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Armenia stands alone

Uncertain and changing alliances in South Caucasus

Azerbaijani forces wrested control of the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh from neighbouring Armenia in September. It’s unlikely to be the last act in this long-running feud.

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An Armenian police officer guides refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh at a registration centre near Kornidzor, 24 September 2023

Alain Jocard · AFP · Getty

In a two-day military offensive launched on 19 September, Azerbaijan took back control of the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, internationally recognised as part of its territory; most of its Armenian inhabitants have since fled. According to Armenia, Azerbaijan’s nine-month blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh, its refusal to guarantee the cultural and political rights of the Armenian population, and the hate speech coming from the Azerberjaini authorities in Baku created a climate designed to provoke the exodus and amount to ethnic cleansing. Officially, the Armenian population are free to return, but a lack of concrete security guarantees and the resentment that has built up over more than three decades suggest few will do so.

The conflict over the enclave started in February 1988, when its Armenian population demanded independence and the government of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast voted to unite with Armenia, which came to their support. The first Nagorno-Karabakh war (1988-94) followed: Armenia occupied the enclave and the surrounding area (nearly 13% of Azerbaijan’s territory), driving out its Azeri population.

Is Azerbaijan’s repossession of the enclave the end of the matter? Probably not. The propaganda from Baku – which refers to the Republic of Armenia as ‘Western Azerbaijan’ – hints at more fighting to come.

Unable to reorganise

Armenia stands alone against these threats. It has not been able to reorganise or re-equip its armed forces after the heavy losses they suffered in 2020, in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. Russia, its traditional security partner, has failed to deliver on an arms contract worth $400m. And neither Russia nor the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO, of which Armenia is a member) condemned Azerbaijan’s military incursions in 2021-22, when it captured strategic heights, enabling it to redraw the border in its own favour. Nor did they intervene to protect Armenia’s territory. (…)

Full article: 1 777 words.

Vicken Cheterian

Vicken Cheterian is a lecturer in history and international relations at the University of Geneva and Webster University Geneva. His latest book is Open Wounds, Armenians, Turks and a Century of Genocide (Hurst and Oxford University Press, 2015).

(1‘Declaration on allied interaction between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation’, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 22 February 2022, president.az/.

(4Adrien Pécout and Faustine Vincent, ‘Arménie: la hausse des importations de gaz d’Azerbaïdjan met l’Europe dans l’embarras’ (Armenia: Rising gas imports from Azerbaijan put Europe in an embarrassing position), Le Monde, Paris, 7 October 2023.

(7Russian peacekeeping force in Nagorno-Karabakh, infographic (in Russian), 11 November 2023, mil.ru/russian_peacekeeping_forces/infograf.htm/.

(8‘Importer/Exporter TIV Tables’, SIPRI, 2023.

(9Avi Scharf and Oded Yaron, ‘92 flights from Israeli base reveals arm exports to Azerbaijan’, Haaretz, Tel Aviv, 6 March 2023, and Isabel Debre, ‘Israeli arms quietly helped Azerbaijan retake Nagorno-Karabakh, to the dismay of region’s Armenians’, Associated Press, 5 October 2023.

(11Ilham Aliyev: “We do not need a new war” ’, JAM, 9 November 2023.


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