For the past 22 years, the call for independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian populated enclave in south-west Azerbaijan, has been a source of tension not only in the Caucasus but also between the regional powers, Russia and Turkey. Since the war of 1992-1994, Armenians have been occupying and pushing for independence while Azerbaijanis have been pushing against this separatist movement. According to the International Crisis Group, both sides have been increasing the intensity of their efforts over the years; the Armenians through challenging Azeri control, and Azeris through military buildup as a response, which in turn prompts further military buildup from Armenia.
Despite international peace initiatives from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), UN Declarations, and Russian-led pushes for peace, the cease-fire has continued to be violated by both sides. The outbreak of fighting early last month, Turkey’s renewal of vows to back Azerbaijan, and Russia’s implicit backing of both sides despite a desire to come to a peaceful conclusion to this drawn out conflict, have all been a source of mixed messages that are not productive for the genuine promotion of peace.
According to related press,
“Every schoolboy in the mountainous little republic has grown up knowing that after graduation he will put on a uniform and join the military to police the unstable cease-fire.”
Having such an expectation embedded into your mind from such a young age will rear a generation of death-hardened men and women who view constant small-scale conflict as the norm. However, it is not just localized bad blood that is fuelling this conflict; regional players are feeding both countries with arms and treating it almost as if it were a proxy war, reminiscent of the Cold War era.
Turkey has closed off all ties with Armenia as a show of support for Azerbaijan, and publicly expressed solidarity with the Azeri cause. However, the real show of Turkey’s seriousness in assisting Azerbaijan lies in their lack of protest regarding Israel, their rival, becoming the main arms supplier to Azerbaijan (Al-Monitor). This allowance shows Turkey is willing to put its personal prejudice aside for a greater cause – being on the winning side against Russia.
If only such prejudices were put aside for peace, instead of strengthening war efforts.
Russia on the other hand is obliged to assist Armenia militarily due to their close alliance as well as Armenian membership of Russian led Eurasian Economic Union (The Economist). According to The Daily Beast, part of this includes $200 million worth of arms being sold to Armenia in February of this year alone. At the same time however, Moscow has interests in Azerbaijani oil, and the Daily Beast claims Moscow has embarked on a joint oil venture with Azerbaijan. In addition to this, according to the Armenian Weekly, Russia has sold over $4 billion worth of weapons to the Azeris. This, as part of the estimated $9 billion Azerbaijan has been spending on arms (Armenian Weekly), can easily be taken as an offensive against the Armenian military presence within their country.
Despite being on both sides of the conflict, Russia, who is also Co-Chair of the Minsk Group–a division of the OSCE aimed at diplomatically resolving the conflict–has expressed interest in coming to a peaceful end to the conflict. However, the continued supply of arms to both countries, according to the International Crisis Group is against both the UN and OSCE arms embargoes on both countries.
The popularity of both Putin and Erdogan’s foreign policies domestically hinge on assertiveness in the face of any adversary. This, among other similarities in character had previously brought the two leaders into an alliance, but has in recent times, according to The Daily Beast, turned into a “bitter and vindictive” personal rivalry. This rivalry and its potential for playing out in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan poses a dangerous threat to the already tense situation. There is no doubt that without external weapons supplies and external support of the “belligerent rhetoric” (ICG), escalating tensions would not have become as high as they have.
International promotion for a peaceful and diplomatic end to this conflict have resulted in extensive reports tailored to the context and the cause of it in order to come to a specialized strategy to resolve it. Despite this being, in my opinion, the best way to come to a fair and diplomatic resolution, neither regional powers nor local players adhered to the recommendations. While this is likely to have been because they did not want externally imposed resolutions pushed on them, it is also largely to do with the fact that both countries knew they have at least one larger power backing them in the conflict, without whom sustained conflict would not have been possible.