THE ARMENIAN-AZERBAIJANI CONFLICT: PROBLEMS OF WAR AND PEACE
Liatifa Mamedova, Ph.D. (Hist.), professor at the Academy of State Management under the President of Azerbaijan (Baku, Azerbaijan)
Gusein Guseinov, Post-graduate student at the Academy of State Management under the President of Azerbaijan (Baku, Azerbaijan)
The Caucasus is currently at the center of attention of various geopolitical forces and a region where the interests of the world’s largest and most influential states intersect. These interests can only be guaranteed if security and peace are achieved in the region. However, several problems, one of which is the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, are hindering this process, and military tension is slackening at a much slower rate than the vital interests of the Caucasian people and countries of the world community would like.
The current stage of development in human civilization is marked by the most profound changes in the planet’s sociopolitical composition. It stands to reason that the international community is transforming and a qualitatively different climate of interstate relations is taking shape. In this respect, the settlement of territorial, interstate, ethnic, and other conflicts in both the post-Soviet space and throughout the world is becoming increasingly urgent. The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict that flared up over the Nagorny Karabakh problem is very much in the center of these processes. We have already moved away from an emotional perception of this conflict and are now ready to assess it based on the available facts and documents.
In terms of its political, economic, environmental, demographic, and humanitarian consequences, this conflict is one of the largest-scale and most virulent in the CIS. In addition to its virulence and scale, it also has several specific features. Its new phase began during perestroika. At that time, the bugbear of “the Islamic threat” was created to counterbalance the so-called “communist principles.” These political allegations had dangerous consequences. The Azerbaijan leadership at that time had not learned from the lessons of the past, or from the experience of Russia’s consistent and methodical advance into the region, which used the Armenian factor as a lever that eventually led to war. This phenomenon, based on the Turkophobia in the consciousness, way of thinking, and actions of the Soviet leaders, began to manifest itself with particular intensity after Mikhail Gorbachev removed the restraining factor, Heydar Aliev, from their ranks.
Certain forces in Armenia have always strived to turn the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict into a so-called “Karabakh national freedom fight.” In order to demonstrate the entire mythological essence of this thesis, as well as identify several serious ethnopolitical, demographic, socioeconomic, geopolitical, military, and other issues, we will take a brief look at some historical aspects of this problem.
The Genesis or Historical Roots of the Conflict
There can be no doubt that by transposing it to the realm of specific military-political events, Armenian political organizations are playing an immense role in developing and implementing the idea of a “Great Armenia from sea to sea.” This was primarily due to the demographic factor manifested in the gradual settlement of Armenians in Azerbaijan that took place under the tsarist policy of “uniting all Armenians under its political and religious dominion.”1 Armenians did not settle in different parts of the Caucasus until later centuries.2
Geopolitical interests have been a dominating factor of foreign and domestic policy in the interrelations among countries and people throughout time. By applying demographic pressure, some empires created a solid sociopolitical base for expansion, while others collapsed under this weight, and small nations were used as a tool or trump card to satisfy the imperial ambitions of the great nations.
At the beginning of the 18th century, yet another powerful empire appeared on the world’s historical horizon. This was Russia, which despite the various national-political transformations it underwent, played a leading role in the centuries to come in world evolution. Great reformer Peter I announced Russia’s formation in 1711, convincingly arguing this legal act by means of military-political measures that helped to resolve the issue of the northern territories and facilitated the nation’s breakthrough to Europe. But just one year after the Nishtadt Peace Treaty was signed in 1721, Peter embarked on a new campaign, the Persian. Thoughts about Caspian acquisitions preoccupied him from the beginning of his reign and gained momentum after the Prussian campaign. Russia’s firmer foothold in the Caspian was supposed to compensate for its losses in the Black Sea. In so doing, Russian politicians carried out a strategically important task; in Caspian regions, mainly in Azerbaijan, they formed a Christian colony where Armenians settled. In 1721-1724, they were moved to Gilian, Mazanderan, Baku, and Derbent.3 Later, under Catherine the Great, they once more swore their allegiance to Russia,4 promising to be advocates of its interests in the Caucasus.
Russian geopolitics with respect to Azerbaijan territory continued throughout the next stages in history, right up until the empire sustained ultimate victory in the Transcaucasus. After the Shamshadil and Airum dominions were annexed to Russia, brief cameralistic descriptions were compiled (2 March, 1804), whereby 33 Azeri and only four Armenian settlements were registered.5 During this same period, according to the Caucasian archeographical commission, there were a total of 978 homes in the Elisavetpol Province, only 35 of which were Armenian.6
Following the Russian-Iranian and Russian-Turkish wars … after the signing of the Turkmanchai Peace Treaty in 1828, a total of “40,000 Armenians … and after the signing of the Adrianopol Peace Treaty, 90,000 Armenians were resettled in Russia” (according to V. L. Velichko, there were 100,000 Turkish Armenians),7 and another 40,000 were settled under Count Paskevich of the Erivan Province, where they were granted “all kinds of privileges in economic activity and it was easier for those who desired to serve their military term.”
After the Transcaucasus was conquered (1801-1828), all of this territory was redrawn on the map more than once, but these administrative changes ran counter to the real ethnographic, historical, religious, and everyday characteristics of the local population. As a result of mechanical growth—immigration to the mountainous area of the Shusha and Zangezur districts—the Armenians accounted for approximately 50% of the entire population, whereas in other districts they constituted a significantly lower percentage,8 of the nine Trancaucasian provinces one quarter of the Armenian population lived in the Erivan Province, while in all the others, most of the population was Muslim.9
This is how the foundation for the next stage in Russia’s Transcaucasian geopolitics, assimilation, was laid, “assimilating … the outlying regions, their closer ‘intrinsic’ merging with the center, was one of the most important tasks in both the domestic and foreign policy of the Russian government.”10
A policy unique to the practice of colonial powers, creating an enclave antagonistic to the indigenous population, was so obvious that even Armenian authors had to admit that, “during the Russian-Turkish wars of 1853-1856, 1877-1878, 1894, 1896 and during World War I, the inflow of Armenians into these regions of the Transcaucasus continued.”11 Other sources also give witness to the dynamic migration of Armenians to foreign territory. According to the archives, from 1893 to 1894, 10,000 people resettled in the Caucasus, and from 1896 to 1911, 300,000 Armenians12 moved to Russia, 123,000 of whom went to the Erivan Province,13 and before 1915, thanks to Nicholas II, who opened the Russian-Turkish border, 350,000 Turkish Armenians also arrived in the country.14
Along with Russia’s geopolitical interests, immigration was dictated by the socioeconomic and political development of Azerbaijan during the second half of the 19th century. Its geographical proximity, fertile soil, natural riches, and room to maneuver for business activity, relatively cheap land, compared to Armenia, and, finally, the privileges granted to displaced persons by the tsarist government were all instrumental in Armenians choosing this territory to settle in.
The privileges granted to one nation at the expense of another ultimately created a slow fuse bomb, which aggravated the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict on more than one occasion.
The ruined peasants constituted another wave of displaced Armenians. These were seasonal workers, graphic evidence of Armenia’s industrial underdevelopment.15 In other words, it can be concluded that the Armenian industrial bourgeoisie and proletariat primarily formed beyond their homeland, which the Armenians themselves do not deny.16 Baku became the center of Armenian capital and the Armenian bourgeoisie was invested with economic influence. It had control over commerce, industry, urban funds, the credit system, and so on.
The functions of compradore gave the Armenian bourgeoisie immense confidence in its strengths, and its ideals boiled down to retaining these functions and ousting competitors from the Transcaucasus. “It wanted to possess everything that Russian and foreign capital was not making claims to.”17
The socioeconomic situation in Azerbaijan, particularly in Baku, significantly changed the breakdown and correlation of political forces, which due to divvying up the spheres of capital investment and zones of economic predominance, gave rise to an ongoing confrontation between the Azeri and Armenian bourgeoisie. And it stands to reason that an imposing political superstructure emerged on such a powerful economic basis. In so doing, the need to transform purely economic Armenian capital into political became extremely important. There can be no doubt that the Armenian bourgeoisie had to have its “own territory,” its own autonomous market, and its own statehood for this. But it could no longer engage in the fight to implement these ideas by legal methods alone. Only “revolutionary,” illegal, and insurgent organizations could play the role of catalyst in this kind of activity.
The Armenian bourgeoisie was augmenting its political influence in society and “looking for its own homeland.”18 This “ideal,” which has become its steady point of reference, continues to be a source of bloody collisions, which are stirring up and causing enormous masses of people of different nationalities to clash. Thus the Armenian bourgeoisie is forming a social ideology that is expressed in the creation of the “Armenian state.”
This has all paved the way for future conflicts between the economically powerful Armenian bourgeoisie and the Azeri bourgeoisie, which came back to life under adverse conditions. In so doing, its Armenian representatives, striving to find a dependable niche for themselves in the Baku oil industry, have been denying their Azeri “colleagues” access to the expanses of capitalist prosperity. A competitive struggle began among them, which has become the basis for numerous Armenian-Azerbaijani conflicts.
In this way, the penetration of Armenians (throughout the entire 19th century) into Azerbaijan, their transformation into a guarantor of Russian interests in the Transcaucasus, the formation of powerful Armenian capital in Baku’s nascent oil industry, and the paternal role of the Russian monarchy with respect to the Armenian bourgeoisie created favorable conditions and objective prerequisites for forming Armenian political organizations in this region, which acted on the grounds of flagrant chauvinism and building a “Great Armenia” at the expense of foreign territory.
Escalation of the Conflict in the Present Day
Very often an international conflict is generated from premeditated actions, the initiator of which is trying to turn the course of events in his favor. How hostile these actions are depends on the general state of relations between the sides and their evaluation of why the crisis arose. The usual methods employed in making foreign policy decisions change and the role of people in military uniform increases. The outcome of the crisis defines the subsequent nature of relations between the countries involved and influences the course of events on the international arena. This formulation correlates precisely to the current conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
On 20 February, 1988, a group of Armenian deputies from the Regional Council of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAR) of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan voted in favor of transferring the NKAR to the jurisdiction of the Soviet Republic of Armenia, which was the first open act against the constitutional foundations of the national-state structure of the Soviet Union. On 18 July, 1988, the U.S.S.R. Presidium of the Supreme Soviet unequivocally supported keeping the NKAR within the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan and adopted a resolution confirming the inviolability of its territorial integrity. This resolution was based on the Soviet Constitution, in particular on Art 76 on the state sovereignty of the Union republics, on Art 78, pursuant to which the borders of a Union republic could not be changed without its consent, and on other relevant normative-legal acts.
But the Armenian side persisted in its attempts to change the status quo within a legal framework by arming itself with other means and methods.
The stereotype of “the long-suffering Armenian people” became firmly entrenched in the consciousness of the Soviet people, and even of the world community as a whole. It goes without saying that we all empathize with other people’s misfortunes. But how right are we in defining a target of true empathy, if we blindly take it as absolute and do not pay attention to the much greater misfortune of another nation generated by the skillfully construed and alleged suffering of the first nation, in which we so absolutely believe?
Further events showed that Erevan made timely preparations for the onset and continuation of the conflict at both the information-propagandistic and ideological and at the military and socioeconomic levels. The act on declaration of the so-called NKR was an undisguised maneuver by Armenia that ensued from its plans to confiscate this territory from Azerbaijan. The referendum on the independence of Nagorny Karabakh was not held until after the forceful displacement of the Azeri population from this region and under conditions of armed pressure and open terrorization of the remaining local residents by Armenian militarized formations and groups of mercenaries.
In 1989, the active recruitment of militants to militarized formations subordinate to the leaders of the Karabakh committee began in Armenia. Active efforts were made to gather command personnel, including from among ethnic Armenians, citizens from the Middle East, Western Europe, and the U.S. Taking advantage of Armenia’s actual withdrawal from under Moscow’s control, several industrial enterprises changed their profile to the manufacture of firearms, which were widely used during the campaigns against the peaceful Azeri population of Nagorny Karabakh. At the beginning of 1990, the Armenian side used refurbished civilian Mi-8 helicopters to attack population settlements in the Geranboi Region of Azerbaijan from the air. At the same time, on the order of the Soviet military-political leadership and under the state of emergency declared, all officers, warrant officers, and conscripts of Azeri nationality were isolated in units and contingents of the Baku regiment. Under the pretext of taking an inventory of handguns, the republic’s Interior Ministry and KGB structures were disarmed. The Armenian side “squeezed” everything they could from the situation that developed in Azerbaijan, since the state of emergency did not apply to Armenia. Taking advantage of this, the militarized formations disarmed essentially all the subdivisions and structures of the republic’s Interior Ministry, DOSAAF (Volunteer Assistance to the Soviet Army, Air Force and Navy), extra-departmental security service, antihail artillery stocks, and military departments at universities. Between January and February 1990 alone, these formations seized 6,179 small arms units/firearms, 19 armored vehicles, 133 siege guns, 17 Alazan missile launchers, three mortars, 13,000 projectiles and missiles, 1,921 tons of explosives, and a large number of vehicles and communication means.19 According to Major-General V.N. Safonov, the commandant of the state of emergency region in the NKAR and contiguous regions of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, 1,200 rifled and smoothbore weapons, tens of thousands of munitions, 180 antihail rockets and launchers, 3,800 projectiles for them, more than 30 tons of food, etc. had been confiscated from the Armenian extremists in Nagorny Karabakh by July 1990.20
In this way, the production and purchase of this amount of arms and military hardware laid the foundation for Armenia’s military expansionism policy. It moved completely on to implementing its military strategy to seize Nagorny Karabakh and other Azeri territories from Azerbaijan by force.
By the time the Soviet Union disintegrated, Erevan had managed to surpass the opposing side in the military sphere by at least three years. Armed forces with up to 30,000 members were formed in Armenia and Karabakh. Between January and April 1992, the commanders of the Transcaucasian Military District transferred 25 tanks and more than 6,000 munitions, 126 infantry fighting vehicles (IFV), 38 armored personnel carriers (APC) and armored reconnaissance patrol vehicles, 45 artillery mortars, eight Grad multiple rocket launchers, 12 combat helicopters, and much more to the Armenian side.21 We will note that these are only the official data, but the Armenians also seized thousands of weapons illegally.
At the Tashkent summit of the CIS countries in May 1992 equal quotas were set for the armed forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan—no more than 220 tanks, 220 IFV, 285 units of artillery of 150 mm caliber and higher, 100 airplanes, and 50 combat helicopters.22 Although the population and territory of Azerbaijan is twice as large as Armenia’s, these quotas were confirmed for both sides at the OSCE Istanbul summit in November 1999. When analyzing the data presented above, we should note that the documents additional to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe contain a concept of “temporarily uncontrollable territory,” where it is difficult to draw up an inventory of the number of arms located there. Nagorny Karabakh falls into this category.
According to then chairman of the Russian Federation State Duma Defense Committee, General L. Rokhlin (now deceased), during the time Russia was illegally delivering arms and military hardware (1994-1996), Armenia received 84 T-72 tanks, 50 IFV-2, 36 D-30 howitzers, 18 Grad multiple missile launchers, 26 mortars, 7,910 automatic rifles, approximately 480,000 projectiles for IFV-2 and Shilka, approximately 500,000 projectiles for guns, howitzers, and tanks, eight R-17 rapid missile systems and 24 projectiles for them capable of carrying nuclear warheads for a distance of 300 km and weighing 500 kg, which could completely destroy Baku, 27 Krug surface-to-air missile systems, 349 missiles for them, 40 Igla portable surface-to-air missile systems and 200 antiaircraft missiles for them, 40 missiles for the Osa surface-to-air system, and a large number of other weapons, hardware, and combat munitions costing more than 1 billion USD.23
On 27 August, 1997, Armenia and Russia signed the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, which envisages military cooperation, “…including financing approved military programs … the export and import of military hardware and weapons . . .”24 which contradicts Resolution 853 of the U.N. Security Council banning the delivery of weapons to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict zone.
In light of the obvious intensification of Erevan’s military potential with corresponding support from Moscow, then Azerbaijan state advisor V. Guluzade noted in an interview with Nezavisimaia gazeta on 27 February, 1999: “Azerbaijan is being forced to enter into military cooperation with Turkey and the U.S. and step up its partnership with NATO… Although Russia is not interested in the appearance of NATO bases, it should draw certain conclusions and radically change its policy in our region. Azerbaijan cannot exist without entering some kind of security system. Armenia has joined Russia’s security system. Russia is also asking us to join such an alliance. But how can we enter it if the question of occupied territory has not been settled?!”
Taking into account the implementation of prospective American geostrategic programs in the Caspian Basin, the U.S. is keeping the question of a possible military-political imbalance in the Southern Caucasus under constant control.
At the OSCE Istanbul summit on 18-19 November, 1999, the initiatives by Azerbaijan President Heydar Aliev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian aroused a wide response. They both came forward with the idea of creating a regional security system. We will remind you that Heydar Aliev suggested that the U.S., Russia, Turkey, and the region’s countries sign a “Pact on Security and Cooperation in the Caucasus.” This Pact presupposes laying the foundations of interstate relations and sets forth the principles for settling conflicts in the region, which would exclude any foreign military presence in it. The Pact was also to exclude the possibility of drawing any new dividing lines in the Southern Caucasus, as well as any manifestations of separatism, terrorism, ethnic purges, and a policy of double standards. In turn, Robert Kocharian stated the need for developing a regional security system, which would fit into the general European security system and include all the sides concerned, primarily the South Caucasian countries. When commenting on these initiatives in an interview with Nezavisimaia gazeta, Azerbaijan Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov noted that the Azerbaijan President’s proposal takes into account the current situation in the region, which is characterized by a “confrontation on a strategic level,” geopolitical complications, a striving for unilateral military domination, and the factor of “illegal foreign military presence.” When evaluating Robert Kocharian’s proposal on developing a regional security system, Azimov said that it was essentially a proposal to normalize relations between Armenia and Turkey. “…Armenia has normal relations with Georgia, and more than normal relations with Russia and Iran. Armenia is the only country to receive weapons from Russia, money from America, and cooperate with Iran. This leaves Turkey, with which Armenia wants to have normal relations despite all the current elements in its policy… What Kocharian is proposing is a purely Armenian-centric system, that is, the two states in the region must recognize that the main thing for Armenia is to guarantee Russia’s interests. In order to create a regional security system, we need to think about the interests not of just one country, but of all three South Caucasian countries. Only then will it be possible to create a strong system capable of ensuring peace and cooperation.”25
The final document of the OSCE Istanbul summit welcomed bilateral meetings between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. More than 20 such meetings have been held between April 1999 and the present. But they did not yield any positive results during the settlement process. Relying on the achievements reached during the combat actions, when more than 17,000 sq. km of Azerbaijani territory were occupied, the Armenian side is acting from a position of strength and demands that the reality that developed during the use of force be accepted, which naturally is greatly undermining the constructive negotiation process.
The Azerbaijani side, ignoring the serious political risks, demonstrated good will and came forward with an initiative to restore railroad communication between Azerbaijan and Armenia along the Goradiz-Megri-Nakhchyvan-Erevan route. This initiative pursued the following goals: to step up the peaceful settlement process; to partially resolve the problem of the occupied territory and return approximately 200,000 people displaced during the hostilities to their places of permanent residence; to lay the foundation for mutual trust between the participants in the armed conflict; and to help create conditions for restoring relations in commerce, transportation, and communications throughout the region and integrate it into the global economic system.
The project proposed that Armenia withdraw its armed formations from four occupied areas of Azerbaijan: the Fizuli, Jebrail, Qubatli, and Zangelan regions, since the railroad route mentioned passes through them. There are plans to make the released regions a demilitarized zone and declare the air space over it a zone closed to any military aviation flights by both sides. The European Union expressed its willingness to render the necessary financial and technical assistance to restoring railroad communication along this route, as well as to resolve any other problems. This project is unique to a certain extent since it combines the implementation of both military-political and economic measures to restore trust between the sides in the conflict. But Erevan has rejected this initiative by Baku, motivating its arguments with the inexpediency of liberating the occupied territory of Azerbaijan and withdrawing its troops. According to official Erevan, this could create additional security problems for Armenia, thus showing the lack of desire of this state to liberate the occupied territory and become constructively involved in the settlement process and rapid resolution of the conflict.
During the hostilities, Armenia has sustained losses comparable to the losses of the Azeri side, but with much more serious consequences due to the different demographic and economic potential of these countries. The war has taken the lives of more than 30,000 people, and ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands more. It is hoped that the world nations and international organizations will find ways to achieve peace, security, and prosperity in the Southern Caucasus based on observing the norms and principles of international law.
Today demilitarization and the immediate withdrawal of foreign military bases and contingents from the independent Caucasian countries are more urgent than ever.
1 M. Ertsberger, Germania i Antanta, Moscow, Leningrad, 1923, p. 80.
2 See: B. Ishkhanian, Narodnosti Kavkaza. Sostav naseleniia, professional’naia gruppirovka i obshchestvennoe rassloenie kavkazskikh narodnostei (statistiko-ekonomicheskoe issledovanie), Peterburg, 1916, p. 18.
3 See: Z. Lenskiy, “Natsional’noe dvizhenie,” in: Obshchestvennoe dvizhenie v Rossii v nachale XX veka, St. Petersburg, 1909, p. 349.
4 See: Z.T. Grigorian, Prisoedinenie Vostochnoi Armenii k Rossii v nachale XX veka, Moscow, 1959, pp. 160-161.
5 See: A.M. Elchibekian, Armenia nakanune Velikogo oktiabria (fevral-oktiabr 1917), Erevan, 1963, p. 17.
6 See: P. Paganutstsi, "Imperator Nikolai II—spasitel soten tysiach armian ot turetskogo genotsida," Rodina, No. 8-9, 1991, p. 93.
7 A.M. Elchibekian, op. cit., p. 9.
8 See: Gr. Chapkhushian, Armianskii vopros i armianskie pogromy v Rossii (Panislamism), Rostov-on-Don, 1905, p. 6.
9 See: A.R. Ioannisian, Prisoedinenie Zakavkazia k Rossii i mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia v nachale XIX stoletia, Erevan, 1958, p. 16.
10 Ibid., p. 11.
11 See: Documents Gathered by the Caucasian Archeological Commission, Vol. 2, Tiflis, 1868, p. 597.
12 State Historical Archives of the Azerbaijan Republic, rec. gr. 23, inv. 3, f. 21, pp. 56 rev.-57.
13 See: V.L. Velichko, Russkoe delo i mezhduplemennye voprosy, New edition, St. Petersburg, 1904, Baku, 1990, p. 81.
14 See: Documents Gathered by the Caucasian Archeological Commission, Vol. 2, p. 279.
15 See: M.G. Veliev, Azerbaijan (fiziko-geograficheskii, etnograficheskii i ekonomicheskii ocherk), Baku, 1921, p. 15.
16 See: A.S. Ambarian, "Razvitie kapitalisticheskikh otnoshenii v promyshlennosti Armenii," in: Genezis kapitalizma v Zakavkazie, Baku, 1969, p. 36.
17 Ye. Drabkina, "Tiurkskii proletariat v revoliutsii i grazhdanskoi voine," in: Istoriia proletariata SSSR, Moscow, 1931, p. 85.
18 A. Zorian, "Sostoianie armianskoi istoriografii," in: Trudy pervoi Vsesoiuznoi konferentsii istorikov-marksistov, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1930, p. 470.
19 See: J. Arasly, Armiano-azerbaidzhanskii konflikt: voenniy aspekt, Baku, 1995, p. 6.
20 See: Bakinskii rabochii, 12 July, 1990.
21 See: J. Arasly, op. cit.
22 See: Nezavisimaia gazeta, 31 May, 1999.
23 See: Zerkalo, 12 April, 1997.
24 S. Alieva, "Karabakhskii izlom," Mnenie, November 1997, p. 5.
25 Nezavisimaia gazeta, 18 December, 1999.