Wednesday, June 2, 2010


The Caucasus is a region between the borders of Europe and Asia. On the other hand it is a region where the centre of the territorial conflicts, wars and terrorism. Actually, the Caucasus is one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse regions on Earth. There are three independent states which are Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In addition to this, there are three quasi states which are Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia. There are also the Russian divisions include Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai on the region, and the autonomous republics of Adygea, Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Dagestan. Moreover, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Oriental Orthodox Christianity, or Sunni and Shia Islam, and Judaism widespread between the peoples of the Northern and Southern Caucasus. All of these elements make the Caucasus multi-cultural and a complicated place, because of these reasons, Caucasus saw Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988–1994), the Ossetian-Ingush conflict (1989-1991), the War in Abkhazia (1992–1993), the First Chechen War (1994–1996), the Second Chechen War (1999–2009), and the 2008 South Ossetia War.
One of the well known conflicts is the Nagorno Karabakh problem in Caucasus region. It was born as territorial problem between Armenian and Azerbaijani people at the last time of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) period. This article will try to give some historical information about the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. Because of these, it will briefly explain the situation of Nagorno-Karabakh in Tsarist time. This article will also try to explain Armenians claims over Nagorno-Karabakh and Azeri’s positions over this issue. This problem can be seen as between Armenia and Azerbaijan but regional and super powers approached to this conflict for their balance of state interests. Therefore, the article will mention about the effects and interests of Russia, Turkey, and the USA on Nagorno-Karabakh. Sometimes it can be transformed or spoken as ethnic or religious style by states. Nagorno Karabakh conflict is important for all regional powers, not only for Azerbaijan and Armenia. Also it creates some state blocks which provide polarization in international relations system. Finally, it will ensure information about peace efforts for the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, such as the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Nagorno-Karabakh Agreement of 2 November 2008, etc.
Are Historical Roots of The Nagorno-Karabakh the Reason For the Conflict?
Nagorno-Karabakh is populated for hundreds of years by Armenian and Turkic people. In the 19th century, Karabakh became part of the Russian empire. However, at the end of the World War I, Tsarist Russia collapsed through the Bolshevik revolution led by Vladimir Lenin. Then, Communists came to power in Russia and they proclaimed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922. `The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has a long history. In 1921, Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin, working through the Caucasian Bureau of the Russian Communist Party, pacified Mustafa Kemal, the demanding leader of the Turkish Nationalist Army, by assigning the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. This decision angered the Armenian leaders who, having been forced into the Soviet Union learned that Stalin had little patience for their complaints, holding out the prospect of severe recriminations if actions were taken by them. `[1]  As a result of this, Azerbaijan and Armenia became as 2 of 15 autonomous republics of the Soviet Union under the name of The Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (TSFSR). In 1936, the Transcaucasian SFSR was divided back to the three SSRs as the Armenian, Azerbaijan and Georgian SSRs. As part of their divide-and-rule policy in the area, the Soviets established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region.
When Soviets started to lose power after Michael Gorbachev`s Openness and Restructuring policies, the dissension between ethnic Armenian-Azeri exploded into furious violence. The Nagorno-Karabakh War took place from February 1988 to May 1994. The first killings occurred in Sumgait in Azerbaijan. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, in late 1991, Karabakh declared itself an independent republic. That de facto status remains unrecognized elsewhere. In 1993, Armenian forces controlled whole Karabakh; Agdam, Fizuli, Kelbaijar, Kubatly, and Zangelan. At the end of the war, `more than seventeen thousand people died in the fighting, and more than one million were displaced.`[2] 230.000 Armenians from Azerbaijan and 800.000 Azerbaijanis from Armenia and Karabakh displaced as a result of this conflict. A Russian-brokered ceasefire was signed in May 1994 and peace talks, mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group, have been held ever since by Armenia and Azerbaijan. The fighting ultimately brought victory for the ethnic Armenians who then pushed on to occupy Azerbaijani territory outside Karabakh, creating a buffer zone linking Karabakh and Armenia.

Why did war erupt?
`For a variety of reasons, the relationships among the major ethnic 633 groups of the Transcaucasus (the Armenians, Azeris, and Georgians) have been negative since at least the onset of the Russian annexation of the region in the early nineteenth century.`[3] As a consequence, Armenians and Azerbaijanis have a conflict in the region. The issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh is a territorial problem between Armenian and Azerbaijan. `Armenia insists that it was part of an early Christian kingdom, citing the presence of ancient churches as evidence. Azeri historians argue that the churches were built by the Caucasian Albanians, a Christian nation whom they regard as among the forebears of the Azeri people. `[4]  With reference to Soviet documents, the region of Nagorno-Karabakh is populated by mostly ethnic Armenians in 1921. However, the region of Nagorno-Karabakh was given to Azerbaijan SSR by the USSR and the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was established within the Azerbaijan SSR in 1923. On the other hand, Armenians was discontent at this situation and the question of Nagorno-Karabakh re-emerged with the beginning of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s. According to most of Armenians, Nagorno-Karabakh belong Armenians. They show the demography of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1921 which `Armenians made up 94 percent of the population in 1921, reduced to 76 percent in 1979. `[5]
Inter-ethnic fighting between the two broke out shortly after the parliament of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) in Azerbaijan, voted to unify the region with Armenia on February 20, 1988. When Azerbaijan and Armenia became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast also want to become independent from Azerbaijan and then people of NKAO wanted to unify with Armenia.   In addition to this, Levon Ter-Petrosyan who is the first president of Republic of Armenia is a nationalist leader. He wanted to take Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan. `The initial ambition of the Karabakh Armenians was to merge their territory with Armenia, but following the fall of the Soviet Union, this became politically untenable. Nagorno-Karabakh declared its independence in 1991, and Armenia finally lent its official support to this goal in 1998. `[6]
What are Russia`s Interests over Nagorno-Karabakh?
Russia wants to be powerful and influential in the Caucasus. When Soviet Union collapsed, Russia lost her influence on Georgia and Azerbaijan. This is a big loss for Russia, because, these are 2 of 3 countries of the Caucasus and these two countries have some important influence over other Caucasian nations. The only state which can help to spread Russian influence on the Caucasus is Armenia. Nagorno-Karabakh is like Nakhchivan, this region can cut Turkish influence over South Caucasus and Central Asia. Russia always sees Turkey as a danger for its interests. Because, Turkey is a NATO member, she has 99 percent Muslim populations and she has very important ethnic and historical ties with Caucasian and other Turkic people within Russian Federation. So, Armenia is a buffer zone between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Armenia is only country that can cut the ties between Azerbaijan and Turkey. If Armenia could be successful on cutting ties between Azerbaijan and Turkey, she would cut Turkish influence on Caucasus and Turkic Republics of Central Asia.
Azerbaijan is as Georgia’s new energy patron. Azerbaijan supports Georgia gas from Shah Deniz oil reserve in the Caspian Sea. Because of this, Azerbaijan creates some problems for Russian influence on the Caucasus, because with Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, or Nabucco pipeline, Azerbaijan decreases other countries` Russian energy dependency. Instead of seeing powerful Azerbaijan, Russians prefers Armenia as a puppet state on the Caucasus.

Why Did Armenians get advantages and Azerbaijanis are in lower position on Nagorno-Karabakh Issue?
         Armenia gets advantages and in contrast Azerbaijanis are in lower position on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. There are some reasons for this. One of them is strong Armenian Lobby or Diaspora in the world. In addition to this, there are some Armenian population in the USA, Russia, France, Argentina, Syria and Lebanon. Rich Armenians help Armenia; they earn money abroad, and send this money to Armenia. Furthermore, Russia helps Armenia militarily and politically. Russian Federation is the most effective state in the OSCE Minsk Group which is only peaceful solution mechanism for Nagorno-Karabakh issue. As Azerbaijanis belief, Russia helps only Armenian side in the group, because of this, there is no solution for Nagorno-Karabakh issue in 28 years.
On the other hand, Azerbaijan is not a rich country. She just started to straighten her economy through her oil reserves in the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijani lobby is not strong as Armenian lobby in the world. Republic of Turkey is only country that can support Armenia but Turkey does not want to come face to face with Russia. In 1990s, Turkey`s economy was not strong and she had a terrorism problem with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Azerbaijan had also other problems in 1990`s such as Lezgin problem in the north and Talash problem in the south of Azerbaijan, because of this, Azerbaijan did not focus on Nagorno-Karabakh problem, strongly.

What are the Peace Efforts for Nagorno-Karabakh?
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe created the Minsk Group in Helsinki in 1992. This group comprised 11 nations and was co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States with the purpose of mediating a peace deal with Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Minsk group could not become successful in 1990s; because there were other problems such as war in Chechnya, Yugoslavia, Moldova, Abkhazia and Ossetia. NATO could not become active in this conflict, because, Russia was especially opposed to allowing a multinational peacekeeping force from NATO to entering the Caucasus, because this region is Russia`s backyard. On May 5, 1994, a Russian-brokered cease fire which is Bishkek Protocol was signed between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. The protocol, still in effect, terminated the Nagorno-Karabakh War and froze the issue. On 6 December 1994, the Budapest Summit decided to establish a co-chairmanship for the process. Both sides met in different places between 1995 and 1998. Nevertheless, there was no comprehensive solution for Nagorno-Karabakh problem. In 2001, the presidents of both countries met for talks in Key West, Florida. But there was no solution again.  
`In 2004, the Prague Process was initiated, which entailed direct bilateral negotiations between the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers.  The two sides met eleven total times, though little progress was made. In February 2006, the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents met near Paris for talks with French President Jacques Chirac. `[7] Neither side reached an agreement. On 2 November 2008, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian traveled to Moscow for talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The talks ended in the three Presidents signing a declaration confirming their commitment to continue talks. The two presidents have met again, most recently in Saint Petersburg and New York.
Furthermore, the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey have agreed to start their internal political consultations on the two protocols, the Protocol on the establishment of diplomatic relations and the Protocol on the development of bilateral relations on 31 August 2010. Turkey and the leadership in Ankara are ready to reengage in the normalization process. On the other hand, Turkey fears to lose Azerbaijan`s confidence. If Turkey loses Azerbaijan`s confidence, she will lose Azeri Gas and Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Nabucco Pipelines. In addition to this, she will lose the race in Caucasus against Russia. Thus, Ankara demanded for Armenia to end its occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan before Parliament ratifies the protocols. So, the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh started to be talked more deeply again.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a landlocked region in the South Caucasus and situated in south-western Azerbaijan, the region is mostly mountainous. `Nagorno-Karabakh has a total area of 4,400 square kilometers (1,699 sq mi) and is an enclave surrounded entirely by Azerbaijan; its nearest point to Armenia is across the Lachin corridor, roughly 4 kilometers across and population is 145,000 (2002 est.).`[8] Nagorno-Karabakh is very important for Azerbaijan, because, they claim that this region is a historical Azerbaijani lands. After 1700s, Russian Tsar Peter I the Great or Pyotr Alexeyevich Romanov wants to control Caucasus. But this place populated mostly by Muslim people. There are few Christian people, so he wants to increase the Christian population in the region, because of this reason; he made settled Armenians in the South Caucasus. Moreover, Nagorno-Karabakh forms approximately 30 percent of the Azerbaijan territory. So, Nagorno-Karabakh is very big loss for Azerbaijan. They also want to take revenge on their martyrs in Karabakh war of 1988-1994.  For Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh is one of the places for creating greater Armenia. Thus, both sides will not give up their claims over the Nagorno-Karabakh. There is a peace process for this conflict but here is Caucasus, so, ordinary ways for solving a conflict in these lands is uselessly. There must be comprehensive solution for Nagorno-Karabakh. In addition to this, if outside powers want to solve this problem, they should focus on the historical and ethnic lines and roots of the region, and regional powers such as Russia, Iran and Turkey should give up their interests over the region. Otherwise, the war may start between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the region, again.
Isa Burak GONCA

[1] Mooradian M. & Daniel Druckman, Hurting Stalemate or Mediation? The Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, 1990-95, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 36, No. 6 (Nov., 1999), p. 709.

[2]  Thomas de Waal, Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War (New York: New York University Press, 2003), p. 285.

[3] Yamskov A. N., Ethnic Conflict in the Transcausasus: The Case of Nagorno-Karabakh, Theory and Society, Vol. 20, No. 5, Special Issue on Ethnic Conflict in the Soviet Union (Oct., 1991), p. 633.

[5] Matveeva, Anna.  ‘Nagorno Karabakh: A Straightforward Territorial Conflict’ in Paul van Tongeren, Hans van de Veen & Juliette Verhoeven (eds.) Searching for peace in Europe and Eurasia: overview of conflict prevention and peacebuilding activities (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002)
[6] Christoph Zurcher, The Post-Soviet Wars (New York: New York University Press, 2007), pp. 157-69.