The cost of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh: A plea for peace and understanding
By Toros Korkmaz
The low-intensity conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, referred to as Artsakh by Armenians, has reignited after over three decades. Current international dynamics hint that this iteration of the conflict might favor Azerbaijan's goals. While Armenia isn't the official participant in this dispute, it's primarily a confrontation between Azerbaijan and the autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Specifically, since December 2022, Nagorno-Karabakh has been striving to withstand a siege from the significantly superior Azerbaijani military, grappling with the realization that they might have to yield to Azerbaijan's intent to annex the region. Given that the area's population is approximately 120,000 and their basic humanitarian needs have been severely hampered by the Azerbaijani blockade, expecting more resistance seems illogical. Moreover, Azerbaijan's victory in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict underscored the precarious nature of the region's autonomy.
Azerbaijan, roughly four times the size of Armenia, benefits from vast oil and natural gas resources. This wealth has enabled Azerbaijan to enhance its military over the past thirty years, securing equipment and support from nations like Russia, Turkey, and Israel. In comparison, Armenia, a smaller country without significant natural resources and a closed border with Turkey, struggles to match Azerbaijan's military advancements. Previously a staunch supporter of Armenia, Russia has shifted its stance, prioritizing its interests by selling arms to Azerbaijan and recalibrating its regional strategy considering the Ukraine conflict and its alliance with Turkey. While verbally criticizing Azerbaijan's actions, the West hesitates to intervene directly, primarily due to its reliance on Azerbaijani oil and its reluctance to antagonize Turkey. This situation is further complicated by Turkey's unequivocal support for Azerbaijan, which encompasses military equipment and technical expertise, bolstering Azerbaijan's position and facilitating its ambition to annex Nagorno-Karabakh.
From a geopolitical standpoint, Azerbaijan holds the upper hand, but the humanitarian consequences demand immediate resolution. A brief historical overview reveals that Nagorno-Karabakh is deeply rooted in Armenian heritage. For around 2500 years, it was predominantly Armenian, evidenced by the numerous monasteries, churches, and the iconic Armenian khachkars. In 1923, following extended disputes, the region was granted to Azerbaijan with a promise of autonomy, a decision influenced by Stalin's aim to appease Turkey. Yet, throughout the Soviet era, the region's Armenians consistently resisted this arrangement, accusing Azerbaijan of curtailing their cultural, linguistic, and economic rights. As the Soviet Union crumbled between 1988-91, the majority sought to align with Armenia. Although unrecognized internationally, their aspirations to maintain an autonomous republic persist, with valid concerns about their rights under Azerbaijani governance, especially considering the latter's dictatorial tendencies post-conflict.
Regrettably, Turkey's political leaders and mainstream media often overlook this intricate history, favoring Azerbaijan and depicting Armenians negatively. Media narratives, neglecting Armenia's ancient ties to the region, sometimes use misleading phrases such as "Armenians surrendered," contributing to the stigmatization of Armenians in Turkey.
It's imperative for democratic, leftist, and socialist influencers, previously neutral or silent, to highlight the intertwined histories and shared destinies of the Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Turkish people. It is essential to emphasize that their collective challenges in this shared region stem largely from manipulations by a few rather than inherent animosities. As Einstein articulated in his letter to Freud, it's only through a commitment to peace that we can nurture a future built on mutual respect and brotherhood, free from oppression.
*The article was first published in Siyasi Haber on 21 September 2023.