flare-up of tension
between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh has many wondering what implications this may have for the broader region and domestic situations in both countries. Political scientist and writer Ramis Yunus shed light on the situation.
Yunus, a former chief of staff of the Azerbaijani government and Parliament, currently lives in exile in the United States. Ramis is a brother of Arif Yunus, a well-known Azerbaijani human rights activist and historian.
Does the recent spate of violence mark the beginning of a new, full-scale war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which officially entered into a ceasefire in May 1994?
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the beginning of the hostilities suspiciously coincided with the fact that both the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents were in Washington where they attended the international summit on nuclear security. Furthermore, delegations from many countries of the worlds were present, but Russia demonstratively refused to participate. Let me also remind you that there are pro-Russian political forces present in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, which assumed control after the mediation of the same Bishkek Protocol in May 1994, which you mentioned. All these years, a truce has been present, despite occasional outbreaks of tension at the boarders, which usually occur on the eve of important political processes within the two countries and throughout the region. Examples are presidential and parliamentary elections in these countries, and international economic projects without the participation of Russia, which, unfortunately, is still an important player in the region.
The status quo, after the Bishkek Protocol, completely supported the political regimes in Baku and Yerevan, which have been in power for more than 20 years, and have been capitalizing on the Karabakh issue when it deems politically favorable. Why would they cut the branch on which they sit? So long as these countries stick with this pro-Russian vector in foreign policy, waiting for a change in the status quo is not worth it. Let me also remind you that Russia deliberately militarized both countries by providing them with weapons on a large scale to prevent destabilization of the region, thereby preventing the change of political orientation in Baku and Yerevan. Therefore, the latest escalation of hostilities could not occur without the signal from the Kremlin, which wants to show everyone in the world its power in the region.
Thus, this will not be the beginning of a new full-scale conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
What is a possible outcome from this situation? Will the populations of these countries be forced to live in this powder keg for a long time?
The fact is that the population in Azerbaijan and Armenia live independently from their political regimes that hold power in the area, which is due to the fact that the general population is not allowed to participate in the political process, thereby crushing potential dissent. This is particularly visible in Azerbaijan, where most political prisoners are in the former Soviet Union. This raises a simple question: How can we talk about the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh if the Azerbaijani society cannot release political prisoners in their own country? Today’s rhetoric of jingoism in the media of these countries is not considered, which for the most part is far from reality. The populations in both countries do not support their regimes, and their biggest concerns today are social issues against the backdrop of a terrible economic crisis in these countries.
Therefore, Nagorno-Karabakh is needed by the regimes in Baku and Yerevan in order to distract the population from political activity from time to time, calling on them to rally around the governments. In fact, this is a popular method, and is extensively used by Putin’s regime, especially regarding confrontation with the West and the dealings in Ukraine. I will remind you that Putin called patriotism a national Russian ideal. Thus, until a change in political vector occurs towards the ideals of the EU and NATO, just as other Baltic countries did. As such, the populations of Armenia and Azerbaijan will have to live in this “powder keg.” It is important not to lie to ourselves: Russia will not voluntarily withdraw from the region. It is therefore necessary to squeeze them out politically. However, this is only possible when Azerbaijan and Armenia understand that a peaceful solution to the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh will only be possible within the framework of the European Union, which should be the primary goal for both countries.