BY: Sibel Ileana Okumus
PEJOURNAL – Hard conflict occurred in Tavush between Azerbaijan and Armenia, brought the 30 years of conflict to the agenda in the international arena. Whether the conflicts will spread to the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the main problem region between the two countries, is a concern. The problems faced by countries in this period and increasing nationalism cause the problems that have been going on for years to appear more violently.
The fact that there was a recent conflict between the two countries in 2016 and that the current conflict is at a time when a global crisis affects the countries is a condition that should be examined at the base of these countries. Yet, due to the interest of other countries in the region, the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict will be discussed through reactions of the countries in the region and Turkey’s moves.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region, which was the cause of the tension between the two countries and caused diplomatic relations to be cut, was left to Azerbaijan before the Soviet Union’s dissolution. Armenia’s claiming rights due to ethnic majority in the region causes the failure to reach a conclusion in the cold and hot conflicts that have been going on for 30 years. We can say that the conflict / war situation between 1988-1994 is an irreversible turning point in communication between countries.
The situation between the two countries exists in a wide range from mutual travel restrictions to international mediation initiatives. Likewise, OSCE Minsk Group, which was established in 1992, was tasked to mediate between the two countries and made a declaration to reach a consensus in today’s conflicts. The Minsk Group is currently co-chaired by the US, France, and Russia and include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and several Western European nations, in other words both regional and non-regional powers.
Considering that the war that took place in the Nagorno-Karabakh region in 2016 and lasted for four days was one of the most violent conflicts after the cease-fire in 1994, it can set a precedent for today due to the short duration of the war and the subsequent ceasefire.
When we look at today’s conditions, it is noteworthy that the conflict took place in the Tavush region, not in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Considering the tension between two countries, it is clear that the situation of a conflict is not a surprise. However, it is unexpected that the region where the incident occurred was outside the region that caused the dispute. And the fact that the conflict did not take place in the Nagorno-Karabakh region signals us that the leaders of the country were in fact avoiding a possible war.
An analysis on the cause of the conflicts takes us to the reflex of states pointing out an “enemy” outside and directing attention to other problems when they cannot achieve stability in their internal affairs or manage a crisis. It has been the basis that many experts agree on the causes of the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict.
Both countries’ inability to manage the epidemic process and their desire to increase their power in the region, as well as their desire to consolidate power, can be seen as the reason for mutual attempts. It is an obvious fact that today’s populism and the created external enemies of the 20th century are a tool used by countries when they are in a difficult situation.
Likewise, as Schmitt, a political theorist, noted in the enemy-friend distinction theory, the enemy is unconditional primacy of the inherent antagonism as constitutive of the political. Also as the criterion of the political, he states that the indispensability of enmity and physical violence for an authentically political relationship.
In this context, it is possible to examine the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict. Nevertheless, we see that these two countries, with the support of their allies in the region, want to legitimize the controversial situation of Nagorno-Karabakh in the international arena. For this reason, we will briefly touch on the relations of countries that have an active role in the region and have interests in the region, and their reactions to the conflicts in July.
The first country we will briefly examine will be Russia, which has important relations with both countries. Azerbaijan and Russia emerged as two independent states after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The fact that Azerbaijan sees Russia as an invader and that the Azerbaijanis have negative opinions about this country for many years has been a factor that often damages the relations. Although Azerbaijan has prejudices against Russia, we see that Russia is selling a significant amount of arms to Azerbaijan.
At the same time, Russia’s being one of the most important supporters of Armenia has created tensions in the relations of the two countries. When we look at the importance of Azerbaijan in Russia, we encounter a more complex structure. Because Azerbaijan has great importance in the geopolitical sense in Russia’s access to the Caucasus. Also because of being important regional powers, Russia is willing to keep Turkey and Iran away from Caucasia.
Ethnic ties of Turkey with Middle-Asia and Caucasia, creates danger to Russia’s aims in the region. Aynı zamanda İran’ın bazı etnik ve dini gruplar üzerindeki gücü de bir başka endişe kaynağı. Not only the regional powers but the USA is also a threat to Russia’s power in Caucasia. The energy sources in the region and possible threats on internal affairs impels Russia to prevent USA from reaching the region. Russia’s claim on control Black Sea and Caspian Sea makes Azerbaijan more and more important, so the strategic importance of the country remains still.
On the other side, the relation between Russia and Armenia has different aspects. Russia is an important arms supplier for Armenia as in Azerbaijan. Yet beside the arms trade, Russia is the most important investor in Armenia. When we look into Armenia’s export and import rates, it is possible to say that Armenia is depended on Russia economically. Military support between this countries is not limited with arms supplying and the military base of Russia in Armenia and Armenian and Russian guards patrolling in the Armenia’s borders shows it.
The Collective Security Treaty is another tie between Armenia and Russia. One important aspects is that Armenia’s importance arises from being a border neighbour with Turkey and having bad relations that exists for many years. That is why Armenia is an important ally to Russia in order to limit Turkey’s power in Caucasus.
In the light of these reasons, it is an obvious fact that Armenia has big importance for Russia, yet the strategic importance of Azerbaijan creates dilemma in Russia’s policies. For instance, Russia’s attitude on current issue such as calling for compliance with the ceasefire and at the same time the military exercises on the Armenia border is contradictory it is considered in a very simple basis.
Another country to be briefly examined in this context is Iran. Due to conflict of interest between Iran and Azerbaijan, it could be said that Iran and Armenia are good allies. Factors like having ethnic and religious similarities and neighbourhood are not enough to establish good relations between Azerbaijan and Iran.
An important part of the Iranian population is the Azeri Turks and so status of the region named Azerbaijan in Iran causes a mutual hostile attitude. Alliance between Armenia and Iran mostly depends on it.
Iran’s policies to gain power in and aim to block US in the region do not wants a strong Azerbaijan. Also another important fact is the sources under the Caspian Sea. Iran’s desire to have rights over these resources may be compromised if there is an Azerbaijan supported by the USA or the EU.
Except the alliance against Azerbaijan, these two countries, being both embargoed, have common projects in the economic field. Like Russia, Iran is an important economic ally for Armenia on trade in energy and other goods. Considering these, in Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, Iran’s attitude will be close to Armenia. In the international arena, this attitude of Iran will attract reactions. Especially, if a country which has nuclear weapon programme takes a side in conflict, other powers both regional and non-regional may take precautions and this will raise the tension.
Lastly, Turkey will be mentioned on Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. Relations between Turkey and Armenia has a long history. Since the 1918, whether the issue of displacement was genocide or not has been argued and it has caused controversy in the international arena.
Therefore, even today these two countries have no direct relations and the borders are closed. Yet, in recent years there are mutual steps lead by non-governmental organizations in fields like culture and languages. Although the relations are tried to be drawn in a positive direction in terms of civil society and economically, there is no consensus at the level of governments.
Turkey’s relation with Azerbaijan begins with emotional ties and reaches to mutual economic, political and military partnership. After the independence of Azerbaijan from Soviets, “One nation- two countries” motto became popular. The brotherhood and closeness of two nations is always told and common ethnicity and similarity of language strengthens this bond between populations. Economic relation between Turkey and Azerbaijan is also a very important fact. Especially the energy route Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan is crucial for both nations.
For Azerbaijan it is an export route for the transportation of Caspian oil to European markets, the existing Baku-Novorossiysk route on the Black sea was not politically trustworthy and economically efficient. Besides this project, gas pipeline from Baku to Erzurum (Turkey) caused the gas sources of Caucasus to reach Turkey and then European market.
With all these reasons these two countries are bonded politically, geo-strategically and economically. Even though these relations continued with ups and downs time to time, mostly cultural and economic ties remained still. Turkey has been also supporting Azerbaijan’s military. Turkey provided millitary assistence due to Azerbaijan’s lack of military experience.
We briefly talked about the basis of the relations between the two countries. However, it is also necessary to mention the relation these countries have built on their regional goals. Turkey’s aim to be a great power in Caucasus and Middle Asia is an aspect of its relations. Iran’s and Russia’s existence on region and problem of sharing the resources creates a competition and these powers are seeking allies on the region.
As we mentioned Armenia’s relation with Russia and Iran; Turkey and Azerbaijan shares the same. That is why while we analyze Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, it is not possible to ignore these facts. Turkey’s move after the conflict, it’s military exercise in Azerbaijan, is showing Turkey’s presence in the military sense to other powers in the region. Yet, showing up it’s military presence will arise the tension on Caucasus region and is certainly disturbs directly Armenia and indirectly Russia and Iran.
The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia will probably not reach further dimensions. But in the current politics having energy sources and increasing the domain are hard to get, important and open to competiton. Therefore, countries should think through their moves and consider their consequences. At this point, we clearly see that the sensitivities of civil society diverge from the interests of the states.
The fact that people from the two nationalities carry out protests in geographies such as Russia and Europe and display mutually aggressive attitudes also creates difficulties for reconciliation. It is also possible to criticize the countries we mentioned above in order to make reconciliation difficult. Because, the eye-breaking moves like military exercises prevent the parties from stepping back and the situation calming down. As a result, it is clear that this conflict will have a positive effect on the spread of important powers in the region and will ensure its legitimacy from such situations.
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