now not as captive to the strikes and whims of Russia and Azerbaijan.

They will use this time to consolidate and additional develop their democracy, and by their instance develop into what they’d been within the years simply after the collapse of the Soviet Union: a harbinger of democratic renewal, an instance of not simply what might need been however of what conceivably will likely be within the close to future.

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