From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject The Armenia and Azerbaijan War: How Can We Support Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh?
Date October 18, 2020 12:00 AM
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[Instead of exploiting the Armenian and Azerbaijan conflict, the
U.S. should work with the OSCE Minsk Group to support a ceasefire and
a stable negotiated peace that respects the human rights and
self-determination of all the people of the region.]
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THE ARMENIA AND AZERBAIJAN WAR: HOW CAN WE SUPPORT PEACE IN
NAGORNO-KARABAKH?  
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Nicolas J S Davies
October 12, 2020
CounterPunch
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_ Instead of exploiting the Armenian and Azerbaijan conflict, the
U.S. should work with the OSCE Minsk Group to support a ceasefire and
a stable negotiated peace that respects the human rights and
self-determination of all the people of the region. _

Map of the region where a war rages between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The two countries have been in conflict since the fall of the Soviet
Union, when the newly-independent nations went to war over the
Armenian-majority Azerbaijani province of Karabakh., BBC

 

Americans are dealing with an upcoming general election, a pandemic
that has killed over 200,000 of us, and corporate news media whose
business model has degenerated to selling different versions of
“The Trump Show [[link removed]]” to their advertisers. So
who has time to pay attention to a new war half way round the world?
But with so much of the world afflicted by 20 years of U.S.-led wars
[[link removed]] and the resulting
political, humanitarian and refugee crises, we can’t afford not to
pay attention to the dangerous new outbreak of war between Armenia and
Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh
[[link removed]].

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a bloody war
[[link removed]] over
Nagorno-Karabakh from 1988 to 1994, by the end of which at least
30,000 people had been killed and a million or more had fled or been
driven out of their homes. By 1994, Armenian forces had occupied
Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts, all internationally
recognized as parts of Azerbaijan. But now the war has flared up
again, hundreds of people have been killed, and both sides are
shelling civilian targets and terrorizing each other’s civilian
populations.

Nagorno-Karabakh [[link removed]] has
been an ethnically Armenian region for centuries. After the Persian
Empire ceded this part of the Caucasus to Russia in the Treaty of
Gulistan in 1813, the first census ten years later identified
Nagorno-Karabakh’s population as 91% Armenian. The USSR’s decision
to assign Nagorno-Karabakh to the Azerbaijan SSR in 1923, like its
decision to assign Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954, was an
administrative decision whose dangerous consequences only became clear
when the U.S.S.R. began to disintegrate in the late 1980s.

In 1988, responding to mass protests, the local parliament in
Nagorno-Karabakh voted by 110-17 to request its transfer from the
Azerbaijan SSR to the Armenian SSR, but the Soviet government rejected
the request and inter-ethnic violence escalated. In 1991,
Nagorno-Karabakh and the neighboring Armenian-majority Shahumian
region, held an independence referendum and declared independence from
Azerbaijan as the Republic of Artsakh
[[link removed]], its historic
Armenian name. When the war ended in 1994, Nagorno-Karabakh and most
of the territory around it were in Armenian hands, and hundreds of
thousands of refugees had fled in both directions.

There have been clashes since 1994, but the present conflict is the
most dangerous and deadly. Since 1992, diplomatic negotiations to
resolve the conflict have been led by the “Minsk Group
[[link removed]],” formed by the
Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) and led by
the United States, Russia and France. In 2007, the Minsk Group met
with Armenian and Azerbaijani officials in Madrid and proposed a
framework for a political solution, known as the Madrid Principles
[[link removed]].

The Madrid Principles would return five of
the twelve districts of Shahumyan
[[link removed]] province to Azerbaijan, while the five districts
of Naborno-Karabakh and two districts between Nagorno-Karabakh and
Armenia would vote in a referendum to decide their future, which both
parties would commit to accept the results of. All refugees would
have the right to return to their old homes.

Ironically, one of the most vocal opponents of the Madrid Principles
is the Armenian National Committee of America
[[link removed]] (ANCA),
a lobby group for the Armenian diaspora in the United States. It
supports Armenian claims to the entire disputed territory and does
not trust Azerbaijan to respect the results of a referendum. It also
wants the de facto government of the Republic of Artsakh to be allowed
to join international negotiations on its future, which is probably a
good idea.

On the other side, the Azerbaijani government of President Ilham
Aliyev now has the full backing of Turkey for its demand that all
Armenian forces must disarm or withdraw from the disputed region,
which is still internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
Turkey is reportedly paying jihadi mercenaries from Turkish-occupied
northern Syria to go and fight for Azerbaijan, raising the specter of
Sunni extremists exacerbating a conflict between Christian Armenians
and mostly Shiite Muslim Azeris.

On the face of it, despite these hard-line positions, this brutal
raging conflict should be possible to resolve by dividing
the disputed territories between the two sides, as the Madrid
Principles attempted to do. Meetings in Geneva and now Moscow seem to
be making progress toward a ceasefire and a renewal of diplomacy. On
Friday, October 9th, the two opposing foreign ministers
[[link removed]] met for the first
time in Moscow, in a meeting mediated by Russian Foreign Minister
Sergei Lavrov, and on Saturday they agreed to a temporary truce to
recover bodies and exchange prisoners.

The greatest danger is that either Turkey, Russia, the U.S. or Iran
should see some geopolitical advantage in escalating or becoming more
involved in this conflict. Azerbaijan launched its current offensive
with the full backing of Turkey’s President Erdogan, who appears to
be using it to demonstrate Turkey’s renewed power in the region and
strengthen its position in conflicts and disputes over Syria, Libya,
Cyprus, oil exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean and the region
in general. If that is the case, how long must this go on before
Erdogan has made his point, and can Turkey control the violence it is
unleashing, as it has so tragically failed to do in Syria
[[link removed]]?

Russia and Iran have nothing to gain and everything to lose from an
escalating war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and are both calling
for peace. Armenia’s popular Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan
[[link removed]] came to power after
Armenia’s 2018 “Velvet Revolution
[[link removed]]” and has
followed a policy of non-alignment between Russia and the West, even
though Armenia is part of Russia’s CSTO
[[link removed]] military
alliance. Russia is committed to defend Armenia if it is attacked by
Azerbaijan or Turkey, but has made it clear that that
commitment does not extend to Nagorno-Karabakh. Iran is also more
closely aligned with Armenia than Azerbaijan, but now its own
large Azeri population
[[link removed]] has
taken to the streets to support Azerbaijan and protest their
government’s bias toward Armenia.

As for the destructive and destabilizing role the United States
habitually plays in the greater Middle East, Americans should beware
of any U.S. effort to exploit this conflict for
self-serving U.S. ends. That could include fueling the conflict to
undermine Armenia’s confidence in its alliance
with Russia, to draw Armenia into a more Western, pro-NATO
alignment. Or the U.S. could exacerbate and exploit unrest in
Iran’s Azeri community as part of its “maximum pressure
[[link removed]]”
campaign against Iran.

At any suggestion that the U.S. is exploiting or planning to exploit
this conflict for its own ends, Americans should remember the people
of Armenia and Azerbaijan whose lives are being lost or destroyed
[[link removed]] every
day that this war rages on, and should condemn and oppose any effort
to prolong or worsen their pain and suffering for U.S. geopolitical
advantage.

Instead the U.S. should fully cooperate with its partners in the
OSCE’s Minsk Group to support a ceasefire and a lasting and stable
negotiated peace that respects the human rights and self-determination
of all the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

_[Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the
American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq
[[link removed]] and
of the chapter on “Obama At War” in Grading the 44th President: A
Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader_.]

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