The Causes and Preconditions of Second Karabakh War and Roles of Various International Actors.

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  • 18 January, 2021
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Suleyman Zeynalli, a student of international relations at Baku State University examines the causes and preconditions of the Second Karabakh War.

The second Karabakh war was an armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories. It was the latest escalation of an unresolved conflict over the region, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but was occupied by Armenian forces in the beginning of 1990s. Before moving on to the factors that led to the Second Karabakh War and its results, it is worth looking at the brief history of this conflict.

Territorial conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the region has its roots in the early 20th century but real full-scale war and atrocities started in 1988 when ethnic Armenians in the region demanded that Karabakh be transferred from Soviet Azerbaijan to Soviet Armenia. This turned into a full-scale war in the early in 1990s which ended occupation of 20% of internationally recognized Azerbaijani territories, approximately 1 million Azerbaijani people became internally displaced persons and a number of Azerbaijanians were subjected to ethnic cleansing and genocide which were committed by the Armenian armed forces. In 1994, ceasefire (the Bishkek protocol) was signed between two states and since then, peace talks have been ongoing within the framework of various international institutions for 27 years but no shred of progress has been made, as the result of ignorance of Republic of Armenia to comply with international legal norms and principles. All the feasible solutions for the conflict had been rejected by Armenian side, most notably Madrid principles, which was proposed in 2007 within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group and which envisaged  the return of 7 adjacent districts, occupied by Armenia, to Azerbaijan, and then determination of the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region. It was apparent that in Armenia the status quo had become deeply entranced in the political landscape.

After diplomatic talks proved to be futile, on September 27, a large-scale war between Armenia and Azerbaijan flared up again, after provocative steps taken by Armenian political-military leadership towards territorial integrity and sovereignty of Republic of Azerbaijan. After 44 days of war and the crushing defeat of Armenia, on November 10, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin signed a statement on the end of military operations and a ceasefire in the Second Karabakh War.[1]

The most frequently asked question in this regard is: what were the causes and preconditions of this war, which were decisive for us?

In 2011, Russia proposed to start negotiations on Madrid principles with the return of 5 of 7 adjacent districts to Azerbaijan; however Armenia again refused and the negotiations have remained deadlock since. Over the several next years, instead of negotiating on the possible settlement of the conflict, Armenian leadership in Nagorno-Karabakh started to fully incorporate all the occupied districts of Azerbaijan with  the introduction of new illegal constitution which changed the region’s official name to Artsakh, as the result of illegal referendum in 2017. The referendum is considered illegal by, among many others, the Azerbaijani government. It also received criticism internationally as an obstacle in the peaceful settlement of the conflict.[2]

In Novermber 2010, by the decision of the government of self-proclaimed "Nagorno Karabakh Republic", the Agdam region was renamed as "Akna" and became one of the quarters of the Askeran city.[3] Therefore, renaming the Azerbaijani cities in the occupied territories, in particular Agdam, by giving it an Armenian name demonstrated the intention of Armenian leadership to destabilize and worsen the situation. Meanwhile, historical sites, that were located in the Azerbaijani districts, were embedded on Armenian banknotes. This, once again, clarified that Armenian leadership did not have intention to return the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

In June 2019, Armenian National Security Council announced the intention to build a third highway between Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh the following year.[4] This third road even further complicated matters. This third road, the southernmost route, is slated to connect Kapan in Armenia with Hadrut in Karabakh, passing through the Gubadli and Jabrayil regions which Azerbaijan did not consider those territories to be negotiable. The attitude of the European Union to this issue was not delayed. “The decision to build this highway has been taken without the consent of the competent authorities of Azerbaijan – in violation of international law,” reads a joint statement issued by members of the European Parliament, which serves as the legislative branch of the European Union (EU).[5]

As it is known, during his visit to the United States in March 2019, Armenian Defense Minister David Tonoyan stated at a meeting with the Armenian Diaspora that Armenia has moved from a "trench defense" strategy to an "active obstruction" strategy.[6] In his speech, using the phrase "expanding offensive capabilities," the Armenian defense minister called his strategy a "New War for New Territories." Later, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan tried to change the format of peace talks with the intention of bringing the separatist regime to the negotiating table. Thus, during his visit to the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region in August last year, Pashinyan uttered a populist sentence such as "Karabakh is Armenia, the point" and was therefore criticized by both Azerbaijan and international organizations, especially the OSCE Minsk Group.

As a part of aforementioned "New War for New Territories" strategy of Armenia, on July 12 of this year, the Armenian armed forces, with the help of artillery and large-caliber weapons, attacked the positions of the Azerbaijani armed forces on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border in the direction of the village of Agdam, Tovuz region which is situated far away from conflict zone. As a result of the attack, 11 Azerbaijani servicemen were killed, several were injured, as well as civilians were killed, and civilian facilities, properties and a hospital building were severely damaged. One of the factors determining the direction of the attack is the strategic position of the region and the importance of Azerbaijan's energy and transport infrastructure. Armenia does not hide the fact that Azerbaijan's oil infrastructure is one of its main military targets. The exercises conducted by the Armenian military between October 1-13, 2012 were based on the scenario of an attack on the "enemy's oil infrastructure." In addition, the aim of the Armenian military-political leadership was to create a new source of tension in the region and justify the intervention of the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), of which Armenia is a member, through the geographical expansion of the conflict. Thus, it became clear that the long negotiations did not yield any results.

The settlement of Armenians in the occupied territories further outraged the Azerbaijani government and public, adding more fuel to the already-strained tensions between the two conflicting nations, enflamed by the border clashes in July. On August 25, the Armenian media announced the arrival of two ethnic-Armenian families from Beirut, Lebanon, to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. This was declared part of Yerevan’s assistance programs to Lebanon’s Armenian community.[7] The wider initiative specifically included a plan to resettle in Armenia and the occupied territories of Azerbaijan (namely, Karabakh) Lebanese-Armenians who suffered socio-economically as a result of the August 4 explosion at the Beirut port warehouses. These measures facilitated the process for Armenia to bring terrorists and mercenaries to Karabakh region. Unsurprisingly, peace talks remained paralyzed and made a war inevitable in the region. Armenia's continuous ceasefire violation and firing on residential areas on the line of contact in late September left Azerbaijan with no choice but to return its lands by force. The 44-day war ended with the victory of Azerbaijan.

What were the official positions of regional powers and other states on this war?

Russian Federation is the military ally of Armenia and maintains a military base there. Therefore, it was expected that Russia would come to the aid of their ally. However, Russian leadership rejected to assist Armenia as Vladimir Putin said: “Russia does not have an obligation to defend Armenia, as its conflict with Azerbaijan is not being waged in Armenian territory”.[8] Hence, in legal terms, Russia could not be involved unless there was a danger to the Republic of Armenia. The second reason for not involvement of Russia was that Vladimir Putin detested new Armenian prime-minister Nickol Pasinyan for his anti-Russian activities within Armenia. Since coming to the power in 2018, Pasinyan's government gradually substituted pro-Russian government officials with pro-western ones in an effort to diminish Armenia's reliance on Russia. This alarmed Russia to reverse pro-western process. Finally, third reason was the satisfactory relations between Azerbaijan and Russia and intention of Russian Federation to further strengthen its power in the Caucasian region.

For Iran Islamic Republic, situation in Karabakh presented dilemma. Traditionally, Iran maintained strong economic and political relations with Armenia. But at the same time, north westernpart of Iran is largely populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis and obviously, it led to the more neutral policy of Iran on this conflict. Therefore, Iran was content to simply reaffirm the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.[9] However, Azerbaijan's military-political and economic relations with Israel were also a source of danger for Iran during the period of war. Thus, Iran fears the influence and threat of Israel, which may increase in the future in the region as the result of close partnership between Azerbaijan and Israel.

Turkey and Azerbaijan have strong and brotherly ties in all areas since historical periods and there is a deep connection between population of both countries. Nevertheless, Turkey’s approach to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict has traditionally been passive. But, the statements of the Prime Minister of Armenia that the Sevres Agreement is an agreement that is valid and applicable even 100 years after its signing in the 100th aniversary of Sevres Treaty, August 2020, have led Turkey to become more active in the region and to support Azerbaijan more strongly.

The Trump administration has been largely silent about the conflict. Although the short-lived ceasefire was agreed upon after US Secretary Mike Pompeo held separate meetings with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in Washington,[10] in my opinion, the meeting was purely symbolic and was about America's desire to create the impression that it was fulfilling its obligations as co-chair. The first reason for this is that the South Caucasus region is not a prime area of strategic interest for the US. The second reason was the upcoming presidential elections that diverted government's attention from international events.

Despite France's open support for Armenia, the European Union has majorly chosen to remain neutral and called on the parties to suspend hostilities and restore the ceasefire.

To conclude, Armenia has become a victim of its aggressive policy. The unattainable dream of “Greater Armenia”, the desire to consolidate in the territories belonging to Azerbaijan, and the successive provocative steps of Armenia's political-military leadership dragged Armenia and the Armenian people into the abyss.

Sources

 

1.https://oc-media.org/nagorno-karabakh-votes-in-favour-of-constitutional-changes/

2. https://www.azernews.az/nation/26472.html

3.https://eurasianet.org/armenia-and-karabakh-announce-construction-of-third-connecting-highway

4.https://apa.az/en/nagorno_garabagh/Members-of-the-European-Parliament-issued-joint-statement-on-the-construction-of-a-new-highway-connecting-Armenia-and-Nagorno-Karabakh-323028

5.https://jamestown.org/program/rationalizing-the-tonoyan-doctrine-armenias-active-deterrence-strategy/

6.https://jamestown.org/program/armenian-resettlement-from-lebanon-to-the-occupied-territories-of-azerbaijan-endangers-peace-process/

7. https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20201123-putin-says-nagorno-karabakh-is-inseparable-territory-of-azerbaijan/

8.https://azertag.az/xeber/Iran_XIN_Azerbaycanin_erazi_butovluyune_hormetle_yanasiriq-1605443

9.https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2020/10/29/Where-the-US-stands-on-Armenia-Azerbaijan-and-Nagorno-Karabakh

10.http://epsc.az/en/news/theoretical-and-conceptual-bases-of-the-victory-in-karabakh-or-the--triumph-of-realpolitik?fbclid=IwAR2QJQth4i-QMGi64bVqRiXmXuxjXjq3ecEzrOfAAP9wRc1UsiAoaTX6Eto

 

 


[1] http://epsc.az/en/news/theoretical-and-conceptual-bases-of-the-victory-in-karabakh-or-the--triumph-of-realpolitik?fbclid=IwAR2QJQth4i-QMGi64bVqRiXmXuxjXjq3ecEzrOfAAP9wRc1UsiAoaTX6Eto

[2] https://oc-media.org/nagorno-karabakh-votes-in-favour-of-constitutional-changes/

[3] https://www.azernews.az/nation/26472.html

[4] https://eurasianet.org/armenia-and-karabakh-announce-construction-of-third-connecting-highway

[5] https://apa.az/en/nagorno_garabagh/Members-of-the-European-Parliament-issued-joint-statement-on-the-construction-of-a-new-highway-connecting-Armenia-and-Nagorno-Karabakh-323028

[6] https://jamestown.org/program/rationalizing-the-tonoyan-doctrine-armenias-active-deterrence-strategy/

[7] https://jamestown.org/program/armenian-resettlement-from-lebanon-to-the-occupied-territories-of-azerbaijan-endangers-peace-process/

[8] . https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20201123-putin-says-nagorno-karabakh-is-inseparable-territory-of-azerbaijan/

[9] https://azertag.az/xeber/Iran_XIN_Azerbaycanin_erazi_butovluyune_hormetle_yanasiriq-1605443

[10] https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2020/10/29/Where-the-US-stands-on-Armenia-Azerbaijan-and-Nagorno-Karabakh

 

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