Armenia vs Azerbaijan

Conflict I’ve been learning about – Azerbaijan vs Armenia. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been hearing more and more about the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and I figured that I had a responsibility to learn about it. After digging for a bit, I quickly became overwhelmed. This part of the world has been the battleground of foreign empires since before Alexander the Great, and the locals have suffered immensely through it all. In antiquity, the Kingdoms of Armenia and of Caucasian Albania (the ancient counterpart to Azerbaijan) were buffer states that existed between the Roman Empire and the Persian (eventually Sassanid) Empire. When both East and Western Empires were equally matched, peace reigned in the Caucuses region (what we call that part of the world, pronounced Kah-Kuh-Suhz), but when one got stronger, the Kings of Armenia would be replaced with puppets favorable to the stronger empire. This tug of war between East and West over the Caucuses region caused much hardship for the land and it’s people. It never truly could spread its wings, since a smackdown from one of its belligerent neighbours was always around the corner. 

In the last two thousand years, little has changed besides the names of the invaders. The lands have been ravaged by the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Medes, the Achaemenids, the Parthians, the Scythians, the Byzantines, the Arab Empires, the Seljuk Turks, the Mongols, the Safavids and other Iranian dynasties, the Ottomans, the British, the Nazis, and finally, the Russians. With each successive conquest, cities were renamed, communities were deported, others, more favorable to the new regime, were imported. Through this human herding, at the behest of foreign bayonets, the diverse local ethnicities, along with their languages and cultural identities, were spread into every corner of the Caucuses.  In times of local stability, the peoples of the Caucuses often continued colonizing and annexing lands from their neighbours, as had been done to them.

After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, the region became independent for the first time in many centuries. A dormant, national identity, forged by proud, ancient local Kingdoms awoke for the first time in many eras, and the Republics of Georgia, of Armenia, and of Azerbaijan, emerged. Quickly, the Ottomans and Iranians sensed an opportunity, and re-entered the region in force. Atrocities were committed, the most famous being the Ottoman led Armenian Genocide, which saw the death of up to 1.5 million civilians in just a few years. All the while, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan fought territorial battles with one another, exchanging land in a pitiful tug of war, until the Russian Empire, reborn under the Soviets, came knocking.

The Red Army quickly gobbled up the fractured states, but the nations of the Caucuses could not be unborn. A political identity now reigned there, and under the Soviets, the region would be ruled as puppet states, now rebranded as the Soviet Socialist Republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. While the peoples of the Caucuses lived in relative harmony with one another under the Soviet Union, the Soviets kept the regional governments at odds with one another using the most common colonial method: divide and rule.

The Soviets were afraid that any one state would gain too much local power, which would disrupt the natural power balance of the region. It is much easier to rule a foreign people if they are at odds with their neighbours, than if they are unified against you. As such, they created the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region, inside Azerbaijan, where the ethnic majority was Armenian. This enclave of Armenians, inside Azerbaijan, as well as other territorial exchanges enacted by the Soviets on behalf of the local populations, is the origin of the modern conflict between the two nations. By enacting these territorial exchanges, the Soviets guaranteed that war would be inevitable without the Soviets.

And so it was. The Nagorno-Karabakh region has been fought over in in numerous different conflicts since both states became officially autonomous after the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991. Guerrilla Warfare began in 1988, the first Nagorno-Karabakh War was in 1992, and low level fighting has been ongoing ever since. Flares ups happened before, such as in 2016, where hundreds were killed in fighting, but in this year of 2020, the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War raged from September 27, until a ceasefire was announced this week, on Tuesday, November 10th, 2020. Russia claims that 5000 died in total, and hundreds of thousands more were displaced.

The war appears, by all accounts, to have been an overwhelming Azerbaijani victory. But did this solve anything? If you look up this conflict on Wikipedia, it currently says that both sides claim victory. So, the short answer is no. The long answer is even worse. This conflict saw the ghosts of the ancient empires that meddled in the Caucuses rear their ugly heads. Iran and Turkey played a large part, with Turkey helping supply Azerbaijan’s war effort, and Iran supplying Armenia’s. New foreign players entered the fold, with nations such as Israel selling futuristic combat drones to Azerbaijan, in their own attempt to gain a foothold in the region that neighbours their enemy, Iran. And then there is Russia. Russia has a defensive alliance with Armenia. Russia has military bases in Armenia. And Russia did nothing. Some might think this had something to do with the fact that Armenia has been angling itself further and further towards the Western powers.  You can be certain that Russia wants a change in Armenian leadership. The ghosts of the empires of old still haunt us today, and they still do battle in the Caucasus.  Russia still tries to control the region, though she does so quietly, and tactfully. In the modern age, there are modern means for projecting power, and the Soviet policy of divide and rule appears to still be paying dividends for modern Russia.

Origins of the Conflict: https://youtu.be/pS3P9kk-vFk

Why there has been a recent outbreak in fighting: https://youtu.be/NesivHrMNcc

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