Baku’s politics drifted toward irredentism, Azerbaijani political activist says
Azerbaijan has drifted its politics towards irredentism after the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, political activist Bahruz Samadov said.
“Azerbaijani politics has taken a dark turn towards irredentism with its cult of brute force and victory. There can be no lasting peace with Armenians until we dismantle the vengeful founding myths of our national identity and reject violent nationalism,” the Azerbaijani analyst said in an article he wrote for the Tbilisi-based Open Caucasus Media on Wednesday.
Azerbaijan and Armenia embroiled in six weeks of clashes in autumn 2020, also known as the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. The conflict ended with a truce agreement brokered by Russia in November 2020 and Armenia handed back territories in Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan as part of the deal. Turkey sided with Baku in the conflict and provided military assistance to Azerbaijan.
Since the end of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, Azerbaijan has been using an aggressive rhetoric and making territorial claims to Syunik, Armenia’s southernmost province, Samadov said.
These claims that are “advocating the annexation of foreign lands based on alleged historical or ethnic links,” are “irredentist in nature” and were a part of Azerbaijan’s “new post-war” reality, he said.
“Before the 2020 war, Azerbaijan’s claim that it was historically entitled to the historical region of Zangazur (which Syunik is a part of) was marginal and characteristic of far-right pan-Turkist discourses.,” Samadov said.
However, after the war, when Azerbaijan established the “East Zangazur Economic Region” in the western part of the country and referred to the future corridor connecting the exclave of Nakhchivan with the rest of Azerbaijan as the “Zangazur Corridor”, this became clear that official discourse had drifted in a new expansionist direction, he said.
The ceasefire agreement foresees the re-opening of key transportation links between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia. Following the agreement, Aliyev called on Armenia to open the "Zangezur Corridor," which would connect Azerbaijan to Turkey via the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, passing through Armenia's Syunik Province. The opening of the transportation link would result in the closing of the Armenian-Iranian border along that corridor, eliminating Armenian checkpoints.
Besides Syunik, Azerbaijan is also making claims on Iranian Azerbaijan, he said. These “utopian irredentist ideas” were characteristic of the early 1990s discourse of Abulfaz Elchibay and his Popular Front Party, according to the analyst.
Despite Ilham Aliyev’s father, Heydar Aliyev did not support Elchibay’s claims, his son is reviving the Azerbaijani irredentism, Samadov said.
Azerbaijani argument for the Second Nagorno-Karabakh was the necessity of a “full-scale war to end the conflict,” but this argument was ethically “unacceptable” because of the lives lost during the clashes, according to the analyst.
The argument was also “profoundly naïve,” he added, underlying that there has not been a meaningful peace process since the end of the war.
The recent fighting proves the naivety of the “one war - then peace” argument, Samadov said.
“For those progressive groups and individuals that remain committed to peace, it’s not enough to simply condemn the country’s nationalist policy or singular incidents, or even to reject Azerbaijan’s entire political landscape. A real act of courage is to question the very tenets of Azerbaijani national identity,” he said.
Progressive Azerbaijanis should consider opening a space for a radically different national ethos, according to Samadov.
“Without such an aim and strategy, along with direct dialogue with relevant actors in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, us progressives will never be able to provide a meaningful alternative to war,” he said.