RUSSIA INTEREST IN NAGORNO-KARABAKH CONFLICT

https://www.bbc.com, 6/10/2020

Writer: Hendra Manurung is a doctoral candidate in international relations at Padjadjaran University, Bandung, West Java

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a territorial dispute and is also can be categorized as an ethnic conflict involving Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. It is de facto ruled by the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic but is internationally recognized as part of the territory of Azerbaijan.

The Caucasus is a mountainous region of strategic importance in Southeastern Europe. Over the centuries various forces in the region, both orthodox Christians and Muslims, have competed for control there. Modern Armenia and Azerbaijan were part of the Soviet Union when it was formed in the 1920s. Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnic Armenian majority area, but the Soviets gave control of the territory to the Azerbaijani authorities.

https://www.bbc.com, 10/11/2020

Historically, on February 20, 1988, the Council of Deputies of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAO), predominantly populated by Armenians, appealed to the leadership of the USSR (in Moscow), Armenian SSR, and Azerbaijan SSR with a request to transfer Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia (Kommersant.ru, 27/9/2020). The Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee refused, which led to mass protests in Yerevan and Stepanakert, as well as to pogroms among both the Armenian and Azerbaijani population.

However, in December 1989, the authorities of the Armenian SSR and NKAO signed a joint decree on the inclusion of the region in Armenia, to which Azerbaijan responded with artillery shelling of the Karabakh border. In January 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR declared a state of emergency in the conflict zone.

It was only after the Soviet Union began to collapse in the late 1980s that the regional parliament in Nagorno-Karabakh formally elected to join Armenia.

Azerbaijan government, meanwhile, at that time tried to suppress the movement that wanted Nagorno-Karabakh to become part of Armenia. On the other hand, Armenia supports the group. This split situation eventually led to widespread inter-ethnic clashes. After Armenia and Azerbaijan declared independence at the end of the 1980s from the Soviet Union, an open war just broke out between the two countries.

In the late 1980s, both Armenia and Azerbaijan spun loose from Moscow’s yoke. Amid the chaos of the Soviet collapse, the ethnically Armenian Karabakh region attempted to break from Azerbaijani control. The ensuing war cost more than 30,000 lives and millions of people flee from their home-town.

During a virtual National Webinar held by AlMuslim University, Bireun Aceh on December 22, 2020 (Tuesday), with the theme: ‘Azerbaijan and Armenia Conflict: Political Development, Policy Priorities, and Choice for Peace’, Mr. Fauzi, Head of International Relations Department, started the event by conveying the need for a sustainable peace process by Azerbaijan and Armenia government in Central Asia.

While, Hendra Manurung stated that, the major hotspot of the dispute located in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which Azerbaijan claims as to their national sovereign territory, has so far been controlled and monitored by separatist ethnic Armenians. These two countries were involved in bloody wars in the late 1980s and early 1990s (1988-1994). Up to the first week of November 2020, open conflict still has continued to spark a continuous armed war.

This inter-state conflict should be localized by Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia without involving other regional major power interventions such as Turkey, France, and Iran. It is also confirmed by Adri Patria.

Further, in late April to early May 1991, Operation Ring was carried out in NKAO by the forces of Azerbaijan OMON and USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs troops. Within three weeks, the Armenian population of 24 Karabakh villages was deported. It is more than 100 people were killed. The forces of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Soviet army carried out actions to disarm the participants in the clashes until August 1991, when a putsch began in Moscow, which led to the collapse of the USSR.

On September 2, 1991, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was proclaimed in Stepanakert. Baku’s Official government recognized this act as illegal. During the outbreak of the war between Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Armenia supporting it, the sides lost from 15 thousand to 25 thousand people killed, more than 25 thousand were injured, hundreds of thousands of civilians left their places of residence. From April to November 1993, the UN Security Council adopted four resolutions demanding a ceasefire in the region.

Tens of thousands of people died in open warfare. About one million people were forced to flee. The two sides are suspected of committing genocide and ethnic cleansing. Most of the refugees in the war were Azerbaijanis.

The Armenian army controlled Nagorno-Karabakh before a Russian-mediated ceasefire was agreed upon in 1994. After the deal, Nagorno-Karabakh remained part of Azerbaijan. However, the territory was controlled by Armenian separatists who declared a separate and autonomous republic. The Armenian government in Yerevan has publicly supported the Nagorno-Karabakh declaration of independence. The ceasefire agreement also contained the Nagorno-Karabakh Contact Line. Its aim was to separate the Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.

On May 5, 1994, the three parties signed an armistice agreement, as a result of which Azerbaijan actually lost control over Nagorno-Karabakh. While Baku official government still considers the region to be occupied territory.

Nagorno-Karabakh region is part of Azerbaijan, but the majority of the region’s population has an Armenian ethnic background. But when some members of the Soviet Union challenged their independence in the 1980s, Nagorno-Karabakh citizens also chose to join Armenia. This decision sparked a conflict that only ended with a ceasefire in 1994. At the end of the conflict, Nagorno-Karabakh remained part of Azerbaijan but was controlled by ethnic Armenian separatists supported by the Armenian government.

Since the ceasefire peace talks have been continuously explored by the Minsk Group’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It is a body formed in 1992, chaired by France, Russia, and the United States.

As consequence, peace negotiations initiated and mediated by influential countries in the world in the Minsk group such as France, Russia, and the US also failed to be agreed upon amongst conflicting countries.

The conflict was further complicated by the regional geopolitical situation. NATO member state Turkey was the first country to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991.

Armenia is a predominantly Orthodox Christian country. Meanwhile, the biggest religion in Azerbaijan is Islam. Turkey has close relations with Azerbaijan, while Russia is allied with Armenia, although Russia also has good relations with Azerbaijan.

Obviously, bloody clashes continued. Serious upheaval in 2016 killed dozens of soldiers, both Armenian and Azerbaijani.

Azeri Heydar Aliyev, former President of Turkey once described his country and Azerbaijan as “one nation-two countries”. Both countries have a culture and are inhabited by citizens of Turkish nationality. Turkey does not have official relations with Armenia. In 1993, Turkey closed its border with Armenia.

Therefore, Ankara’s policy is to show their full support for the Azerbaijan government during the war in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

So far, Armenia has been on good terms with Russia, where Russia has a military base in Armenia. The two countries are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military alliance.

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, also has close ties with Azerbaijan. In 2018, there was a peaceful revolution in Armenia when the regime led by Serzh Sargsyan collapsed. The leader of the pro-revolution group, Nikol Pashinyan, was elected Prime Minister of Armenia after the 2018 elections. Pashinyan then agreed with the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, to reduce the escalation of tensions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They created the first military contact center which was planned to bridge the differences in the interests of the two countries.

In 2019, Armenia and Azerbaijan jointly stated the need to take concrete steps to prepare the population for peace. However this year, for several months tensions between the two countries have increased. There was also intense armed fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. It is not clear who started the conflict last July. The events of that month took casualties on both sides. The battles for Armenia and Azerbaijan ended this November when they agreed to sign a peace deal that was mediated by Russia.

Based on that document, Azerbaijan will defend some of the areas it controlled during the conflict. As for Armenia, it will withdraw troops from several areas adjacent to the region.

The most serious clashes since July 2020 took place in the zone of the Armenian-Azerbaijani confrontation on September 27. Azerbaijani Defense Ministry stated that the Armenian armed forces fired at the positions of the Azerbaijani army “along the entire front line”. In response, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that the Azerbaijani military had launched the attack.

Furthermore, on 10 November 2020, a peace agreement was concluded by Armenia and Azerbaijan, mediated by Russian President, Vladimir Putin. These two countries are splits of the Soviet Union which during the last few months were involved in military disputes, from July to early November 2020. The war has killed thousands of people, forced thousands of others to flee, and lost personal property such as houses and apartments.

On that date, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin stated that A complete ceasefire and termination of all hostilities in the area of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is declared.

Post peace deal agreement signing on November 10, 2020, Kremlin decides that the Russian government will deploy its peacemaking forces, consist of 1,960 troops armed with firearms, 90 armored vehicles, and 380 motor vehicles and units of special equipment, shall be deployed along the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin Corridor.

As agreed by Azerbaijan and Armenia, thus, within the next three years, a constructive plan will be outlined for the construction of a new route via the Lachin Corridor, to provide a connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, and the Russian peacemaking forces shall be subsequently relocated to protect the route.

Sooner or later, Russian peacemaking forces will be deployed concurrently with the withdrawal of the Armenian troops. The peacemaking forces of the Russian Federation will be deployed for five years, a term to be automatically extended for subsequent five-year terms unless either Party notifies about its intention to terminate this clause six months before the expiration of the current term.

It will be followed with more efficient monitoring of the Parties’ fulfillment of the Agreements such a Peacemaking Center will be established to oversee the ceasefire process.

It is concluded, the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is a throwback to the death-throes of the Soviet Union.

In South Caucasus, for 32 years, Russia secured a truce but unfortunately failed to secure the regional peace and stability, which is well-known as Russian ‘backyard’ geopolitics interest in Central Asia and Southeast Europe.

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